Victor Frankenstein was, from the time he began his studies, seeking to tread in what the Romantics viewed as dangerous territory. He was fascinated by the work of the ancient alchemists. At first, the promises of modern science held insufficient promise for him. "It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things, or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or, in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world."
However, when a gifted professor excited him with the promise of modern chemistry, Frankenstein threw himself into those studies as well, seeking a way to blend the ancient beliefs with the promises of modern science. "But here were books, and here were men who had penetrated deeper and knew more. I took their work for all that they averred, and I became their disciple."
Thus, Victor Frankenstein discovered the secret of life. It is unimportant that Shelley refuses to reveal the nature of the secret that Frankenstein discovers, for it is not so much the science that Shelley is interested in, but rather the outcome of the knowledge gained by science. In the telling of his horrific tale to Walton, Frankenstein says that he will not reveal the nature of the secret because of the horror that the secret had brought. Elizabeth Nitchie points out, "What the life-giving process was, Mary does not allow Frankenstein to tell us, whether it was galvanism or some chemical change." (Nitchie 288) This decision on the part of Frankenstein reflects the beliefs of the Romantics - that man would be better off not involving himself in secrets that he could not possibly comprehend. In the end, Shelley illustrates through Victor Frankenstein that these new beliefs would be better left unspoken, or never discovered at all.
As Victor breaks apart and rebuilds his monster, clearly he is building something that is much like the complexity of a human. The fact that the monster is a combined creature, an arm from here, the brain from there, the torso from yet another body, is representative of the multi-faceted nature of humanity. Science, however, cannot approximate the delicacy with which this balance is achieved. Instead, the monster is created in large, uneven chunks, roughly sewn together. Clearly impossible, Shelley creates an imaginary picture of a truly grotesque creature that is the inverse of its creator. She speculates that science may, indeed, be able to do just about anything. Perhaps, in many ways, it is also hopeful thinking. Victor sees that the single achievement of re-creating life as the ultimate conquering of scientific knowledge. In his single-mindedness he discovers that what he succeeded in achieving the regeneration of life. But, as he did not predict any other outcome, Victor was singularly unprepared for the consequences of his gaining of knowledge. Thus the tale of Victor Frankenstein still is aptly sited today as a source for warning on the dangers of even modern discoveries in fields such as technology, genetics and biology.
Frankenstein is a testament to the disaster that can occur in our quest to learn too much. Dr. Frankenstein becomes narrow-minded, focusing only on his work of creating a new species and neglecting everything else. Consumed with this pursuit for knowledge, he works non-stop on it until its fruition, at which point he is horrified of the results. Inevitably, Dr. Frankenstein abandons his creation and turns mad, possibly because he could not deal with the knowledge he had learned.
I. Overview I
I. Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein"
A. Impact on the literary world
B. Sci-Fi influence
III. James Whale's "Frankenstein"
A. Compare and Contrast to Shelley's Novel
B. Imagery and Distortion
IV. Mel Brook's "Young Frankenstein"
A. Film as spoof of literature
B. Influence of society
V. How "Frankenstein" still impacts society today