Knowledge, by definition, is “the fact or condition of having information or of being learned” (Merriam-Webster). Children and adults alike are always looking for more knowledge and to learn more about the world around them. It is always seen as something positive because who does not want to learn something? This point can be proven wrong. Knowledge can be negative because a person might learn unjust or immoral things. One example of such invalidation is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, knowledge can be seen as a source of danger because characters fall victim to the pursuit of it which in the end causes harm to themselves and people that the love.
Knowledge starts from childhood and in Frankenstein Walton and Frankenstein were brought up similarly concerning their education. According to Walton, his “education was neglected, yet I was passionately fond of reading” (Shelley 28). Through this, the audience knows that Walton’s education from the start was not looked upon well. In context with the rest of the letter, it is shows that his Father did not care about what he wanted and did not let him learn what he longed for. In a similar way, Frankenstein says “the cursory glance of my father had taken of my volume had no means assured me that he was acquainted with its contents; and I continued to read with greatest avidity” (Shelley 46). Victor, similar to Walton, was looked down upon about his learning choices. Nevertheless, he continues to just learn what he wants and pursues what he is interested in.
Unlike Frankenstein and Walton, the Creature was brought up in an unconventional education, self-education. Walton and Frankenstein had materials and family to turn to when they were children and still learning. In contrast, the Creature “learned the science of letters as it was taught to the stranger” (Shelley 108). He had to learn simple things like the alphabet from scratch because he never knew anything. Through this one page, the Creature learns about politics, mannerisms, and religions of many nations. Frankenstein and Walton use their knowledge in a perversely but “the creature reads as a method of self-examination and definition, as a way of making sense of himself and his experience of the world.” (Englert). In her article, Englert proves the Creature has learned for different reasons. He does not try to learn more about something he is personally interested in. He learns to assimilate and become one with the surrounding people. Knowledge isn’t just something for him to learn, but it is a way to learn how to live in harmony with others. This knowledge, in the end, does him more harm than good.
Through the novel Victor’s journey progresses and slowly his pure intentions for knowledge soon turn impure and he falls to the lust of knowledge. While in Ingolstadt, Victor “clung to the hope which the next day or the next hour might realise” (Shelley 57). He “clung to the hope” that his work would succeed after countless times of failure. During his study time he became like a hermit, secluded and obsessed with his work. Slowly he grew stir-crazy and threw himself into his work hoping he would discover how life was discovered. According to Virginia Brackett in her article Frankenstein, Victor has forgotten the value of education, instead turning to his obsessions and gaining only perversion through his knowledge (Brackett, 2012). He lost the true reason to his research and instead his knowledge grew perverse. This perversion created the Creature and eventually he will be surrounded by the loss of all his loved ones.
Unlike Victor, the Creature did not fall off the path of knowledge, but knowledge is the things that caused him to start killing. He learns more about the world and himself. He says “I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge” (Shelley 109). This quote comes after the monster reflects upon himself. His self-reflections are very negative, and his sadness grows as he sees “what a wretched outcast” (Shelley 117) he was. This self-loathing can drive anyone mad and indeed it turned the Creature mad. Through his new knowledge from Paradise Lost, “his painful experiences force him to recognize Satan as a fitter emblem of [his] condition. The creature finds selfhood and purpose in a plan of “eternal hatred and revenge” (Englert 2010). The Creature reads this book and relates himself to pure evil. This relation is the one that drives his plan for revenge, which is hurting all of his creator’s loved ones. This is the purest example of a character falling off the path of knowledge and turning to a primal like thing.
With Walton, his case in similar to Victor’s in which he has isolated himself and is in pursuit of learning new things, but he does not fully fall off the path. His pursuit is to find new land and in doing so isolates himself, like Victor. He “preferred glory to every enticement that wealth places in my path”. In context this means that glory is above anything else someone can offer. He is revealed to be quite ambitious like Frankenstein. In John R. Reed’s Will and Fate in Frankenstein, he points out that Walton was an example of an ordinary man possessed by a humanly extreme objective (Reed 1980). Reed points out that Walton was driven by a worldly want and did not think about his own source of suffering: isolation. On his journey he has “no friend” (Shelley 30). He has “one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy” (Shelley 30) and that one want is a friend. His crew are the only people there but they just are not enough since they will not understand his pursuit for glory.
Through the novel, Victor sees his loved ones and his life crash before him and through these tragedies he grew vengeful quite similar to the Creature. After all his loved ones have died Victor “hurried away by fury; revenge alone endowed me with strength and composure” (Shelley 172) goes to his loved ones graves and he is upset that they are dead and he lives.
Although Victor did degenerate into a vengeful man, he did grow as a person from the beginning of the novel. Through the loss of his loved ones, Victor shows that he has learned from his mistakes and that knowledge was his true demise.