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Nature versus Nurture in Frankenstein Nature versus nurture; this is a common debate physiologists are in constant question over. In regards to the development of an individual’s personality, some believe that one is born with an innate personality. In the meantime, others believe that one’s personality is developed through experience over their lifetime. Both nature and nurture are major contributors to the development of characters in the story, Frankenstein. In Mary Shelley’s famous novel, Frankenstein, there is evidence that Shelley views Nature of being the more powerful component to the development of a personality.
In the novel, Frankenstein, the main character, Victor Frankenstein, has a natural desire to learn everything he can about natural philosophy. When speaking of his childhood, Victor exclaims, “but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits, but to an eager desire to learn…my enquiries were directed to the metaphysical or in its highest sense, the physical secrets of the world,” (Shelley 19). Victor Frankenstein admits that his desire to learn is in his own nature, and does take interest in more common childhood preoccupants. Even when his own father disapproves by saying, “‘Ah! Cornelius Agrippa!
My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash! ’“ (Shelley 20), Victor still remains loyal to his studies. The outburst given by his father does not have any negative impact over Victor in any way; “But the cursory glance my father had taken of my volume by no means assured me that he was acquainted with its contents; and I continued to read with the greatest avidity,” (Shelley 21). This statement shows that Victor is not worried about the opinions of society or those who are raising him; he knows that studying natural philosophy is his passion, and he plans to continue studying no matter what.
Obviously, Victor does not have anyone to confide in when learning about his studies, therefore, there is no one in his environment who can influence him in this area, which defends Shelley’s view of Nature. Frankenstein acknowledges this and says, “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, added to a student’s thirst for knowledge,” (Shelley 21). Frankenstein continues to stay dedicated to his studies even when he goes off to college.
His values on learning are apparent when he says, “In other studies, you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder,” (Shelley 30). He continues to engage in his studies, and when working on his creation, he quotes, “I could not tear my thoughts from my employment,”(Shelley 33). Victor is so involved with his intellectual pursuit that he is not going to let society get in the way of being active in his scientific work.
In the end of the novel, he tells Walton, “Seek happiness in tranquility, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in scientific discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed,” (Shelley 163). Although Frankenstein feels that he did not accomplish anything in the scientific field, he still recognizes the importance of science, and urges Walden to stay true to himself, or his true nature, while learning from his mistakes in the meantime.
The character of Victor Frankenstein is a character born to love science, and he continues to express this throughout the novel Mary Shelley uses examples that support the theory of nature upon Frankenstein’s creature. When the creature is observing the De Lacey’s, he cannot help but notice that there is sadness amongst the family. He cannot help but feel troubled by this; “I saw no cause for their unhappiness, but I was deeply affected by it,” (Shelley 77).
The creature, in his benevolent nature, wants to help the small family, and decides, “I discovered also another means through which I was enabled to assist their labours…during the night, I often took his tools, the use of which I quickly discovered, and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days,” (Shelley 78). The creature receives inner joy when performing such tasks for others, even though they are not even acquainted with him. The creature is soon shunned by the family though, and falls into utter sadness. Despite the unjustly expressions of others, the creature still feels good in him.
He witnesses a young girl slip and fall into a rapid stream, and instinctively reacts by saving her; “I rushed from my hiding-place, and, with extreme labour from the force of the current, saved her, and dragged her to shore,” (Shelley 101). Unfortunately, the human race still does not respond kindly to the creature, which eventually makes him to behave maliciously. While speaking to his creator, Victor, he explains to him, “Instead of threatening, I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned by all mankind? ” (Shelley 104). The creature admits to behaving in an evil manner, and continues to do so.
At the end of the novel, the creature shares with Walton, his feelings while behaving in such monstrous ways. While looking over the body of his creator, he says, “Oh, Frankenstein! Generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst,” (Shelley 163). The creature feels incredibly guilty for the evil acts, which he performed. This shows that the creature my have been behaving in a horrible manner, but in the end, he regrets it all, because he had been behaving in such a way that is against his good conscious and personality.
He then reflects upon a few of the murders he committed, “After the murder of Clerval, I returned to Switzerland, heartbroken and overcome. I pitied Frankenstein,” (Shelley 165). The creature feels remorse after allowing himself to behave in a way that does not level up to his innate personality, or in other words, his true nature. The creature created by Frankenstein is born free and good, and although becomes temporarily corrupted by society, he proves to still contain his good aspects of his personality in the end of the novel. In Shelley’s novel, personality derived from nature, is strongly expressed through the character, Elizabeth.
Victor Frankenstein describes her as being beautiful, peaceful, and gentle. He says, “The saintly soul of Elizabeth shone like a shrine-dedicated lamp in our peaceful home…she was the living spirit of love to soften and attract: I might have become sullen in my study, rough through the ardour of my nature, but she was there to subdue me to a semblance of her own gentleness,” (Shelley 20). Elizabeth is the type of person whose radiance and love brightens up everyone’s life. Victor is aware of this and knows he can rely on her to feel better no matter what, because her loving and uplifting personality seems to be in her own nature.
