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The Worldview of Frankenstein and the Philosophy of Romanticism

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A research paper that I wrote for English Composition I. Discusses how the worldview presented in Frankenstein is aligned with some of the fundamental aspects of Romanticism.
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  Hutchins 1 Margaret Hutchins Composition I Research Paper 2 August 2014 The Worldview of Frankenstein  and the Philosophy of Romanticism What is the message of a book? Although well-crafted stories are open to many interpretations, one of the fundamental messages of a work of literature is its worldview. To discern a work’s worldview involves examining the perspective that it projects on th e existing or ideal state of one’s relationships with God, self, and other people. This paper analyzes the worldview presented in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein  (1818) in an effort to show that it is aligned with the major tendencies of Romanticism, a worldview that was prevalent at the time the book was written. One of the defining attitudes of Romanticism is rebellion  –  in fact, that one word could be used to sum up the whole movement. (Durant 905) It is no wonder, then, that the Romantics took a somewhat antagonistic view to God as creator. (Cantor 127-8) Frankenstein  radiates the same tone right from the title page with a quote from Milton: Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mould me man? Did I solicit thee From darkness to promote me?  Hutchins 2 The book goes on to paint an unattractive picture of Frankenstein as an irresponsible and unjust creator (e.g., Shelley 1.4.2, 2.7.4-5) who is concerned with his own interests: Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through....  A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs. (1.3.6) to the exclusion of the needs of his creature and his family:  And the same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent….I knew my silence disquieted them….but I could not tear my thoughts from my employment. (1.3.7) The creat ure’s later rebuke to Frankenstein:  Cursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?....I remembered Adam’s supplication to his Creator; but where was mine? he had abandoned me…. (2.7.4 -5) provides a justification for his rebellious and defiant attitude: Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries….I will work at your destruction…. (2.9.2)  It is interesting to note that most Romantics did not favor the wholesale rejection of religion, but rather a greater freedom in formulating one’s religious views. (Russell 703) Similarly, in Frankenstein , rebellion is portrayed as an aggravation to the creature’s  Hutchins 3 problems (Cantor 106), and Shelley may have been suggesting that the only solution is to find one’s own happiness through autonomy from the creator’s standards. (Cantor 131) The romantic outlook did not just have a view on self; the self is the focal point of the whole philosophy. (Russell 705) Romanticism’s revolt against tradit ional religion, mores and societal norms; its pursuit of solitude; its glorification of nature and the natural state; its elevation of individual creativity  –  all of these come down to a quest for the free expression of one’s self, unhindered by restraint of any kind. Solitude, especially solitude in nature, is a readily apparent theme in Frankenstein . The lonely  Arctic explorer in the beginning of the story, Frankenstein’s isolated childhood, his seclusion as he completes his research and creation, the cre ature’s solitary existence, the destruction of Frankenstein’s friends and family, the feelings of utter separation experienced by both Frankenstein and his creature, and the remote settings of the story (the Arctic Circle, the Swiss Alps, the Orkney Islands) all reinforce the theme of solitude. Interestingly enough, the story portrays both good and bad consequences of solitude. On the one hand, Frankenstein’s immersion of himself in research to the exclusion of all else allows him to make unprecedented breakthroughs. In the midst of the horrific events that follow, his only relief is to be alone in nature: These sublime and magnificent scenes afforded me the greatest consolation that I was capable of receiving….they diverted my mind from the thoughts over w hich it had brooded for the last month. (Shelley 2.2.1) The creature also finds peace when alone in nature:  Hutchins 4 … [T]he day, which was one of the first of spring, cheered even me by the loveliness of its sunshine and the balminess of the air. I felt emotions of gentleness and pleasure, which had long appeared dead, revive within me…. I let myself be borne away by them; and, forgetting my solitude and deformity, dared to be happy. (2.8.6) On the other hand, Frankenstein’s self  -centeredness causes him to lose touch with reality (Hetherington 9). According to Cantor, his intense desire for solitude reflects a form of egoism that manifests itself in the destruction of his loved ones. (118) The creature is spurred to vengeance because he resents being rejected and cut off from any type of relationship with humans. (see Shelley 2.9.2 ) Furthermore, if creator and creature are viewed as a single, dualistic being (Cantor 106), their withdrawal into the remote places of the earth to struggle and die can itself be seen as a form of tortured solitude. The issue of self in Frankenstein  is also addressed in the context of the antagonism between the creator and his creature, which can be viewed as representing the struggle between the “creative” and “creaturely” aspects of human nature. (Hetherington 20) Like two halves of the same mind, the existences of Frankenstein and his creature are so deeply linked that they can never be completely free of each other.  Ambiguity arises as to who is or ought to be subordinate to whom, and it is doubtful whether either character “wins” in the end. This conflict illustrates the internal conflict that the Romantics experienced  –  the drive for creative self-expression versus the ordinary functions and limitations of human life  –  as well as the seeming impossibility of resolving that conflict. (Cantor 130-32)

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Jul 27, 2017

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