Novelist Mary Shelley wrote her Frankenstein, which soon came to be one of the most well known 19th century Gothic stories of all time. She conveys various messages through her writing, including ones that can be relevant to contemporary society. One would think that the reader would have to look through a new historicist lens, that is, attempt to understand the book intellectually through its cultural context, as well as a timely one. We can try to interpret this novel through the perspective of life in the early 19th century, however perhaps she had a premonition for the future in regards to the development of science, technology, and human conditions. I believe that we should treat Shelley’s novel as a cautionary tale. It should prompt us to ask ourselves if our science and technology today is or is on track to cross lines to the point of human anguish and demise.
Shelley’s most pressing and obvious message is that science and technology can go to far. The ending is plain and simple, every person that Victor Frankenstein had cared about met a tragic end, including himself. This shows that we as beings in society should believe in the sanctity of human life.
We also learn important life lessons through her book. She illustrates that actions have their consequences and stemming from that, we should not “play God.” The novel’s subtitle, or alternate title is The Modern Prometheus. According to Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man and suffered punishment eternally as a result. Shelley parallels this through her story, where Victor Frankenstein pursued a place of forbidden knowledge in arrogance. Frankenstein is an example of the Romantic over-reacher, breaching boundaries between human and divine principles.
An additional message Shelley conveys is that “monsters” are not born as monsters. The Creature arguably became the way he was through his treatment, or mistreatment rather. Shelley gives the Creature a voice, and the reader understands that there is a disparity between his appearance and his thoughts which ultimately tests the reader. I thought it was interesting that Shelley’s character heavily contrasts the Frankenstein portrayal that we see in popular culture. She may have been making a statement on how humans should not mistreat one another for judgement of their appearance, and their race even.
I find it interesting how relevant a centuries-old story can insert itself into the societal problems we face today. Shelley’s Frankenstein, whether it was the intended purpose or not, serve as a warning in regards to the direction of science, technology, and human circumstances now, and most likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Frankenstein. Oxford University Press, 1818.