Victor Frankenstein and John Faustus are two characters that are alienated because of their intellectual curiosity. Faustus’s and Frankenstein’s pursuits of knowledge begin with an inexorable journey to their downfalls as they become alienated. Both characters attempt to exceed human ability and are alienated from God because of their attempts. These men are concerned with the secrets of nature and are ultimately alienated from the world because of their quests which violate nature.
They are alienated from themselves because of their extreme passions for knowledge. Faustus and Frankentstein could escape their tragic endings and their alienations if only they had fortitude. According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1985), alienation is “of or belonging to another person or place, foreign in nature or character, the action of a stranger, or a state of estrangement, or a withdrawing or separation of a person or his affections from and object or position of former attachment”.
According to the class lecture on alienation, Raymond Williams defines alienation as “ cutting off or being cut off from God, a state of being cut off or estranged from the knowledge of God or from his mercy or worship, loss of original human nature, or a loss of connection with one’s deepest feelings and needs or sense of powerlessness”(notes). Victor Frankenstein’s journey begins with his notable childhood. Victor is extremely loved by his parents and they bestow upon him a wonderful and educated life as a child. Victor states, “During every hour of my infant life I received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self-control”(39).
However his downfall begins as he develops a desire for the knowledge of the metaphysical or physical secrets of the world. He attends the University of Ingolstaldt and begins his work on the creature. The task consumes him, and he rejects his family and his upbringing that are so full of love and contentment. Victor states, “And the same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had not seen for so long a time”(40). Victor disregards the lessons that he learned as a child and becomes obsessed.
He loses his patience and his self-control, which result in his alienation. John Faustus’s journey begins when he is a young man. His parents send him to school and he studies and becomes a very intelligent doctor. The chorus says of Faustus, “Excelling all, and sweetly can dispute In th’ heavenly matters of theology”(Prologue). Faustus begins his downfall as he searches for knowledge but complains that he has not accomplished any great feat. He becomes obsessed with the power of immortal beings and desires to obtain such power.
He exclaims, “Oh what a world of power and delight, of power, of honor, and omnipotence is promised to the studious artisan”(1. 1. 6). Faustus confuses knowledge with power and wants to learn the black arts so that he can become a supreme being. Victor Frankenstein attempts and completes one of God’s greatest miracles. He creates a human life. In his attempt and completion of playing God, he loses all faith and contemplation of his higher being. Victor asserts, “I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit”(39). After the being’s creation, Victor realizes that he must destroy it.
Instead of praying to God and asking for advice, he takes matters into his own hands and pursues for the death of his creature. Perhaps Victor is alienated from God in the sense that he feels himself a supreme being, a creator, or an arbiter of who shall live and die. Faustus attempts and succeeds in surpassing human ability by involving himself with the devil and possessing certain black magic powers. Faustus gives in to the Seven Deadly Sins and sells his soul to the devil. Faustus states, “Ay, take it, and the devil give thee good of it”(2. 1. 22).
Selling one’s soul to the devil is essentially alienating oneself from God and the grace of God. However, although Faustus is deemed a possession of the devil, he is not completely alienated from God until he devotes his entire life and thoughts to his obsession with power. It is entirely unnatural to play Mother Nature by creating a human life as Frankenstein did. I think that Mother Nature is separate from God in the sense that God creates life and Mother Nature nurtures it. Victor Frankenstein violates nature by interfering with life’s natural process of reproduction.
As Victor violates nature, he is also alienated from nature. He expresses a love for the beautiful sights and smells of nature before his despair, but later he says, “Winter, Spring, and Summer passed away during my labours; but I did not watch the blossom or the expanding leaves – sights which before always yielded me supreme delight”(41). As Frankenstein is alienated from nature, he is also alienated from the world. Faustus violates nature and is alienated because of his violation. He ignores the natural beauties of the world because they are too simple to satisfy him.
He is only concerned with the studies of literature that will enable him to be a powerful and Supreme Being. He pronounces, “Philosophy is odious and obscure, Both law and physic are for petty wits, ‘Tis magic, magic, that hath ravished me! ”(l. 1. 8). He attempts to obtain satisfaction by seeking evil, which ultimately alienates him from the world. Frankenstein is alienated from himself because of his relentless pursuit. Victor doesn’t even acknowledge the feelings that he has about all matters of his life except those that concern his task.
He comments, “ I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature should be completed”(40). On several occasions, Victor becomes physically ill as a result of his quest. He has no concern even for his own health because of his obsession with his creature. Faustus’s concerns are only for his power and performance of immortal tasks. He doesn’t care that his soul is doomed to the gates of hell. His self-alienation, or his soul’s alienation, is evident because he is told on several occasions that he can repent and save his soul.
The Old Man says to Faustus, “I see an angel hover o’er thy head, And with a vial full of precious grace Offers to pour the same into thy soul: Then call for mercy and avoid despair. ”(5. 1. 72-73). However, he is blinded by evil and this evil causes him to be alienated. Fortitude is “ Strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage”, according to the dictionary (1985). Victor could escape his alienation if he had fortitude. After the creature comes to life, he could have taught his creature the nature of his existence and about his life situation, but he chose rather to flee.
The creature would not have turned to evil, and Victor would not have lost his beloved family. Most importantly, he would not be in his estranged state of mind, and he would not be alienated. Victor has other chances to conquer his alienation also. He has the chance to tell everyone of his creature, the murderer, thereby after the death of William to free himself from the knowledge he possesses hence escaping alienation. Faustus could escape his hellish doom and his alienation if he had foritude. He has the choice to repent his sins until the devil takes him away.
However, he doesn’t repent because he is afraid of the physical pain that will be inflicted upon him. The Old Man says, “ And so have hope that this my kind rebuke, Checking thy body, may amend thy soul. ”(5. 1. 72). The devil could not harm his soul if he had repented and endured the physical pain. Faustus is a coward and has no fortitude. John Faustus and Victor Frankenstein are completely alienated because of their intellectual curiosity. They experience an educated uprise and then a terrible downfall.
The men are alienated from God by their attempts to exceed human ability. Frankenstein and Faustus are estranged from the knowledge of the world because of their concern for the secrets of nature. They lose a connection with their deepest feelings and needs because of their desire for knowledge. If the men had fortitude they could avoid their alienations. These characters are alienated by their intellectual ability and their pursuit of knowledge beyond the scope of human knowledge. Their human knowledge, or humanity ironically denotes them from that which nurtured them.