What is the role of science in Frankenstein?

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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." 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."

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, what is the role of the scientist in the novel?

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a [new] author heavily influenced by Romantic writers (Byron, Shelley—her husband, and Keats, as well as Wordsworth and Coleridge) whose focus deals a great deal with nature; e.g., Victor spends a great deal of time praising the landscape , and even the monster notices the beauty of nature when he hears birdsong.

There are many characteristics of Romantic writing, but a return to— and respect for—nature (e.g., Coleridge's somber epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) is a classic feature of Romanticism. The scientist would have been an unwelcome addition to the Romantics' world, as man began to look to what he could control and began to lose sight of what could and should be left to nature...and God.

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley focuses on, among other things, the Industrial Revolution starting in the late 18th Century. Industry has taken off with technology (e.g., electricity), and machinery (e.g., cotton spinners). Science is garnering great interest; e.g., the Shelleys attended a lecture by Charles Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus, regarding biological evolution, something that would have been in the author's mind as she wrote. However, Shelley believes there is a danger in embracing these developments without proper vigilance.

Early fans of the Frankenstein were captivated with this cautionary tale...

...about the destructive power that can result when human creativity is unfettered by moral and social concerns.

And Frankenstein...

seems to lean towards the idea that "man cannot completely control nature, and should not even attempt to". Instead, man should let nature take its course and not try to change the natural order of things.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein becomes a warning (almost like a parable or lesson) to those who are too quick to embrace new sciences and technologies, as well as adopting a reversal of ethics and moral positions of that era (though the message is still relevant today).

Victor represents the scientist who, in the face of personal obsession, turns his back on what he knows is morally and ethically correct, and throws himself—without thought of consequence—into experiments to create new life, something no human should do. Victor sins against God also when he raids graveyards for body parts, disturbing consecrated ground. Victor loses sight of his place in the universe.

Shelley's warning provides examples of what happens when someone abandons caution and conscience: Victor builds a creature and abandons it, with no regard of his responsibility to either destroy it or teach it—or even see if this can be done. The creature's experiences are horrific: he is first rejected by his creator, and then by humanity—beaten and shot. He is alone in the world. With this negative "nurturing" the creature's "nature" becomes that of a monster—who believes he was made for love. In response to his experiences, the creature becomes a monster—a result of a scientist's desire to create new life—even though Victor's wish is philanthropic, his inanity causes the death of almost everyone he loves.

I have found over the years, that there is a paradox here: who is truly the monster, or are both "men" monsters?

The scientist (Victor) is an incautious, thoughtless, morally-shallow man who blindly pursues his scientific goals without thought to the ramifications of his actions on the rest of the world.

Additional Source:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution

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