Mary Shelley’s Warning to Society

Frankenstein, in its many forms, is a “ghost story” centralized around the idea of pursuing knowledge and scientific discovery. Frankenstein’s crusade to discover the secret of life drove him to madness and eventually his demise. Shelley’s story begins with Frankenstein adamantly warning his travel companion, “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been” (pg 17). He then goes on to explain the nature of his “great and unparalleled misfortunes” that has “stung” him. From Frankenstein’s recollection, his creation of the creature caused him nothing but torment and devastation. Frankenstein interprets his scientific discovery as a cautionary tale of the dangers of pursuing knowledge. “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (pg 32). According to Frankenstein and his experience with pursuing knowledge, he believes it is better to live a life of ignorance blind to the unknown. However, in volume two, Frankenstein’s creature tells a different story. The creature recounts the negligence of his creator, who left him to fend for himself in a foreign environment. “Cursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God in pity made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of your’s, more horrid from its very resemblance.” He also mentions his experience of abuse at the hands of society. The creature reveals that his misfortune and anguish provoked him to seek revenge. “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice” (pg 160). The switch in perspective gives us insight into the creature’s thoughts and emotions. Being able to do so gives us a different interpretation of pursuing knowledge and scientific discovery. The discovery of science and knowledge is not perilous but can develop into something dangerous through maltreatment and abuse. So the message changes from knowledge is dangerous to it is only dangerous when it is misused by society. “Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me?” (pg 160). Knowledge has great power so in order to avoid the consequences that entail it people need to be accountable for their discoveries.

Even though Mary Shelley wrote this novel two hundred years ago, the message she conveys is still relevant in today’s society. Frankenstein was one of the first novels to introduce the foundation for scrutinizing the integrity and ethics of research and development projects. In today’s society, we have encapsulated the words advancement and progression in our basic definition of science. So much so that many people assume that scientific advancement is synonymous with better and easier lives. For instance, self-driving cars are expeditiously gaining popularity. The idea of driverless cars presents many benefits like increase driving efficiency and reduce traffic accidents. However, there are many unintended consequences that accompany autonomous vehicles. Self-driven cars need to be able to react to every unexpected situation on the road and accidents are bound to happen. What if a child jumps in front of a car and there is not enough time to break? Does the car continue and hurt the child? Steer towards the sidewalk, possibly hurting pedestrians? Does it collide with oncoming traffic and possibly hurt the driver and the passengers? Who determines who the victims are in case of an accident? And who is to responsible?