Technology and Morality in Shelley’s “Frankenstein”
In Frankenstein, Shelley addresses her concerns regarding human advancement by using a framed narrative that includes parallels, foils, and allusions in order to express that many people are unaware of the consequences of their actions because their hubris and ambition blinds them. This tends to disrupt the balance of society. Shelley’s framed structure leads us gradually to the central ideas of her novel and has us question our own society as a whole.
The intention of each narrative in the novel is to create an effect on the narration and the reader. The monster attempts to convince Victor to take responsibility as a creator. Victor then wants Walton to “seek” the monster “and satisfy” his own “vengeance in his death” (155). Victor ventures to persuade Walton to destroy the monster and it is only because of Victor’s ambition that the monster was created in the first place. Walton also is ambitious when he expresses that “success shall crown my endeavours” (7). This can relate to how Victor wants to “pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (28). Both will stop at nothing in pursuit of glory. This causes Victor to disregard the implications of his actions in service to his goals. Many of his traits are mirrored in Walton and his ambition to create life is paralleled by Walton’s desire to reach the North Pole. When the monster confronts Walton, it causes him to be “interrupted” and Walton’s ambition also appears to be interrupted (162). He then becomes a foil to Victor because he is able to confront the creature and sees firsthand the disastrous outcomes of uncontrolled ambition. Walton’s narrative calls into question Victor’s perceptions of himself and his self confidence. Victor’s ambition contributes to his hubris, thus moving him far from humility. When the monster threatens him, he thinks of his “beloved Elizabeth, – of her tears and endless sorrow” if he is found dead (123). Victor’s hubris blinds him from thinking she could be the one to die. It is also interesting how the monster reads Paradise Lost “as a true history” when Victor easily becomes Lucifer (92). His excessive pride and ambition contribute to his downfall because he moves away from humility.
Shelley addresses balance and humility through allusions. The book’s subtitle is “”The Modern Prometheus,”” which alludes to when Prometheus created man from clay and got severely punished. Victor also creates life and is punished when the monster kills almost everyone that he loves. We are encouraged to link Victor to God, the monster to Adam and the uncompleted female creature to Eve. The monster compares himself to Adam by saying that, “no Eve soothed my sorrows…I remembered Adam’s Supplication to his creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me…” (93). There is a disruption of balance without the female monster which can relate to the structure’s hint at balance. The creature also identifies with Satan because Satan, too, was cast aside by his creator. The monster expresses that “many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition… when I viewed the bliss of my protectors… envy rose within me” (92). There are twenty four chapters in Frankenstein which can relate to the twenty four chapters in The Odyssey that show Odysseus’ journey towards balance. Victor is disrupting balance and not anticipating the consequences of his actions.
The structure of the novel questions the pursuit of certain knowledge. Technology controls and shapes our lives. According to Bridle, “Technologies… increasingly exceed the understanding of even their creators” (1). This is dangerous considering Victor creates life but then it ends up shaping and consuming his life in a negative way. Once Victor realizes his wrongs, he explains to Walton that “”you seek for knowledge and wisdom as I once did… and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been” because Victor hopes to “”enlarge [Walton’s] faculties and understanding”” (13). Victor realizes that while the knowledge he pursued caused his downfall, it should not cause someone else’s. His story is a cautionary tale both to Walton, who dictates it and learns of the dangerous of pursuing certain kinds of knowledge, and to us, who are encouraged to draw the same lesson. The epistolary and framed narrative are feminine structures that allow us to step back and reflect on what we are reading so we will thoroughly question how much one should know.
Shelley emphasizes the unpredictability of creations and how, even today, they can cause problems. There is a technology called the Amazon Alexa which is a “voice activated gadget” that can “suddenly laugh… and send a recording of your pillow talk to a colleague” (Bridle 1). We will never be able to completely control technology once it is created. This relates to when Victor describes that he “did not doubt that the monster followed” him because the monster was watching his every move (119). Technology is unpredictable and this can relate to the gothic style of the book considering it showcases a sense of mystery. The monster’s own creator describes him as a “demoniacal corpse” to which he “had so miserably given life” (36). The setting as well as the weather also contributes to this sense of mystery with the dimly lit laboratories and hostile foreign landscapes. The gothic style helps to elicit the unpredictability of the monster. Shelley expresses her concerns regarding technological advancement and human desire which can still be seen today through our growing, industrial society.
Shelley uses the structure to address concerns regarding human progress and how we can blindly make decisions without thinking them through, thus resulting in unwanted consequences. Our hubris and ambition drive us to create astronomical advancements in order to stand out and make a difference in society, but then at times tip us completely off balance. This timeless novel addresses concerns regarding technology that we still do not learn from today.