Shelley’s “Frankenstein” warns the reader to consider if just because something can be done should it be done. Twenty years before Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” Luigi Galvani found that electricity could be used to cause muscles in the dead to spasm, opening the door to the possibility that reanimation was possible. It was in this frame of mind that Shelley began “Frankenstein”. Shelley puts forth questions that has been repeated over the centuries by many people (1) Do people have the right to play God? (2) Can any good come from it? (3) Can man come to terms with his playing God?. She not only asks the questions but she, as most good writers, also answers them.
Frankenstein becomes all-consumed as he was creating his monster, forgoing all human contact so he can create his masterpiece. Upon completing his creation he really noticed it for the first time, not just the beauty he was trying to create but the ugliness of death that lingered around the creations eyes, skin, and lips. At that moment Frankenstein realized what he was really doing, he had not created life but just twisted death. Shelley seems to say that even if you can “create” life from leftover pieces your creation is not really a life, and thus you are not playing God. In modern times this situation is evident in cloning, to clone an animal scientists must use the animal itself to complete the process, no scientist can produce an egg from scratch nor is their a machine that can replicate the function of a womb.
Frankenstein’s monster was not evil or bad originally, its first action was to grin, however circumstances surrounding its early life made it into the murderer it became. Upon the creatures first meeting with Frankenstein he was well spoken and refused to fight Frankenstein instead pleading with him to listen to what he had to say and show compassion. Frankenstein then relates his beginnings showing that indeed although he may have appeared evil he was good, and thus Shelley says that good can come from mans obsession with playing god, but whether that creation is good or evil depends on what man does with it. The creation of nuclear energy is a scenario such as this, although nuclear power has many legitimate and helpful uses it also can be very destructive. Even a destructive invention can have helpful uses such as dynamite in removing old buildings, the only thing that decides what outcome a creation has on the world is in what spirit it is used.
Frankenstein was unable to cope with his status as a creator, the thought of his creation haunted him even before the creation started murdering Frankenstein’s friends and family. Instead of seeing the good that he had created he immediately saw all that was wrong with the creation. Many creators see only one side of the potential of their creations and only after it is too late see the other side.
All of these questions are asked when any new life altering science is created, in recent history these are all mostly related to genetically altered food and things like cloning. Humans have always had a problem with changing the status quo on a large scale, everything from whether math classes should use calculators to invention of the printing press has had proponents and opponents who think that their way is best. On much grander issues like cloning and gene altering the debate goes beyond the status quo and then enters into the world of philosophy, not only is the status quo to be changed but many deeply personal issues emerge. Invariably the three questions that Shelly asked in Frankenstein are asked again and invariably are given new answers.
A second question Shelley asks is what makes a human, human? By genetics it would be hard to argue that Frankenstein’s monster was anything but human, but is a human created by man still human? For all intents and purposes Shelley asks does a creation have a soul, and for that matter does anyone have a soul?
Many people can spout, literally, chapter and verse of “evidence” that proves or disproves the idea of eternal souls or gods, however it is not possible to prove or disprove with any certainty in a way that does not rely on personal bias . Ask any Christian if there is a god and they will say yes, ask them how they know and they will say “I know it in my heart” or “The bible says so.” Ask an Atheist if there is a god and they will say no, ask them how they know and they will say “Because there is no evidence.” The same thing will happen if you ask the same questions of a person of any belief system because belief is the ability to consider intangible evidence definitive. There is no definitive evidence that supports a god nor is there definitive evidence to support the lack thereof. It all boils down to what evidence does a person believe and what explanation of the evidence they believe in.
Here is what we do know for sure: we were created, we can’t tell for sure how or why but we can do our best to find out. Frankenstein’s monster wondered the same questions and the more he chased his creator the further his creator ran from him. The monster’s lack of perfection drove Frankenstein to realize what imperfections he himself had, and in doing so showed Frankenstein the frailness of his own beliefs. No longer did Frankenstein believe he held the power of life over death, instead he realized that his own imperfections had corrupted the creation. The creation was driven mad by the pursuit of the reasons for his life and at every junction realized the imperfections that existed within him forbade him from ever truly being free.
This is a lesson that is very important to learn, Shelley warns the reader not to get entangled in questions that can never be answered to any satisfaction. Humans may have been a divine creation by an omnipotent being, but just as likely humans could have been created through random changes outside the controls of anything. But this is for certain, humans are imperfect but unlike Frankenstein’s monster one must net get caught up in the idea of ones own imperfection. Because in doing so one realizes that perfection does not beget imperfection and thus it is not possible for anything or anyone to be entirely perfect. The meaning of this last sentence is to be left to the reader to decide.