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Frankenstein, and the Backlash to the Anthropocentric View of the World

by Jesus Herrera

Frankenstein, an epistolary novel in the Romantic Period, written by Mary Shelley, focuses on the pursuit of knowledge and the consequences of such pursuit. Written in the Romantic Period, the novel clearly contrasts the ideas and concepts of the Enlightenment, and instilling the tenets of Romanticism, including nature, individual thought and experience, etc. In doing so, the novel also addresses ideas regarding society and society’s interaction with nature, and its anthropocentric view of nature itself. Thus, the backlash of the relentless pursuit of knowledge, and the backlash from the desire to create life outside of the natural process and of becoming a creator conveys the novel as a backlash to the anthropocentric view of nature due to the detrimental effects on society.

The relentless pursuit of knowledge that Victor Frankenstein takes part of results in his demise and thus presents evidence against the anthropocentric view of nature. This is due to Frankenstein’s desire to create life from his research and gained knowledge. In Chapter 3, Frankenstein interrupts telling Walton about his discoveries to pass on a warning to Walton about the results of his discoveries: 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. (Shelley 50) Through this break in Frankenstein’s story, Walton is knowledgeable about the cause of the downfall of Frankenstein, due to the pursuit of knowledge. Furthermore, the demise that Frankenstein indirectly references to is due to the creation of the creature as a result of his knowledge, and thus by Frankenstein deciding to understand nature too much and asserting his dominance over nature, reflects the error of the anthropocentric view of nature. Additionally, another representation of Frankenstein’s monster is a form of his knowledge, as argued by Andrew Burkett, “Victor envisions the creature's body literally as a form of media--that is, as the abstract (i.e., "scientific") information of natural philosophy that he has synthesized through his studies”. Thus, in addition to Frankenstein’s pursuit, his goal to transform this excess of knowledge into a being that would reflect his status and wealth in knowledge clearly depicts the relentless pursuit that Frankenstein undergoes. Thus, knowing that the monster is the ultimate downfall of Frankenstein, the negative consequences that follow are then a result of Frankenstein’s endless pursuit of knowledge. This is easily stated as well with Jane Goodall arguing that the error that exists in Frankenstein is his own knowledge, “the science that goes wrong in this story is not the science which takes place in the laboratory, but the science of self-knowledge”. Once again Frankenstein’s flaw in the book is seen as his overflowing source of knowledge – about nature, alchemy, etc. – which leads to his demise. Specifically, his overflowing source of knowledge about nature depicts Frankenstein’s desire to know all about nature and her inner secrets, thus asserting a dominant role over nature, revealing the anthropocentric view that Frankenstein has. However, due to his demise as a result of his relentless search and desire for knowledge, Shelley reveals the consequences of such a view towards nature, and thus the text provides as a backlash to the anthropocentric view of nature.

Additionally, contrary to the natural process of creating life, Frankenstein’s desire to create such life outside of the natural process through the female womb, and the negative outcomes that result give way to illuminate the faults of the anthropocentric view of nature. This whole process is initiated with Frankenstein’s desire to penetrate the secrets of nature. As Frankenstein ponders upon his research, he states “One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself; and the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding places” (Shelley 52). As nature is usually characterized as a female in literature, Frankenstein’s dedication to understand nature is essentially trying to place his dominance over the power that nature has. In essence, Frankenstein is attempting to penetrate the secrets of nature and place his primacy over nature in the process. Similarly, Goodall argues about the story of Frankenstein and how the book “is a story first and foremost about the consequences of male ambitions to co-opt the procreative function”. Goodall’s argument is clearly evident in Frankenstein’s creation of the creature, and how the evil actions that the monster commits are consequences of Frankenstein’s manipulation of life beyond the grasps of nature. Not only does this demonstrate the failure of a patriarchal system regarding the creation of life, but also demonstrates the failure that results from following an anthropocentric view towards nature, believing that humans are dominant of mother nature. In addition, Ray Hammond argues that the consequences of the creation of life outside of the womb, similar to the actions of Frankenstein, results in “a future in which women have a diminishing role”. Although the focus of Hammond’s argument is based on a feminist framework, the diminishing role of women is similar to the end result of nature, since nature is characterized as a female entity in literature. Therefore, the creation of life outside of the womb cuts down on the significance of nature and eventually results in a world without nature. However, the repercussions that result from Frankenstein’s creation shows the horror that can occur, and thus backlashes against the male domination of life creation, thus backlashing against the anthropocentric view of nature.

