The book Frankenstein’ written by ‘Mary Shelley’, tells the story of a young man, Victor Frankenstein who becomes obsessed with messing with nature and the human body. His ultimate goal is to bring the dead back to life. The book is set in Geneva, Switzerland which is also where the philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau is from. We can see that after reading about Rousseau’s theories, we can relate them back to the ideas that Mary Shelley may have been trying to convey through the book, Frankenstein. This essay is based on my understanding of Rousseau’s theories and how they give us an insight into what I think Mary Shelley’s intentions are.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a writer, composer, and philosopher. He was born in 1712 and died in 1778 which meant that Rousseau lived through the age of enlightenment. The age of enlightenment was an intellectual movement also known as “the century of philosophy” which lasted from 1685-1815. Rousseau Studied the age of enlightenment and came up with theories that influenced the enlightenment all through Europe and created the overall development of modern political thought. Rousseau looked closely into human behavior and based his studies around this, he was thought to be one of the most popular philosophes and known as a national hero. Rousseau has said that “People in their natural state are basically good, but this natural innocence, however, is corrupted by the evils of society”. Jean-Jacques Rousseau believes that people were born good, there wasn’t a person born that was destined to be evil, the only thing that clouded peoples goodness was the thoughts and actions of the society. I think he was trying to tell us that we all have good inside of us and wants us to realize how much the society impacts our own actions and emotions. I believe that societies expectations have been valued since they became a thing. If you were to go against them, you were frowned upon by the society. This is difficult for some people as everyone is different and everyone has different views and opinions which is why I think when people thought of acting differently to what society wanted, we were shut off which made us change our opinions or actions. This shows me that the society does have an impact on us, by clouding our own opinions.
We can relate the way that Mary Shelley conveyed the monster in Frankenstein emotions towards the end, to the fact that Rousseau believed all people were born good. After Victor Frankenstein’s passing, the monster felt remorse towards him, even though they were enemies. His last words to Frankenstein were “‘Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of humankind whom these eyes will ever behold. Farewell, Frankenstein! If thou wert yet alive and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction.” I can relate this to the piece of Rousseau’s theory as even though Frankenstein was out to destroy Frankenstein’s life, he came back to feel upset after seeing him lying dead. If the monster was pure evil like he perceived himself to be, the monster would have been happy to finally see his enemy die, but he was the complete opposite. He felt compassion against his creator even if he didn’t show it in the beginning. The monster was born good but by the actions of Victor Frankenstein and opinions of the society, his goodness was clouded causing him to be angry all the time which may have made him do things that he didn’t necessarily want to do. Then, what he thought was his main goal (ruining Frankenstein’s life) had been accomplished, he realized that it wasn’t what he wanted. All of his anger that was influenced by the society, which included Frankenstein, had disappeared for this moment in time where he saw Frankenstein dead, which after reading Rousseau theory, I believe no evil was present and this was his natural state.
Another part of Rousseau’s theory states that “Plants are shaped by cultivation and men by education, we are born totally unprovided, we need aid, we are born stupid, we need judgment. Everything we do not have at our birth and which we need when we are grown is given to us by education”. He is saying that we are all basically born dumb, we are born without any knowledge of anything, we need someone to teach us, to shows us the ways of the world. I believe that there are three different ways that we learn, the first being, watching the people around us and coping with what they do. If we watch how someone does something, we are most likely to do the same as we haven’t seen anything different. The second way we learn is, trial and error. If we want to accomplish something we are going to try different ways until we get it. Lastly is the judgment of our peers, This part refers to “we need judgment”. I believe that sometimes we have no idea what we are doing and just do what we think is right, but the judgment from others is how we know that what we are doing is right in the society depending on the judgment we get. If we receive encouraging judgment, we will continue to do the same thing but if we are founded upon, we are most likely going to change what we do to suit what the society thinks is right.
In the book, the monster decides to make his first fire. Its late and he is outside in a forest by himself and figures out that a fire gives warmth. After lighting the fire the monster says “In my joy, I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain.” The monster had no idea that something that gave him joy could also give him pain. After putting his hand into the fire, he now knows that he will never do it again as he has now figured out that it will burn him. This shows Mary Shelley presenting part of Rousseau’s theory, as he says that “we are born unprovided” and “we need aid”. The monster had no idea that the fire was going to hurt him but soon came to learn that fire burns, as his hand was burnt he was given aid. Even though that the monster is not a baby, his mind has only just been brought back to life, his new life has only just been born, giving him the same qualities as a baby. When a baby is born, they are dumb. The fire scenario is an example of learning. He learned that fire burns and now knows to never put his hand into a fire again. He used trial and error to give him the knowledge that he needed.
From Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theories I now understand, I can see that some parts of Rousseau’s theories can give us an insight into the intentions that Mary Shelley may have been trying to convey through the book ‘Frankenstein’. I believe that the way Shelley chose to convey the ideas of the theories in the book is also there to give us life lessons. We can learn through the actions of the characters. Looking into the theories themselves, it made me realize that the society is a strong power that we underestimate. I also learned that most people just want to fit in, this is shown in the book as well, as Frankenstein just wanted to be normal. I think that looking into the theories closely and analyzing them, I can now understand the ideas in the book more than I originally did.