Lack of Knowledge Jay Stuckey "Knowledge is power." This is a famous phrase that has a lot of truth to it. What if the knowledge is incomplete? Is it still powerful or just a burden? Frankenstein and his creature are a prime example of the burden brought on one's life through incomplete knowledge. Frankenstein has a great grasp of knowledge of the physical world but lacks that grasp of knowledge of the emotional world. He creates a creature with the mind of a human but with a body that is severely dis formed.
I will discuss how the creature can be viewed as a symbol of Frankenstein's lack of knowledge and how that can be a burden on life, through an examination of their experiences, formal and informal. In some ways, the creature's gain in knowledge can be seen to resemble Frankenstein's gain in knowledge, as in when the creature starts learning from books. In other ways, their experiences are very much different. As the novel progresses, it is very apparent that the word "world" for Frankenstein, is very much narrow-minded and limited. Frankenstein speaks of childhood and points out that he would rather seek knowledge of the "world" though investigation, instead of following the creations of the poets. (Shelly 87)  He thirsts for knowledge of the material world.
If he notices an idea that is not yet realized in the material world, he attempts to work on the idea to get it realized, or give it a worldly existence. He creates the creature and rejects it because its worldly form did not reflect the brilliance of his original idea. The unlearned creature is thrown out into the world and is forced to discover the hidden meanings behind human life and society, on his own. Frankenstein speaks fondly of his youth because his parents were lenient and his companions were pleasant. (21)  His parents' believed that when bringing up their children there should not be punishment or a strict hold telling their children what to do. (21) Instead, they encourage their children to study hard, and to know what the goal is that their children plan to reach through that studying.
(21)  His parents thought, by having their children create their own process to reach an end goal, that their children would be able to avoid learning unnecessary lessons. Frankenstein liked this and thought it made him learn better and comprehend the knowledge more clearly. Frankenstein's in the home education is influenced greatly by Rousseau, an articulate writer of the "Age of Enlightenment." (24)  In his novel Emily, Rousseau's new theory on education was that the importance of expression was greater than using one's control to produce a intellectual and free-thinking child. Her theory on education also led to more lenient and psychologically oriented methods for caring for children. (25)  A child taught and brought up through these principles is essentially more of a free man than the children who were not. Because part of the hidden summary allows for the constant unearthing of new processes and methods, it in turn denies the past teachings from having too strong an ideological and academic hold on the newer generations.
(Shelly 37)  This new method of education is a unique combination of structure and freedom that one can find, and it is this combination that produced the modern day follower of Alberta Magnus and Paracelsus in Frankenstein, who duplicates his past fantasies with modern scientific tools and methods. (42) The creature, on the other hand, is an untamed and rabid version of the free individual. Without the structured approaches of an education system, and the support, love, and shelter of a family, the creature in spite of that gains an education of sorts. He does this by reacting to his environment and life; his basic needs for shelter, food, warmth and companionship. (46)  In the book, Mary Shelly: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, Anne Mellor argues that the creature is Mary Shelly's allusion to Rousseau's "noble savage" or "a creature no different from the animals, responding unconsciously to the needs of his flesh and the changing conditions of his environment." (Mellor 47) In the debate on the importance of nature versus nurture, Mellor explains that Frankenstein shows nurture to be more important, because the creature "rapidly discovers the limitations of the state of nature and the positive benefits of a civilization grounded on family life." (48) This is the unstructured and offhand education that the creature experiences, which in modern society, is termed as socialization. (49) The De Lacey family is the bottom of the general population or the friendly working, base of a society.
The creature learns about love and respect through the love and respect that the members of the family show to each other. Through Safie's story and the De Lacey's unfortunate past, the creature learns about the problems of society such as greed and corruption. Although the creature learns about the wonderful aspects of civil life, the creature also learns of his own status in human society. (Shelly 96)  He has no history because he is ignorant of his creator and creation, he does not have money, friends or property, and he "was not even of the same nature as man." (Shelly 84)  The creature's discovery of knowledge led to his own self-knowledge. He finds that all his knowledge has become part of him and his identity: " Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock " (Shelly 96) Like a lichen or fungus on a rock, knowledge also covers the mind. To look outward from one's mind into the world, is to see the world through the thickness of the lichen or one's own knowledge.
The principles that first gripped Frankenstein's mind were those of prominent magicians from as early as the thirteenth century. (Shelly 34)  Cornelius Agrippa defended the status of "hidden philosophy" or magic, and once set up a laboratory in the hopes of making gold. Albertus Magnus was a medieval religious scholar who, while still believing that human reason could not contradict divine revelation, believed in the philosopher's right to investigate divine mysteries. (35) Paracelsus was a doctor and chemist also concerned himself with magical knowledge like Agrippa, but also defied the medical beliefs of his time, stating that diseases were caused by things outside of the body and that they could be countered or destroyed by chemical substances.
(36) These writers were, as Waldman explained, "men to whose tireless passion of modern philosophers were responsible for most of the foundations of knowledge" (37). However, not all their ideas, created by these men, were considered scientific or even socially acceptable, because they contradict strongly held religious beliefs. (Shelly 42)  Frankenstein's father tells him not to waste his time with these writers because "a modern system of science had been introduced, which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were magical, while those of the former were real and practical." (Shelly 23)  Instead, he is forced to take up the study of natural philosophy, the eighteenth century equivalent of the sciences like physics and chemistry. Although his first attempts at attending lectures were interrupted and not successful, he enjoyed reading the works of Pliny the Elder and Buffon, George Louis Leclerc, Comte de; both of whom wrote extensive encyclopedic books on natural history. (25)  Frankenstein begins to build on his scientific knowledge.
