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

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Frankenstein and the machine

After doing a slight bit of research, I have found that Mary Shelley composed Frankenstein when Europe was going through a very important revolution. The 18th century was a time of mass production due to the Industrial Revolution in England. It is hard for me to imagine a time where things were rural. I know I live in Alabama, but I still depend on important commodities that come from machines. However, I think it must have been scary for those who were used to life in the slow lane to see their world slowly change to move at a more rapid pace. It is no wonder, then, why Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein with what seems like such an emphasis on machine vs. man.

When Dr. Victor Frankenstein begins his quest to make life, he seems more than excited to begin this journey. He writes, “I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one persuit”(52).He lives to give the body a life. He works for nearly two years for “the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body”(56). His initial reaction to the monster he has created is not excited at all, in fact, he writes that “no mortal could support the horror of that countenance”(57). This is a story of a man who begins with the best of intentions, but ends up giving life to a machine that is no good. I bet that Mary Shelley and some of her friends might have felt the same way about the Industrial Revolution. I think it’s interesting how she pays special attention to the fact that Doctor Frankenstein does not really eat or sleep, or do much of the necessary functions of human life except work on this machine, with the hopes that he can invent something truly his own-- and influence mankind. This sounds much like what the creators of a new type of machine might look like. I am sure they eat and sleep, but they do live for the sole purpose of the hope of a new invention-- for the glory and to influence mankind.

Dr. Frankenstein ignores his creation completely. He sleeps and tries to forget about it. The creation escapes and Frankenstein seems more relieved than worried. Two years pass and it is not until his brother, William, is killed by the monster that reality hits. He writes about his anguish by saying “Alas! I had turned lose into the world a depraved wretch, whose delight was in carnage and misery…”(81). In essence, he created a monster to harm mankind instead of helping them. While this might seem like an off statement to those who live in this era, I am sure many living in the 18th century felt this way about the Industrial Revolution. Sure, man put a lot of idea into the machinery, putting “life” into it-- so it could do things on it’s “own”…but would it help civilization or make it worse? Would it kill the human spirit? Would it control us and put us in fear? I find myself wondering these same things about newer technologies. I wonder sometimes if the inventors of myspace, for example, knew that they would create something that pedophiles could creep their way into and kill the innocence of so many. Sure, they had good intentions, but now their creation has taken on a life of its own. I believe Mary Shelley was right on when she wrote this novel because the unknown is scary and just because something is more technically advanced, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily good for mankind.


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