With nature playing a major role in the book, what does this emphasis on the natural world mean?Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Resonating with the credo of the Romantics, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein explores the conflict of science and its accompanying lure of ambition against what is natural.  Chapters 12 and 13 of the novel reveal that Victor's creature is innately the "noble savage" of Rousseau who is inspired by the beauty of nature; he is sensitive and altruistic, and he grows to love the Delaceys with whom he experiences vicariously some of the joys of family.  In short, he has been born to be good, but the evils of his artificial assemblage by Victor's electrical experiment cause his deformity which turns others against him as they perceive only an aberration from nature.  The creature then becomes torn between tenderness and vengefulness against his creator.

Mary Shelley's work became one of the triumphs of the Romantic movement because readers and philosophers alike identified with the themes of alienation from nature and its warning relevant to their Industrial Age against the destructive power of technology that is "unfettered by moral and social concerns." Throughout Frankenstein, those who are close to nature such as Henry Clerval, Victor's friend, balance their lives with study and the enjoyment of nature and personal relationships. 

With Henry, Victor is always at peace.  As they travel through Switzerland, Victor enjoys the beauty of Mt. Blanc and the Alps and the beautiful Lake Como, Italy.  In Bavaria, he travels on the beautiful Danube; in England he and Henry visit Oxford and other historic sights.  Nevertheless, while there is beauty in the Alps, the whiteness of this natural setting also symbolizes the spiritual absence in Victor's life. The barren island and the "appalling landscape" and cave in which Victor begins to fashion a second creature, symbolize the "detestable occupation" in which Victor is involved.  Clearly, throughout the narrative of Frankenstein, actions against nature are symbolized by "appalling" sights, indicating the corruption of the soul which results from scientific endeavors that exclude moral responsibility.

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