The Paradox Of Discovery In Mary Shelley

1658 words - 7 pages

The Idea of Discovery in Mary Shelley's FrankensteinIn Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the idea of discovery is a central theme: originaldiscovery is wonderful and naive, yet ends in desolation and corruption. The ambitions ofboth Frankenstein and Walton (to investigate new lands and cast scientific enlightenmenton the unknown) are formed with the best of intentions, however a grave disregard for thesacredness of natural boundaries is trespassed. Throughout Shelly's novel the idea ofdiscovery remains idealized, unfortunately human imperfection completely corrupts allpursuit of that once so cleat ideal. The corruption of discovery can be seen through thecorruption that is natural in every human ...view middle of the document...

) William Walling in his essay: Victor Frankenstein'sDual Role points out "Victor Frankenstein is portrayed as "a version of the 'Creator' -- ofGod Himself" (107.) This should not stun the reader since corruption surely befallsdiscovery and as with any man who deems himself God, the fall will be painful.Nevertheless the stages of discovery were diligently performed, his "astonishment" andsoon gave way to "delight and rapture"; the "overwhelming" nature of his achievementerased all the grim steps that had led to its fruition (51.)The disastrous effects of discovery appears in a somewhat different form withinthe novel. The creature Frankenstein created has become blindly obsessed with revengeand his first victim is Frankenstein's brother William; a young girl, as a reaction to thecrime, is wrongfully accused of murder. Frankenstein remarks, "To us the discovery wehave made (of the girl's guilt) completes our misery'" (75).Walton's idea of discovery consists of pure adventure and the thoughtless chase offame "I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of part of the world never beforevisited; my enticements induce me to commence this laborious voyage with the joy achild feels when he embarks in a little boat on an expedition of discovery up his nativeriver" (13). Walton's memory of his father's deathbed command, that his son not becomea sailor reinforces the reader's sense of his childish ignorance, as well as serving toforeshadow the unfortunate end of his last expedition. Peter Brooks in hiscritical work on the novel points out Mary Shelley herself was "identified is somerespects as a discoverer, an inventor, as - so her talk of voids and chaos and theconservation of matter suggests - a cosmographer or physicist - perhaps even,via her allusion to Columbus, a navigator" (3.)The opposite, unhappy use of discovery begins the moment Frankenstein beginshis narration. What one unearths may be worthless or misleading, as Frankenstein'schildhood reading of Agrippa makes clear: "A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind,and, bounding with joy, I communicated my discovery to my father. My father lookedcarelessly at the title page of my book and said, Ah! Cornelius Agrippa! My dear Victor,do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash'" (39). Shelley again connects the wordjoy with discovery, and again contrasts that discovery's initial optimism with itsdisappointing result. But Frankenstein's father does not provide the reason for hiscontempt (the fact that Agrippa's work has been disproved), and so the young intellectualcontinues "to read with the greatest avidity; his desire for knowledge must be satiated"(40.) Certainly, he holds extravagant dreams of the "discovery [that would] banishdisease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!"(39-40) however, Frankenstein's and Walton's ambition is grounded in flaws: innocence,wrong reasoning, and the egotistical desire for glory. These defects rob discovery of...

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