In Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, why does Victor Frankenstein create the monster?

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The main "protagonist" in Mary Shelley's classic of gothic literature, Frankenstein, is a man driven to learn and to experiment. That is all well and good, but, unfortunately for Victor Frankenstein, the particular subject of his obsession is the reanimation of dead tissue. In short, Victor is determined to prove that the dead can be brought back to life. Shelley's novel is more than just a horror story. It is a philosophical contemplation of the nature of life and of the ethics of playing God.

Victor Frankenstein's motivation in creating the monster, or, as he will put it, "the wretch," had its roots in his childhood fascination with science. Early in her novel, Shelley's protagonist describes his discovery of an ancient text that spurs his interest in both science and literature. It is his father's condemnation of that ancient text, referring to it as "sad trash," however, that leads Victor down the path of scientific investigation--a journey that will climax with the destruction of all he holds dear. Rather than follow his father's advice, young Victor proceeds to read this ancient text, that of Cornelius Agrippa. As Victor explains the consequences of this youthful decision:

"If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains, to explain to me, that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced, which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical; under such circumstances, I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside, and, with my imagination warmed as it was, should probably have applied myself to the more rational theory of chemistry which has resulted from modern discoveries. It is even possible, that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin. But the cursory glance my father had taken of my volume by no means assured me that he was acquainted with its contents; and I continued to read with the greatest avidity."

This is no throw-away passage in Shelley's novel; on the contrary, it is the beginning of that ominous chain of events and involves also the death of Victor's beloved mother--an event that instills in the young man a need to understand the line that divides life from death.

Victor will grow and mature, and his fascination with fields of science outside the bounds of the conventional takes root with tragic consequences. Victor's interest in science, in particular in the medical sciences, is admirable, but his fascination with the unconventional is not, as he acknowledges early in his confession before Robert Walton:

"My dreams were therefore undisturbed by reality; and I entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life."

While Victor's fascination with particular discussions of the natural sciences sets him upon his path toward the creation of the monster, it is the countervailing views...

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ofM. Waldman, along with this learned professor's admirable demeanor, that further propels the now-university-student Victor along his journey of discovery. As Victor describes the effect on him of Waldman's guidance, he states, "From this day natural philosophy, and particularly chemistry in the most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation." So, again, we have information directly related to his motivations for experimentation on reanimating dead tissue. Victor's studies lead him closer and closer to the fundamental questions of life and death--"Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed"--and he continues with an unhealthy passion to study and to experiment.

Victor is driven to learn about life and to experiment with ways to reanimate dead tissue. Chapter III, from which the above quotes are taken, is replete with examples of text illuminating his motivations:

"To examine the causes of life, we must first have recourse to death. I became acquainted with the science of anatomy: but this was not sufficient; I must also observe the natural decay and corruption of the human body."

Victor Frankenstein is committed to the pursuit of knowledge. It is, however, his experimentation with living beings that proves catastrophic. As noted above, Frankenstein is a thoughtful meditation on the ethics of scientific experimentation. Chapters III and IV, however, also provide useful meditations on the ethics and morality of scientific experimentation when thorough consideration of consequences is absent.

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As a child, Victor dreams of the

glory [that] would attend the discovery if [he] could banish disease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!

He starts to consider how wonderful it would be if he could manage to make human beings resistant to illness. As a young man, just about to leave for college, Victor is deeply affected by the illness of Elizabeth Lavenza, a close family friend, and the death of his beloved mother. He tells Captain Walton, of her passing,

It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she whom we saw every day [...] can have departed forever—that the [...] sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard.

After his mother's death, the dream of rendering humanity invulnerable to disease takes on a new urgency, and Victor's desire to eradicate the effects of illnesses like scarlet fever (the sickness that took his mother and nearly took his friend) grows. It's unclear what the link is between reanimating dead body parts into a new person and the goal of making humanity disease-resistant, but Victor seems to see one, and this is one reason he chooses to make his creature. However, he is also very interested in attaining personal "glory."

Further, Victor is driven to scientific extravagance after being humiliated by Professor Krempe. He becomes disappointed by the realities of modern science when compared to the old pseudoscientists. He says,

[...] I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand; but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the inquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.

Professor Waldman takes Victor under his wing, in order to educate him in the ways of what is actually possible with modern science, and Victor sets out to do something that no one has ever done before: to create life as a god might.

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There are a few reasons why Victor Frankenstein chooses to create a monster.

First, we can say that Victor Frankenstein’s scientific mind led him to create life. More specifically, as he was studying the chemical decay of living beings, he gained knowledge of creation and life. He pushed this knowledge to it logical end. 

Second, we can say that there was also an emotion component. After his mother died, he was motivated to cure the problem of death.

Finally, we can say that hubris got the best of Victor Frankenstein. He had a god complex. To put it another way, Frankenstein had a ruthless desire to obtain forbidden knowledge. This is confirmed when the monster calls himself, Adam, ("the Adam of your labors").

One of the most famous quotes in the book touches upon this theme:

"Did I request thee, Maker, from my clayTo mould me Man, did I solicit theeFrom darkness to promote me?"