This is also proven after her friend, Justine is accused of murdering their younger brother, William. She says to Victor, “I rely on her innocence as certainly as I do upon my own. Our misfortune is doubly hard to us; we have not only lost that lovely darling boy, but this poor girl, whom I sincerely love, is to be torn away by even a worse fate. If she is condemned, I never shall know joy more. But she will not, I am sure she will not; and then I shall be happy again, even after the sad death of my little William,” (Shelley 53). Elizabeth continues to remain optimistic even though fate in her environment seems to be turning against her.
Near the end, when her and Victor are on their honeymoon, Victor senses that he will be greeted by death that night, and is nervously anticipating this event. Elizabeth can sense that something is troubling him; “ ‘Be happy, my dear Victor,’ replied Elizabeth; ‘there is, I hope, nothing to distress you; and be assured that if a lively joy is not painted in my face, my heart is contented. Something whispers to me not to depend too much on the prospect that is opened before us, but I will not listen to such a sinister voice…What a divine day! How happy and serene all nature appears! ’ “ (Shelley 143).
Even though Elizabeth feels there is something wrong, she refuses to allow such environmental factors destroy that of nature and who she truly is as a person, which is comforting and positive. Although many characters portray the side of nature in the debate, Elizabeth is the character who represents this view the most. In the famous novel, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley uses evidence to suggest that nature is the more powerful component in the development of personality. The main character, Victor Frankenstein, loves scientific studies, and has had a legitimate interest since his early childhood.
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The creature that he creates is born to be good, and still proves to hold onto those good virtues towards the end of this novel. The character of Elizabeth is very caring and remains this way for the rest of her life. All three of these characters face horrid events in their lives, but in the end, they all prove to have the innate personality that they had been born with. Shelley views a character’s personality as being predestined and therefore, stands on the side of Nature, in the common debate, Nature versus Nurture.
Author: Dave Villacorta
Nature versus Nurture in Frankenstein
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is nature or by his nurturing that the monster became malicious and cruel? Is nature or nurture the better method or the correct way of growing up (if there is one)?
The nature aspect of this ongoing debate among philosphers, psychologists, and scientists, refers to the hereditary and/or the biological genes of an individual. Jean Jacques Rousseau was one of the leading philosophers of this belief. By this theory, an individual already has the genetic markers at birth that will determine his/her personality traits and characteristics. This is also referred as biological determinism. (05 The Developing Child, pg. 1)
On the other side of the debate, is the nurture philosophy. A prominent leader in this theory was John Locke. He believed that every individual was born as a "blank slate"-meaning that knowledge and culture from that person's environment would determine his/her personality and behavior (05 The Developing Child, pg. 1). In this model, the society impacts the individual with language, culture, values, relationships, etc.
In contemporary studies many experts believe that nature and nurture are interconnected. S.J. Gould argues for integration of the two by stating, "The best guide to a proper integration lies in recognizing that nature supplies general ordering rules and predispositions...while nurture shapes specific manifestations over a wide range of potential outcomes." (The Monster's Human Nature). In the novel, Shelley forces the reader to grapple with the idea that the creature may not have been inherently evil, but that his experience with humans made him so.
Relevant Characters Edit
Victor Frankenstein and his monster's upbringings are juxtaposed as opposites. Frankenstein represents a nurtured boy with both his parent's being involved with his development. Victor explains to Walton, "No youth could have passed more happily than mine," expressing the bliss he had as a child (Shelley, pg. 21). However, the creature is abandoned by his creator and left to fend for himself in the woods during his period of infancy and mental development.
Mary Shelley is drawing a distinct line between these two main characters. The monster does not begin as evil, rather Shelley uses the monster's negative interactions with people to develop or nurture his sinister behaviors. Shelley has his character shift in polar extremes of benevolence and malice towards the other characters he encounters. We are also given a look into the monster's natural sensory reactions to the world around him that represent the nature theory. Then later we read his reflections and perceptions with words as he learns to speak and read. In addition, the material from the three novels that the monster learns from during his stay with the DeLacey family, leads the monster to the conclusion that humans are really cruel to one another.
The contrast between the two are even more evident in their actual personalities. For instance, Victor is self-confident, ambitious, and chooses his isolation; while the creature is strong, hopeful, and forced into his isolation. It appears that the creature's need for a meaningful relationship is much more prominent than that of Victor's. This is most likely because Frankenstein has never been forced to be alienated or completely isolated. Even in his own isolation, Frankenstein was still receiving letters from home. The question arises again of which aspects of development, nature or nurture, creates these major differences between these two main characters.
Major Scenes Edit
The Monster's Narrative - Living in the Woods (Nature) Edit
At the heart of the novel in volume II is the monster's narrative to his creator, Frankenstein. At this point, the monster describes his development from a confused, ignorant infant into a knowledgeable individual (from his interactions with the DeLacey family) to being in need of a mate/equal.
The monster described his natural feelings and instincts in the woods after his abandonment, "I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rung in my ears, and on all sides various scents saluted me...," with emphasis on his senses, thus establishing his behavior was prompted, at that stage, by his primal, natural traits (Shelley, pg. 76). In addition, Shelley specifically has the monster living off a vegetarian based diet consisting of berries, nuts, and no meat. This detail signifies an inherent benign characteristic in the monster's personality, as he is not out killing animals for his sustenance.
