Are monsters born or bred? Are great men forged by hardship or poised to be so from their start? For decades, the need to figure out what provides us with our identity has been at the forefront of humanities great dilemas. In 1859 the journal “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin provided evidence for the theory of evolution, confirming that specific characteristics are passed down from generation to generation. However, it wasn’t until recent years that our understanding of psychology has brought to light the extent to which an individual’s experiences in early life influence their character. Before our scientific understandings of these notions were made known, Mary Shelley began to ask these profound questions in her novel “Frankenstein.” A case for the importance of both nature and nurture are made throughout the novel makes it very clear that the nature argument is responsible for the demise of Victor Frankenstein, while the nurture claim is responsible for the decline of the Monster.
Shelley’s observations into the human nature find their origins in the era of history called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a direct retaliation against absolute monarchies such as the Catholic Church. In direct contrast to the group thinking pushed by the Church at the time; the Enlightenment set out to change the primary source of authority and allowed for ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, and separation of church and state. One of the Enlightenments most powerful authors was Jean-Jacques Rousseau for his contributions to the field of natural philosophy. His writings delved into the political and philosophical, and how humans exists as the individual within society. His novel “Emile” is a treatise about education and on the nature of man. Its opening sentence: “God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.”(TERZIAN) Rousseau’s works are known to be one of Mary Shelley’s inspirations when constructing the natural philosophies of the characters in “Frankenstein.” The author Lindsey Thiele states, “Although Mary Shelley’s was deeply moved and influenced by his thoughts and dreams. Her description of the Creature in Frankenstein closely resembles her documentation of Rousseau’s wanderings throughout Europe during his days of exile in the novel . The proximity between the two is unmistakable.” Rousseau’s writings are a large part of the justification for how we are able to understand how Victor and The Monster are living metaphors for Shelley’s argument between the nature vs nurture arguments.
Before Victor Frankenstein even walked the earth, evidence to show that he was a product of his nature is made overwhelmingly evident . When introduced to the Frankenstein’s family for the first time we learn that he has been born into “one of the most distinguished of that republic” (Shelley 18). Victor states that for generations before his family had held high ranking positions in Geneva such as “counsellors and syndics” (18). Shelley doesn’t stop there, going as far to use words such as, “honor,” and “integrity” when describing the values of those who came before. Shelley’s specific descriptions of the Frankenstein’s, along with their high ranking in society, suggest that the family is born that Victor is born into is destined to achieve success and greatness.
An important distinction to be made is how nobody was able to have influence on how and what Victor studied. Victor Frankenstein himself is described to have a natural desire to become educated in all things regarding “natural philosophy” When recalling his childhood, Victor states, “I was to a great degree, self-taught with regard to my favorite studies. My father was not scientific, and I was left to struggle with a child’s blindness, add to a students thirst for knowledge,” (Shelly 25) Victor is well aware that his obsession to learn is a part of his nature, and wont let “common interest” occupy his time, even when his father, teachers, and peers cautioned against doing so. Sticking to his study of the supernatural phenomena because its is apart of his natural philosophy. There is nobody in his field of work, or life who is able to influence him to have a perspective or agenda, defending Shelley’s view of nature being Victor’s greatest motivator.