In what ways does the modern era allow the monster more or less agency? Refer to the novel Frankenstein and The Tempest.

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Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Agency is a term that describes a character’s ability to make his own choices, given the confines of his environment.

In Frankenstein, the creature is initially given free agency to make choices but is eventually limited by the society’s reaction to him. This is Shelley’s understanding of the concept of tabula rasa, or “blank slate,” in which a child is born free from any specific kind of human nature. In effect, people are born “good” but are turned “evil” by the society around them. The creature, who is immediately abandoned by his creator at his “birth,” seeks only good around him. His assumption is that people are friendly and welcoming until he faces repeated rejection. He then has the choice to turn “bad” and sets out on a murdering spree as a result of what he has learned. Thus agency can be seen in this work as morally neutral to begin with, in connection with the concept of tabula rasa.

In The Tempest, Caliban has no agency, at least physically. He is under the complete control of Prospero and must do what the sorcerer commands. He does exhibit the choice to decide how he is going to internally respond to these commands. He mentally rebels while he physically obeys. He is finally released and given complete freedom.

In the modern era, the reading of these works allows us to see that the characters have agency as to the matter of personal choice as opposed to being subject to divine destiny or predestination. In humanism, the emphasis is on people's choices to control their lives, rather than being controlled by God (much like Prospero's control of Caliban). In Frankenstein, we can see the beginning of a more modern perspective in the matter of agency. While the creator (Frankenstein) has rejected his creation, beginning in the 18th century humankind began to reject or redefine their control by God. We have changed from Caliban to the Creature. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can always control, for good or for evil, our response to our circumstances.

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