How do the concepts of Enlightenment and Romanticism shape Victor Frankenstein's understanding?
In the book, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, the profound concepts of Enlightenment and Romanticism are seen in the portrayal of Victor and Frankenstein. In brief summary, Enlightenment was the idealization of the pursuit of knowledge and understanding while Romanticism focused on humanity, nature, and compassion. For both of these characters, the concepts profoundly impacted their understanding.
For Victor, Enlightenment played a crucial role; however, the influence of Romanticism can also be seen. For Victor, he illustrated that his passion for knowledge and learning were to bring fulfillment into his life. Unfortunately, Shelley showed that Enlightenment can leave a person feeling disillusioned, which Victor quickly realizes after reaching his goal of creating the monster (a pinnacle accomplishment according to Enlightenment). On the other hand, after this occurrence, Victor turns more to nature and the simplicity of life to regain happiness.
On the other hand, the creature’s understanding seems to be first shaped by Romanticism and later impacted by Enlightenment. The creature is presented as a Romantic character because he was born as rejected by society. Furthermore, Shelley encourages the audience to feel sympathetic for the creature. However, the creature eventually turns towards more Enlightenment perspectives, especially when he hopes to use knowledge to find a community and acceptance. Unfortunately, Enlightenment does not work for the creature either and he is left even more isolated. As the creature himself states:
I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge. Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood, nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!
Consequently, Shelley utilized these two characters to illustrate some of the prevailing thoughts about Enlightenment and Romanticism during the time. According to some scholars, these ideas might have been influenced by the people in her life, such as her husband (Percy Shelley) and friends, who were iconic Romanticism leaders.