Finally, the act of being a creator – thus defying God – results in the downfall of Frankenstein and contributes to the backlash of the anthropocentric view of nature. Unaware at the time, the action of being a creator of a new species backfires on Frankenstein. Initially, Frankenstein’s thought of being a creator is focused on the positive outcomes of such a decision, and gaining glory, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.” (Shelley 51) Although the intention that Frankenstein tries to implore is positive, the outcome displays the errors of Frankenstein’s desire to be a creator. This is evident by the dialogue of the creature when meeting Frankenstein after the death of Justine Moritz: Accursed 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 yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and abhorred. (Shelley 154) Juxtaposing the dialogue of the creature with the intention of Frankenstein, the reality that occurs from playing God is one of failure and of despair. The creature’s dialogue reveals the pain and hatred towards himself and towards his creator displays the fallacy of playing God. In addition, the anger that the creature expresses towards Frankenstein portrays a grand difference between God and his nature with man; God can create all good and evil in his beauty but man is only capable of creating abominations. Therefore, the creature’s dialogue provides backlash towards the domination of life, which backlashes the anthropocentric view. In addition, David Hogsette focuses on the topics that the text explores, specifically focusing on “the ideological vacuum engendered by scientific materialism and examines the spiritual bankruptcy of replacing theism with secular humanism”. Therefore, the argument that Hogsette provides reflects the situation that Frankenstein undergoes in defying God and his powers of creating life, and the flaws that result from creating life outside from the will of God. This flaw eventually leads to the demise of Frankenstein but also provides insight into the horrors that occur from establishing mankind as superior to the powers of life, that originate from nature. In addition, Frankenstein (through his studies) attempts to overthrow God, as argued once again by Hogsette, “he eventually develops into the exemplar materialist that he was seemingly predisposed to become, and he attempts to replace God with natural science and to transform himself into a materialistic god”. Thus, once again Frankenstein is seen with the desire to “overthrow” God by becoming a creator to a new species, the one he creates. However, juxtaposed with the outcome of the creature and the pain and isolation that the creature experiences, the pursuit that Frankenstein undergoes displays the fallacy of such an action and results in his demise. Thus, through the fallacy of becoming a god, the backlash to the anthropocentric view of nature is revealed.

In conclusion, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein provides a backlash to the anthropocentric view of nature through the backlash onto Frankenstein due to his relentless pursuit of knowledge, his desire to create life outside of the natural process, as well as his desire to become a creator, paralleling God. However, such a backlash against the anthropocentric view is not restricted to the issues that existed during the time of Shelley’s novel; rather the backlash that the novel provides insight into the drastic consequences of asserting our dominance – as humans – over nature. Our actions, such as the usage of fossil fuels and the cutting down of forest, have altered the ecosystem that once existed, and has led to what is known today as climate change. Unless the course of human activity changes, the human race will succumb to the fallacy of climate change and end up in demise, paralleling the downfall of Victor Frankenstein. Thus, the human race must discard the anthropocentric view of nature and learn to regard nature as equals in order to prevent the downfall of the human race.

Works Cited

Burkett, Andrew. "Mediating monstrosity: media, information, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Studies in Romanticism 51.4 (2012): 579+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.
Goodall, Jane. "FRANKENSTEIN AND THE REPROBATE'S CONSCIENCE." Studies in the Novel 31.1 (1999): 19. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.
Hammond, Ray. "The Scientist as God." The Modern Frankenstein: Fiction Becomes Fact. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 1986. 21-45. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Jessica Bomarito and Russel Whitaker. Vol. 170. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.
Hogsette, David S. "Metaphysical intersections in Frankenstein: Mary Shelley's theistic investigation of scientific materialism and transgressive autonomy." Christianity and Literature 60.4 (2011): 531+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print.