This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The First Science-Fiction Horror Story

Shelley's novel, Frankenstein, sets a dark Romantic tone with a question of the ethics of new technology. It's one of the first novels that really uses science fiction to horrify and entertain. She does this through her character, Victor, and his quest for the highest attainable knowledge, the ressurection of dead matter.

In her preface to the 1831 text, she acknowledges some of the latest inquisitions including those of Dr. Darwin, who was rumored to have actually put life into dead matter. This rumor, which we now know is untrue, created a debate in Victorian society on whether or not technology and increased knowledge was good or bad. This debate obviously sparked the plot of Frankenstein for Shelley as she wrote that the idea gave her nightmares that prevented her from sleeping.

We can also see that this story is an attack against those ideals of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment brought with it the movement towards new acquired knowledge and the use of logic to settle any debate. They didn't question the morality of such knowledge and technology. Shelley's story is a horrifying conclusion to what happens when someone seeks ultimate intelligence in such fields as chemistry and natural science. Her story is far-fetched, but not far-fetched enough so to scare her readers a little bit. It's as if she's asking them, "What if...?"

In the story, Victor, blinded by his youthful longing for supreme intellect, ventures to create life using specimens from deceased humans. He achieves success, only to find that in his rush to do this, he hasn't weighed the consequences. He finds himself alone, terrified, and ashamed of what he has done, leaving the newly created monster to fend for itself. The monster then proceeds to go on his own journey to find companionship, and after finding only rejection, goes into a fury and kills Frankenstein's brother. This situation is the first that tweaks at the reader's heart. How can anyone kill an innocent child? Perhaps it is because they have no soul, and therfore, no true conscience, such as Shelley's monster.

Another frightening aspect of the monster is how quickly he learns from the villagers. He is able to master the language, vices, and culture of the French within a short amount of time. Not only does he learn the standards of what is good and what is evil, but he also learns the value of mischievousness. We can see this by the way he frames Justine. He is like a superhuman child who hasn't gotten his way and has had a temper tantrum, only there is no authority figure for him to succumb to.

The monster then goes on to kill Frankenstein's best friend, his wife, and indirectly his father. This murderous spree obviously terrified Shelley's readers, and sparked the question of ethics in technology. How far was too far?

Furthermore, Frankenstein blames himself for these deaths, which is logical enough. He often talks about his "machinations" that led to the deaths of everyone he loved. These machinations are the steps he went through to create the dreaded monster that ruined any chance he had at happiness, and it all happened because he was so impulsive and careless with his work, had he stayed and taught the monster, the story would have been different.

Frankenstein finishes his confession to Walton, and when Walton, in interest, asks Frankenstein how it was that he was able to create life, Frankenstein left him with a warning against such knowledge. He states, "Are you mad, my friend, or whither does your senseless curiosity lead you? Would you also create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy?" This serves as Shelley's warning to society against toying with those things that are better left to nature.

I'd like to end by offering a comparison to the modern day film of Jurassic Park. In the movie, scientists have discovered how to recreate dinosaurs. However, through her carelessness, they have actually brought back into being some of the most dangerous creatures that ever lived, setting up a theme of gruesome murders that could have been avoided by simply not going through with the project. The movie is obviously an adaptation of Shelley's story, meant to appeal to modern culture and fears.


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