What is the moral lesson of Frankenstein?

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One moral lesson in Frankenstein is that people need to belong and feel connected to others to survive. Another moral lesson is that humans must carefully consider the costs of scientific progress.

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One important moral lesson that Mary Shelley conveys is that it is dangerous to interfere with natural processes or “play God.” Closely connected to this lesson is the danger of pride. Victor’s hubris in trying to create life ultimately generates an epic of misery and death. Although he did succeed in enlivening one creature, he failed to anticipate that creature’s needs. Victor was motivated by his own desire for success and did not consider important issues such as the relationship between body and soul.

Shelley lived in an age when traditional values and religions were constantly being challenged. The Enlightenment philosophers had emphasized the centrality of human beings and often downplayed the power of established institutions such as the church. Victor places his confidence in science but willfully ignores the possible dark side of human nature. He is motivated by the idea that the being he animates will “bless me as its creator and source.”

Victor lives to regret his arrogance. He finally concludes that acquiring knowledge for its own sake is a dangerous folly and that a person is likely to be made unhappy when he “aspires to become greater than his nature will allow." His lack of foresight and responsibility not only leads to the death of his own brother but also makes the creature’s entire existence miserable.

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One moral lesson from Frankenstein is that you are responsible for the lives you create, even if you don't like the way they turn out.

The swath of death and destruction that the angry creature wreaks on Frankenstein's family and friends is the result of his rejection by his creator. Victor was his parent, even if he made his "child" out of body parts, yet he fled his child in horror, leaving him to fend for himself. Although in telling his story, Victor goes on at length about how he benefitted from a loving family, he doesn't seem to have the empathy or maturity to extend that love to a needy child of his own. As the creature explains to Victor,

I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe.

If Victor would only have offered love to his creation, so much rage and violence could have been averted.

Another moral lesson is that Victor—and the other people who encountered the creature—should have looked past his hideous appearance to try to find the good soul inside. Shelley makes the point that humans are more than our outward appearances. Yet the creature is judged by those who encounter him as an evil monster solely on the basis of his looks, without these people making any attempt to enter into relationship with him.

Finally, as the subtitle of the novel suggests, by calling Victor the modern Prometheus, too much personal ambition can lead to terrible outcomes. Victor overstepped his bounds in creating human life out of inanimate matter, if only because he wasn't emotionally ready to deal with the consequences. Shelley suggests that we should think through the actions we take, especially if they are ego based, before they cause great harm.

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Because of the deep conflicts Mary Shelley constructs in Frankenstein, there are several moral lessons that readers can walk away with.

One such message is that the desire to connect with others is a fundamental need in life. Most of the conflict in this novel arises because Victor creates a being and then abandons him. The monster stalks Victor for a while, desperate to be part of his life, and only finds constant rejection from his creator. He then tries to befriend the De Lacey family, first assisting them with their lives and trying to build a relationship from a distance before introducing himself. When he is rejected by them, he turns to Victor again, begging him to create a female companion so that he can spend his life with another creature. Victor agrees, but eventually backs out and destroys the creature's would-be companion. After this, the monster's sense of isolation fuels a rage which results in his final killing spree. His inability to cope with a life in which he finds himself completely cut off from the companionship he longs for is too much, and it demonstrates that a sense of connectedness is vital for survival.

Shelley also argues that the costs of scientific progress must be carefully considered. Victor is surprisingly unprepared to face the results of his scientific efforts; although he pieces together the monster with his own hands, it is not until the creature opens his eye that Victor realizes the horror in his efforts. Blinded by thoughts of personal accomplishment, Victor fails to fully consider how this achievement might impact his society, and he is powerless to prevent the outcome even after he makes this realization. This warning is still relevant two centuries after Shelley's novel was originally published, as scientific progress continues to push forward with little thought for the potential adverse consequences. Shelley's novel urges humans to consider the costs of scientific progress carefully.

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