Philosophy of Dualism and Materialism in “Frankenstein”
In Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, the philosophies of dualism and materialism can be found through the story’s main characters, Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. Throughout the novel, the decisions that both make and their justifications for those decisions are rooted in both dualistic and materialistic ideas. In the scene leading up to the creation to the Creature as well as the scene itself, much of Victor’s decision to even try such a feit stems from a materialistic standpoint, using science as a way to justify his interest. In terms of the Creature, both dualism and materialism play into his decisions of the murdering of Victor’s loved ones and are used to justify his actions. For both Victor and the Creature, dualism and materialism play an important role not only in the decisions that they made, but also in the consequences that they faced afterwards.
In Central Problems in Philosophy, the article states that materialists believe that the only things there are are all material or physical things, (Pryor, Central Problems in Philosophy ). This idea can be paralleled to Victor’s own beliefs as well as to the decisions he makes pertaining to the creation of the Creature. In the beginning of the text, Victor acknowledges a more materialistic view of things. He talked about the fact that he was never exposed to superstitions or the supernatural, and saw things for what they were, such as a cemetery being only a place to hold dead bodies, (Shelley 48). Before the creation scene, Victor’s motivations leading up to it is materialistic. He states, One of the phaenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of the human frame and, indeed, any animal andued with life, (Shelley 48). Victor was fascinated by the framing of the human body as well as by the different components that make it up, such as the veins and limbs. He did not think about the non-physical phenomena, such as the idea of a soul or the Creature’s ability to have experiences. His neglect to think beyond a materialistic view would be crucial in how he treats the Creature as well as the relationship between the two.
After the creation of the Creature, Victor quickly abandons him in fear, not thinking about what was to happen to the Creature. His ability to leave him alone plays to the fact that he did not recognize that the Creature had the ability to experience the feelings of loneliness and abandonment. When referring to his loved ones who past away, such as his mother and Justine, he recognized their souls and how they were no longer with him. However, he could not see the Creature as one with a soul or one who could hold feelings to another. Even after he sees the Creature again and he expresses his desire to have someone by his side, Victor only dismisses him, destroying the female creation that he was going to make. Such actions by him proved to be detrimental, as the Creature, in turn, takes away what Victor did not allow for him.
In terms of the Creature, the decisions that he makes can also be seen as rooted in both dualism and materialism. In the Central Problems in Philosophy article, dualism is described as an idea that believes there is something beyond just the physical, and the soul is defined as where only living things that are able to think and be conscious have souls, ( Pryor, Central Problems in Philosophy ). This very much pertains to the Creature. From the time that he awakes until the end of the novel, the Creature is aware of what is occurring around him. He is intelligent and able to communicate with others. However, those who are around him do not wish to approach him, and he soon experiences the feelings of isolation and loneliness. In addition, he is further cut off from any interaction by Victor, after his female companion is killed by Victor. The Creatures desires to experience what those around him have been able to could no longer be obtained, and as a result, he turns to taking that away from Victor.
While the decisions of the creature to murder Victor’s loved ones can be seen in a dualistic sense, it can also be seen in a materialistic one. Often, serial killers are described as cold-blooded and devoid of a soul because they have the ability to kill and kill often. This can be said of the Creature as well. To kill in cold-blood and continuously do so can play to the fact that he is soulless.
In the novel Frankenstein, both dualism and materialism as present and highlighted through the decision of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. In the beginning of the novel, Victor uses a materialistic approach in his decision to create the creature. He pays no attention to the more abstract happenings that could occur from his creation, and that in turn becomes an issue not only for him but also for those around him. For the Creature, dualism and materialism are both used in the Creature’s decision to go after Victor’s loved ones. He wants to have certain experiences such as companionship and acceptance; however, he is never truly able to obtain that, as Victor stops that, both in terms of how he made him look (and in turn faced rejection) as well as not creating another creature. In turn, the Creature leads out soulless acts towards Victor’s loved ones. For both Victor and the Creature, their decisions and whether they fall into the ideas of dualism or materialism hold serious consequences, and overall, it highlights Shelley’s own critiques and thoughts around these two opposing ideas.