He also starts to take his study of chemistry seriously when he goes to Ingolstadt and finds a mentor in Waldman. In Ingolstadt, he becomes part of the new science that penetrates "into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding places." (30)  The sexual imagery as an invasion of the female privacy is clearly shown, but also, throughout his education, he seems to have only male teachers. (Levine 25) He clearly states this, "My father directs our studies, and my mother partook of our enjoyments." (Shelly 25)  Frankenstein grows up in an environment where education and the intellectual side of things are controlled by men. Women are seen as objects and are delegated to be in charge of games or of nursing the younger members of the family. (Levine 25) Also, women are downplayed to be on a lower intellectual level, the women, like Elizabeth, prefer poetry to science. Their emotions overrule their reason, such as when Frankenstein's mother demanded to see Elizabeth, when Elizabeth was ill with scarlet fever and got the deadly disease as a result of seeing her.
(26) Mary Shelly seems to show an overwhelming male presence in the Frankenstein household. (Behrendt 46) The men are able to become surrogate parents easily, such as when Frankenstein becomes the instructor of his brothers. (Levine 26) He also thinks of Elizabeth as a thing more fragile and less intelligent in her life, than he is, and sees her as "a favorite animal." (27). Katherine Hill-Miller, in her book, My Hideous Progeny: Mary-Shelly, William Godwin and the Father-Daughter Relationship, explains that even in Frankenstein's role as an overachieving scientist, Frankenstein can also be interpreted as a father figure because "Part of his motivation in fashioning his creature, after all, is his desire to receive homage and the thanks of beings dependent on him for their generation." (Hill-Miller 60). Katherine Hill-Miller also states that ideas aren't enough to make Frankenstein try to take on the role of the God and bring life to a corpse. Mary Shelly shows the reader that society at large, will always play with the internal and emotional and psychological makeup of man.
(62) Frankenstein's own internal makeup that leads him to go around the natural parts of procreation. Frankenstein's confidence in the man's scientific ability, the belief in the right to control nature through the collection of knowledge, and his own arrogance, leads Frankenstein to take on the role of God, by bring life to something without a natural process. (67) His knowledge of the world and life is one that is created bit by bit; ironically the creature is as a physical depiction of this, shown through the patching up of mismatched parts to make a whole (Behrendt 48). In trying to be more than a human being, Frankenstein finds himself wedged in between being man and being God, and becomes discontented from his immediate society, through the burdens brought about by the creature. (49) As Frankenstein set himself as an outcast trying to be more than he is, the creature is also outcast from man and society. Unlike Frankenstein, who is outcast for trying to put himself above man, the creature is portrayed as being caught in between man and animal, and is outcast for being less than man.
(Levine 63) The creature seems to gain an understanding of human life and complex it is through his observations of the De Lacey family and through the books that he reads. From the "Sorrows of Werner", the creature becomes familiar with the broad range of human emotions that he found. (64) By reading "Plutarch's Lives", he learns a higher way of thinking and finds that, through the processes of his mind and through the examples of the great lives of other men, he is able to be "elevated... above the wretched sphere." (65).
He also reads "Paradise Lost" in which ideas like free will and predestination are discussed. The creature develops a crucial wisdom into his own life through such things as "Plutarch's Lives" a series of character studies which reveal a person's morality. (66) By reading "Paradise Lost", he is able to put his own condition into words, drawing comparisons between himself and Adam, and exposing the differences. (67) Unlike Frankenstein's choice of a life of solitude, the creature longs for the support of a family and the companionship of a female. (Shelly 104)  One finds that Frankenstein's encyclopedic knowledge is undermined by his lack of his own self-knowledge and of the more admirable parts of human emotion; which, ironically, is compensated for in his creature, which he rejects. (105)  the creature is symbolic part of what Frankenstein's psyche is missing.
The creature also portrays a natural, innocent man who becomes the victim of society and his social conditions, because of his reactions to the adversity he faces. (Levine 52) After being convinced of the De Lacey's high level of dignity and character, the creature attempts to become apart of their lives, with unfortunate results. (52) In their rejection, the creature realizes and experiences the contradictions in human behavior. When Felix attacks him without asking him his story and Safie runs from the cottage without stopping to assist Agatha who has fainted the creature witnesses how fickle humans can be. (53) The creature, is not only a victim of his social circumstances.
he becomes a predator when he chooses to react in hatred and bitterness to his surroundings and act out his feelings for revenge. (Shelly 113)  Frankenstein creates a creature that is severely disfigured. The creatures physical appearance is symbolic of the incomplete education of Frankenstein and itself. The structured and systematic method of learning that is available to Frankenstein but not to the creature, sets the two apart greatly. Frankenstein has detailed knowledge of the physical world but lacks in that of the emotional world, while the creature lacks a firm grasp of knowledge all round. Both lack what it takes to be a complete, rounded part of society; and are linked to each other in this monstrous way.
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) Hill-Miller, Katherine. My Hideous Progeny: Mary-Shelly, William Godwin and the Father-Daughter Relationship: Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1973. 3. ) Levine, George.
The Endurance of Frankenstein: essays on Mary Shelly's novel/ edited by George levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher: Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. 4. ) Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelly: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters: New York; London: Routledge, 1989.
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