Mary Shelley's Frankenstein principally explores the 'Nature vs Nurture' debate. Through the animation of Frankenstein's creature Shelley provides the reader with a moral critique with regard to the intrinsic nature of man. The lack of parental role model for the Creature allows the reader to evaluate the role support networks play in shaping our own characters. The text explores Frankenstein’s transgression in attempting to play God and the moral of the story is ultimately about the limitations of man. Shelley highlights the ambitious nature of mankind through the characters of Captain Walton and Victor Frankenstein and the suffering that occurs as a result of these two characters’ actions highlights the danger of unfaltering ambition.
Forsaken by Frankenstein immediately after being brought to life, the Creature is the product of its experiences and fits with John Locke’s theory of ‘Tabula Rasa’; the eighteenth century philosopher believed that the mind was a ‘blank slate’ when we are born. Initially curious and naïve, like a new-born baby, the creature quickly learns the dangers of the world. Observing the De Lacey family he acquires speech, an understanding of history and literature. This education enables him to understand how cruel mankind is:
“Was man indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?”
The Creature understands that he is different, but is not evil from the beginning. The moral of the story suggests that we have the capacity for both good and bad and that our experiences determine what path we pursue. The Creature wishes to integrate himself into society, to be accepted, but understands that his physical deformities make this hard. As a result of this, he feels increasingly isolated and alone, evaluating his own existence. In particular, Milton’s Paradise Lost resonates with the creature:
“Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me”
Rejected by the De Lacey family, even though all he wants is for them to see beyond the “fatal prejudice that clouds their eyes”, the Creature despairs. The tale of Frankenstein explores social conditioning as the Creature suffers hardships and is increasingly isolated, triggering its desire for revenge in Volume II, Chapter VIII:
“My daily vows rose for revenge – a deep and deadly revenge, such as would alone compensate for the outrages and anguish I had endured”
The Creature goes on to murder William and allows Justine to be blamed for the murder before confronting Frankenstein and expressing his desire for female companionship:
“Man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects”.
Frankenstein eventually destroys the female companion he agrees to make, invoking the wrath and fury of the Creature. Driven to the ends of the earth in pursuit of the Creature, he meets Captain Walton and relates his tale. The framed narrative used by Shelley gifts the reader several different voices and accounts of events so they are best equipped to determine where their sympathies ought to lie.
By the conclusion of the novel, it is clear what Shelley’s moral is. The tale of Frankenstein is a harrowing exploration about the limits of mankind. The Creature is the summit of Frankenstein’s academic accomplishments and the misery this creation bestows upon his creator suggests that science can be taken too far.
Although written in the Nineteenth century, this moral remains ever applicable to mankind. The academic field of science is strewn with boundaries, slopes many feel we ought not to descend down. One particular issue particularly pertinent with regard to the moral contained within Frankenstein is the issue of designer babies. The Creature was the product of Victor Frankenstein’s wishes; he carefully selected the beautiful features, “teeth of pearly whiteness” and indeed chooses the gender of the creatures he sets out to make on both occasions. Nothing good comes of their births, and perhaps this chilling Gothic tale ought to be consulted by those who argue parents ought to be able to play God and select the characteristics they want in their child.