The Moral of Frankenstein Revisited

We all know the story of Frankenstein, right? We've seen it in countless movies, cartoons, etc. The evil, mad scientist working in his remote castle laboratory with his henchman Igor creates the monster Frankenstein, a creature so horrible that eventually the peasants storm the castle with pitchforks and torches and burn down the castle and monster.

Well, I just finished reading Mary Shelley's original novel, and quite a few parts of that are not in the story. The scientist may or may not be mad, depending upon how you interpret it, but he wasn't evil, and wasn't deliberately trying to create a monster. His workshop wasn't in a remote castle, but simply some rooms he had at or near the university. There is no henchman Igor. And the peasants never stormed the lab or monster with pitchforks and torches.

In fact, Dr. Frankenstein was so horrified by his creation (the creature is never given a name by the way, Frankenstein is the scientist's last name) that he runs away from it, and is terribly relieved to find it gone when he returns later. He doesn't tell anybody what he's done, and he doesn't try to look for the creature. In fact, he has no contact or awareness of the creature for something like two years. The creature eventually comes back into Dr. Frankenstein's life, killing friends and family until Frankenstein is finally determined to seek out and destroy the monster, but he dies without doing so. Once Dr. Frankenstein is dead, the creature says that he will destroy himself, and do no further harm to humanity, although the story only ends with his words, and no evidence that he actually does what he says.

The oft-referred to moral of the story is that Man is not meant to know some things, and that science can lead to some things getting out-of-control. But upon reading the novel, what strikes me the most is that the creature needn't have gotten out of hand if Frankenstein had simply not run away from his creation at the time of his creation. The story makes clear that creature knows little at its creation, and becomes essentially self-taught over time. Frankenstein could have been the one to educate the creature, and help ensure that he had a decent, moral upbringing, and thus little need to become the wretched hateful creature that he becomes.

In short, Dr. Frankenstein was trying to avoid the responsibility for his creation. This irresponsbility seems to be the fundamental moral of the story. As such, this is quite applicable to just about anyone, anywhere, and thus quite a timeless moral, however Victorian and stilted the writing may seem to the modern reader. But it seems to take away from it as a science fiction novel, especially since the extrapolation of the science, and the scientific creation's effect on society are not really explored.

Interestingly, the creature is not some slow-moving, lumbering giant as most of the movies make it out to be, but a being of superior strength, speed, and stamina, and at least equal in intelligence to regular humans.

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