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

Monday, March 13, 2006

Frankenstein and Industrialization

Industrialism and Frankenstein

There are many ways in which Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein reflects the anxieties roused by European industrialization.
In the very beginning of Frankenstein’s tale, he tells of his great love for natural science. When he goes away to study at the University of Ingolstadt, he is immediately drawn to the study of natural science, particularly chemistry. He says, “From this day, natural philosophy and particularly chemistry, in the broadest sense of the term, became my sole occupation.” He becomes enveloped in his work, and learns the secret of life. From there, he sets out to create a living being. He is driven on almost like a madman until his work is complete. He says of himself, “I wished to procrastinate all that related to my feeling of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature should be complete.” This statement reveals a few concerns that came along with industrialization. First, the narrator mentions the absence of emotion during his creation experiment. Science and industrialization kept with enlightenment principles of reason and truth that was proven. Here in the novel, lack of feeling is negatively portrayed as Victor neglects all that is dear to him while he creates a monster.
Another anxiety that can be seen here is the fear of being “swallowed up” by work. Before industrialization, people worked on the land. People experienced a connection with nature. However, with the rise of industrialization, people worked less with the land and more with machines and in factories. It did not require skilled workers. All this new technology required was faceless workers to perform simple tasks, and with this came a fear of being swallowed up, or forgotten in the glory of innovation.
A major theme in the story is the pursuit of knowledge. Victor Frankenstein’s diligent pursuit of knowledge ends up taking him further than he ever dreamed. This reflects an anxiety of industrialization. For in the novel, it is Frankenstein’s study and experiment that ultimately lead to his despair and destruction. People were fearful that science taken to an extreme could also have a negative result.
Another major theme of the novel is romanticism. With romanticism came a return to emotion, a rejection of science and reason, and also a return to nature and subjectivity. All of these aspects are seen in the novel. Even the monster, as horrid as he is, exhibits a strong sense of emotion. As he observes the De Lacey family in the woods we see his goodness. He chops wood to help the family and becomes attached to the family. It is this strong bond that he makes that makes his rejection so difficult and helps lead to his fierce hate of humans. In the monster, we observe many emotions ranging from love, sadness, anger, hate, fear, and despair.
Nature plays a key role in the novel. The settings heavily influence the tone of the novel, whether in the fiercely cold artic or in the woods around the De Lacey cottage where the flowers are blooming in Spring. This use of natural imagery once again shows the anxiety people felt about industrialization.
This acclaimed novel captures in many ways the zeitgeist of Europe in the 19th century. As industrialization brought great change, people were fearful of too much change. This novel presents a picture of all that was happening in that time and also the many fears that people experienced.

Deniese Willard


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