The creature is driven by his most basic needs for survival. This natural approach to his development leaves him devoid of language or a way to express himself, and yet he derives pleasure from simple items that help him meet his needs. For instance, with the discovery of fire, the monster receives warmth, light, and better tasting food - all of which bring him joy.
Overall, this scene creates a lonely yet successful perspective of the nature theory of development within the monster. There is no evidence of malice, cruelty, or evil. Then, the creature sees humans in a hut. During this encounter he is being yelled at, ran away from, and physically hurt, but he still does not cause any harm nor have any ill wishes against his attackers as his primary concern was a curiosity for the new shelter and of the new people. Shelley paints a picture of simplicity with this natural method of the monster's development that would not have actually happened in society, however it adds to the complexity of the monster's character.
The Monster's Narrative - Learning from the DeLacey Family (Nurture) Edit
The monster begins to learn about culture, society, language, reading, and domesticity from watching the DeLacey family. Gaining knowledge and understanding falls under the nurture philosophy of his development. These new societal customs and values creates a new realm of experiences for the monster. From the books read he learns sentiments/emotions, and the cruelty of mankind (Shelley, Vol. II, Chap. V). He continues to display benevolent actions towards the family in helping with their wood pile and other tasks around their property explicitly showing his inherent kindness. However, his good deeds are not enough to compensate for his deformities and he is rejected by the very people that he had grown to love and to view as his adoptive family.
The DeLacey family in fact did not knowingly become parental figures for the monster. They were not nurturing him in an unconditional loving method with interactions and relationships. The creature was an outsider, an "other" who they had no place for nor any knowledge of his existence. The experience of total rejection, creates hurt, malice, and destruction from the monster. The monster explains his scorn, "...when I reflected that they had spurned and deserted me, anger returned, a rage of anger...," and his spiraling acts of evil begin with the burning of the house (Shelley, pg. 106). This first example of anger from the monster is significant in showing the readers that the negative reactions and interactions with people- this "nurturing"- is directly correlated with the evil that has developed in the monster.
Shelley is once more complicating the ideological perspective of nurture. The monster does not have a mother, just a male creator who abandons him upon his first day of life. The example that he has from the DeLacey family, does teach him love, domestic family roles, and the ever valuable mechanics of language. Unfortunately however, he is also taught the crudeness and baseness of mankind. Their behavior towards his disfigurement leads the monster to the realization that he must have another being of his own species to live with and to love.
Impact in/for FrankensteinEdit
By the time the monster demands a mate from Frankenstein, the culmination of the monster's personality and behavioral traits through both nature and nurture have been presented. Although inherently good, the creature has become hardened, evil, and desperate. S.J. Gould states that, "He becomes evil, of course, because humans reject him so violently and so unjustly," putting the blame on the society around the monster (The Monster's Human Nature). This would flow with an inexcusable inadequate nurturing method for the monster's emotional and mental development.
Why would Mary Shelley spend so much of the heart of this novel delving into philosophical politics of the development of a child based on nature or nurture? One reason, may be her own history of not having a mother figure to nurture her. In addition, she may have felt that she missed something by not having that motherly connection, just as the monster does not have a mother or loving parent at all in the novel. Furthermore, Shelley suggests that an inadequate education (nurturing) will cause deficiencies and bad behavioral traits. For example, the monster was left to learn on his own and through confused and enclosed lenses. If he had a "proper" education and stronger, loving role models, he may have lived a positive life without doing harm to anyone.
Even as Mary Shelley shows the monster as having examples of nature and nurture in his development, Gould argues that, "...Hollywood opted for nature alone to explain the monster's evil deeds...," (The Monster's Human Nature). In other words, the adaptations are losing some of the significant points that Shelley is trying to make regarding balanced integration of both nature and nurture for successful development of mankind (The Monster's Human Nature). In order for the films to be more profitable, Hollywood may continue to make more adaptations without the nurturing philosophies Shelley is critiqueing.
Every adaptation is different and viewing the flicks as their own work allows for the deviations from the text to be successful in their own forms. By filmmakers, play writers, authors, etc. making adaptations based on their own interpretations of Frankenstein, the story lives on in mainstream culture from generation to generation. Some of these adaptations add unique elements that even stick such as the addition of the lab assistant, therefore more adaptations are a good form of publicity.
References/Suggestions for Further Reading Edit
Edition:, Discovering Psychology: Updated. "05 The Developing Child." Discovering Psychology: Updated Edition: 05 The Developing Child (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. <http://www.learner.org/resources/transcripts/DiscoveringPsychology/05Develop.pdf>.
Englbrecht, Claudia. "Nature v. Nurture." Seminars on Science | American Museum of Natural History. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. <http://www.amnh.org/learn/genetics/Resource1>.
Gould, Stephen Jay. "The Monster's Human Nature." Natural History 103.7 (1994): 14. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.
By: Megan Rozzana