What is the role of science in Frankenstein?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Science is what sort of tempts Victor away from relationships with his friends and family, his appreciation for nature, and even his morality. He tells Walton of his feelings while he worked to complete his experiment, saying, "often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Science is what sort of tempts Victor away from relationships with his friends and family, his appreciation for nature, and even his morality. He tells Walton of his feelings while he worked to complete his experiment, saying, "often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion." He feels that a significant, human portion of himself was disgusted and upset by his actions, and yet he continued on, determined to distinguish himself in his field. Further, he says that, although it was a beautiful season and abundant harvest, his "eyes were insensible to the charms of nature." These same feelings also cause him "to forget those friends who were so many miles absent." In other words, science provides an arena in which Victor can and does lose himself. It is as though Shelley is warning readers about such dangers of science: humans should not start thinking of themselves as godlike. Science offers great opportunities for the study and advancement of humanity, but we mustn't overstep its bounds.

Victor tells Walton,

If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.

Thus, we must also be careful not to lose ourselves and our priorities in the pursuit of scientific study or exploration.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Science in this novel drives Victor to pursue grand ambitions. Science itself is not a problem, but Victor's ambitious desires for using science lead him astray. He looks with dismay on the death and decay of the human body and decides to explore the secrets of creating life. He determines that he can create life from inanimate body parts. In following this path, he is overstepping human bounds and playing God.

Advances in science in his period, brought on by the Enlightenment's reliance on empiricism, aid greatly in Victor's desire to become the modern Prometheus. Therefore, modern science plays an important role in Victor's downfall. Victor is first fascinated by alchemy, and only later is he convinced to turn to more modern methods in his quest for creating life. However, his obsessive pursuit of his ambition, which threatens to ruin his health and isolate him from other humans, is a sign that Victor is misusing science.

Victor is intelligent and determined to succeed in his goal of creating life. His means are those of rational science, not the supernatural. However, he lacks the wisdom and maturity to cope with and take responsibility for what he has created. Later, he repents of his former ambitions and tells Walton,

Seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The following sciences can be found in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein:

Genetic Engineering (Cloning): taking material from one organism and splicing it into another for the purpose of generating something new.  Victor takes dead bodies and creates a new one.

Alchemy: the dark art of trying to turn lead (or other such materials) into gold.  In the novel, Victor transforms death into life.

Galvanism: the study of electricity to animate dead animals to life.  Victor harnesses lightning to breathe the spark of life into his creation.

Necromancy: black magic art of contacting and communicating with the dead.  Victor pilfer his parts from grave yards and, more or less, sells his soul to the devil to animate them.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Science in Shelley's Frankenstein goes too far.  Science transgresses by moving into the area of forbidden knowledge. 

Science without responsibility invades where it should not go.  Victor admirably learns and studies and progresses as a scientist, and this is a positive in the novel.  But Victor soon becomes obsessed, and his reckless and chaotic life leading up to the creation reflects the recklessness of what he is doing. 

Victor, the scientist, creates without a conscience and takes no responsibility for his actions.  Faced with what he's done, he completely rejects his creation, leading to the tragedies of the novel.  His creation needs nurturing, follow up, as we might say today.  But Victor refuses to take responsibility for his science, and tragedy results.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team