It was a time of immense scientific discoveries and controversies in Europe during the early nineteenth century. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is a reflection of the questions that society was bringing to the forefront concerning science and religion. In this horror tale, one can clearly see the controversies arising at the time that science may be killing religion and thus mankind. The ramifications of Dr. Frankenstein’s attempt to play God are seen through the perceptions of the monster, the personality traits leading to his own destruction, and the ultimate loss of Frankenstein’s sanity and morality.
First of all, Frankenstein’s attempt to play God and Creator is most plainly seen through the perceptions and actions of his creation. The creature is born into the world as if it is a baby, knowing nothing of life. This creature’s first experience as a living existence is being shunned by its own creator. I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs (43).
The monster is reaching out to the only thing he knows thus far, his creator, and is met with disgust. Frankenstein, being merely human, cannot offer this creature the unconditional love and guidance that God bestows on His creatures. This, in turn, leads to the imminent immoral actions of the creature. Symbolically, the same action of reaching out that has Frankenstein run with horror is the process in which the monster uses to kill all of his victims by strangulation. Had Frankenstein only tried to care and communicate with the monster during this harmless event, then perhaps the dreadful story would have ended here.
Also, the creature himself refers to his situation in life and to his creator in a Biblical sense. Like most humans, the monster grapples with such questions as What [am] I? and Whence did I come? (113). The creature compares himself to Adam, with Frankenstein being his creator. However, he sees his state as far different from that of Adam’s, being that he is wretched, helpless, and alone (114). He then compares himself to Satan, but notes that even Satan has companionship. If this creature, as compared to Adam, feels so miserable and desolate, must that not also speak of the incompetence of its god?
Another aspect defining the ramifications of Frankenstein’s attempt to portray God is seen in his own personality traits that lead to his destruction. First of all, ambition is the ultimate human flaw in Shelley’s novel. This concept is foreshadowed as the reader gets familiar with Mr. Walton. Walton’s quest to the North Pole is solely to satisfy his ambition of fame. In direct correlation, Frankenstein’s motives in creating the monster are his desires to be a renowned scientist. What could be more incredible than creating life? Thus, one sees the relationship between science and religion.
Frankenstein is attempting to be God to his own creation in order to fulfill his ambitious desires. At the exact moment that these desires are fulfilled, Frankenstein realizes that he himself is not God, and he is appalled at the catastrophe that he has created. This realization, however, is too late to change the path of destruction that Frankenstein must face. Also, compassion, or lack thereof, plays a vital role in the comparison of Frankenstein to God. God is ever compassionate to the vital needs of his beings. Frankenstein, on the other hand, chooses his times of caring and hatred at the most inopportune times.
Instead of reaching out to his creation to teach and care for it, he turns away and casts it out to the cruel world without any guidance or love. However, Frankenstein almost shows compassion to the monster when he is finally forced to confront it in person. The monster pleads to Frankenstein to create a companion for it by trying to evoke empathy for its misery and sorrow. … instead of threatening, I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph; emember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me?
You would not call it murder if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts and destroy my frame, the work of your own hands (130). At these words Frankenstein feels compassionate for the monster he created and agrees to its demands. He later is overcome by his mercy for mankind over his own selfishness and realizes that the creation of another abomination is evil. Again it is proven that only God in His immense wisdom can oversee and protect living beings. Man, as seen in Frankenstein, will only fail at this futile endeavor.
Finally, Frankenstein’s attempt to play God results in the downfall of his own sanity and morality. This is first seen in his creation of the monster. Ironically, in the process of his attempt to be Godlike, Frankenstein begins to act very immorally. He frequents graveyards and has no respect for human life. I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay (39). In his quest to be like God, he falls completely away. He also completely cuts himself off from his family and friends. This too is ironic in that God reinforces the importance of family bonds.
Also, Frankenstein openly conveys hatred towards his creation and seeks to murder it. Not only is he venturing further away from religion by desiring to kill another living creature, but that creature is his own creation. Eventually, Frankenstein spends his life on a miserable, heart-breaking pursuit of his creature. After the monster takes all that he loves, Frankenstein exhibits an unrelenting desire for revenge and justice. Yet again, although Frankenstein originally desires to be the Godlike creator of life, he exhibits traits that are completely contradictory to his plight.
In his quest through life and for the monster, Frankenstein forfeits all of his happiness and all that he loves. Being that God is love, one can see that the attempt of man to be God results in suffering for his blasphemy. In conclusion, Shelley illustrates the perils that can befall man if he actively seeks to play God. Although man should live a moral life modeling that of God, man should not try to himself create life and become a god. The foundation of Frankenstein’s downfall is in his early mistakes as a fallible human by not accepting responsibility for his own creation that he so passionately works to bring into existence.
His downfall is later multiplied and eventually brings him to his death, because Frankenstein never actually takes responsibility for his actions. He also never asks forgiveness of his fellow man for creating such a diabolical creature or of his God. Man, being a fallible creature, will never possess the characteristics of God, no matter how much science and technology advance. Simply because the resources and knowledge are present to create, does not make it a righteous endeavor.