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In Victor Frankenstein we find a character who is deeply flawed despite of his great academic gifts. One of his major flaws as a character is the tendency to think that his beliefs are equivalent to rules and, as such, he must follow them.

When Victor loses his mother his emotions falsely lead him to suppose that he could have some control over the fate of people's lives if only he had the proper formula. This is the extent to which Victor's ideas are, in his opinion, norms. As a result, Victor summed up all of his intellectual and research skills to obsessively find that proper formula that would create life.

Hence, it is the combination of Victor's own sense of grandiosity, his obsession with creating life, and the many new discoveries taking place around him involving chemistry and electricity, that made Victor suppose that he could use all those resources to conduct the ultimate science project: the creation of life itself.

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There are many reasons why Victor became so fixated in the idea of building a living thing. First, he had been studying for a while the concepts of alchemy, science, biology, and most importantly, electricity. His fixation with electricity was particularly important in that Victor thought that he had conceived a notion: That electricity, that invisible and yet destructive force, can also be the link to reviving things and bring them back to life.

Therefore he embarked on a crusade to proof his theory. Do not forget also that Victor became kind of arrogant and ambitious, obsessive, and too full of himself. He was playing God and he knew it. Hence, out of a pile of dead body parts he put together this creature to which he would apply a treatment of electricity, as he thought. And therefore, not only would he proof himself correctly, but he would have achieved the amazing deed of creating life and be godlike.

In all, it was a combination of arrogance, obsession, passion for science, curiosity, and the ultimate achievement of creating life.

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What gave Mary Shelley her idea for the story Frankenstein?

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is considered by many to be the first science fiction story. As such, it incorporates some of the scientific research of her day. Shelley probably got her idea for Frankenstein from experiments conducted by scientists such as Luigi Galvani and his nephew Giovanni Aldini.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s human work with electricity was in its infancy. Some of the early experiments looked at the effect of electrical current on the bodies of animals, including human beings. In some cases, electricity was applied to animal cadavers, including those of human beings. These bodies were seen to tremble and move when affected by the current. Some scientists looked into the possibility of reanimating deceased creatures in this way.

Shelley’s husband Percy was a bit of an amateur scientist and conducted his own experiments. It is all but certain that Mary knew about electrical experimentation like the above. This could conceivably have led to her Frankenstein concept.

Ironically, the story itself does not specifically say that electricity had anything to do with bringing the monster to life. Mary implies such by using the word “spark,” but never directly states that electricity is involved. The idea that a bolt of lightning supplied the power that brought Frankenstein’s monster to life is an invention of the movies.

Shelley also stated that prior to writing the story she had a dream that a scientist reanimated a corpse. The fact that she mentions this tells us that it certainly provided some of the motivation for the story.

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Why did Mary Shelley write Frankenstein?

Mary Shelley (then Mary Godwin) was only a teenager when she visited Lord Byron's home in Switzerland with her boyfriend, poet Percy Shelley. One night while they were there it was a (pardon the cliche) dark and stormy night, and the friends began telling ghost stories. Mary had had a dream about a man who created a monster, and she drew inspiration from that dream. She may have also taken ideas from conversations she had with these friends about galvanism, which is when a current of electricity is applied to muscles and nerves (based on the scientist Galvani's work shocking frogs and making their muscles twitch). At the time, the early 1800s, they were beginning to come upon some technology that would "bring the dead to life" or resuscitate people, like artificial breathing or what we now call CPR. 

Mary Shelley's introduction to the book explains some of her inspiration for the novel, and her novel also addresses many of the scientific questions of the time. 

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Why did Mary Shelley write Frankenstein?

Such a fun question, because it has such a fun answer!  Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, were visiting their friend Lord Byron when she got the idea for this book.  The three friends agreed to challenge: who could come up with the best ghost story to scare the other two?  Shelley wrote in her introduction to the book that she was inspired by the image of a ghoulish and "hideous phantasm of a man".

The image became Victor Frankenstein's monster.  Shelley used the technique of horror stories that would later become central to the writings of such authors as Stephen King - base the tale as much on real situations as possible.  Science was beginning to encroach on everyday life in Shelley's world, in the early 19th century.  Just as we can imagine hover cars being a possibility, it was not a far leap for people of the time to imagine science had the capability to reanimate life. 

Which leads to Shelley's other purpose in writing.  Like many of the romantic authors, Shelley wanted to idealize and glorify nature.  She creates this story to demonstrate negative affects of science and of man's attempts to control nature.  She makes the tragic flaw of her protagonist his arrogance in all dealings with the natural world.

And all from a friendly bet!

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Why did Mary Shelley write Frankenstein?

"Frankenstein" was the end result of an informal contest or challenge among three close friends, Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the noted poet Lord Byron.  The three would regale each other with tales during their time together near Lake Geneva.  They were particularly fond of scary stories.  It was during one of these sessions that Mary conjured up the seeds of what would become her classic novel "Frankenstein."  She had been encouraged by the others to expand upon her off-the-cuff tale, a challenge that she took to heart. 

While the story of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his creation was borne of such whimsy, as Mary expanded the story it evolved into a serious morality tale about man's natural tendency to experiment and to occasionally play God.

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