To what extent is ”Frankenstein’ concerned with the theme of education and what does it have to say about the advantages and disadvantages of this?
In Frankenstein, education cannot simply be considered as an ordinary theme, because there are so many differing angles which are represented throughout. It primarily depends however on what actually counts as education in the first place; does it have to be necessarily formal, or does it also count if it is information passed on from one family member to another, or even if it is simply something gleaned from the environment that surrounds us. This is the question that must be answered, as well as deciphering what methods Shelley uses to convey the fact that education is essential for the books’ events to occur.
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In Frankenstein from the very beginning, whenever Victor is mentioned, it is in the context of learning, or of having learnt something crucial. This is in comparison to Walton, whose knowledge appears to come from his exploration, from his search for a true companion who can accompany him throughout the rest of his life, someone who will truly understand him. Walton’s knowledge is not just from experiences, but also from studying, from academia, as well as from his perceptions of the world around him, and from what his morals command him to either do or not to do. However, despite all of his academia, he is still astonished when he is told about Frankenstein’s creature, and even more so when he views it for himself. This proves that despite formal education, there will still be gaps of knowledge, and the power to surprise will always exist.
Victor relates to Walton all about how his education was formulated, what exactly he had learnt from his bad experiences with books and at Ingolstadt, and by focussing on outdated science such as those ideas thought of by Cornelius Agrippa and Albertus Magnus. The point blank refutation by his father of these theories and ideas did not mean that Victor realised they were hopelessly incorrect; on the contrary, he ‘continued to read with the greatest avidity’.
This reading eventually led to the creation of the creature, which although being a tremendous achievement in its own right, is something which directly contravenes the natural order of things, and is therefore a sin. By studying such ‘wild fantasies’ and not instead reading something far more ‘real and practical’, he allowed himself to be taken into the world of unnatural occurrences, where he would be able to achieve incredible things, but at the same time ‘terrible’.
At Ingolstadt, Victor was further mislead from the path of true science by Krempe who did not capture his imagination, and possessed a ‘repulsive countenance’ and instead continued to strive towards conquering death through reanimating and creating his own perfect being. It does bring up questions of who ought to be able to control life and death, which the creature then follows through killing, through controlling the manner and time of death of those that Victor held dear.
However, despite the creature’s education through learning from his surroundings, there is still some quality to him which is not human. This is indeed the lack of any sort of moral structure; he is not able to empathise, or realise that what he does is wrong. This can be shown by ‘you belong then to my enemy-to him towards whom I have sworn eternal revenge; you shall be my first victim.’ Perhaps in some way he acknowledges it as wrong, but due to his previous experience with the people in the cabin, he now no longer wishes to be like them, and wants to separate himself from society. This separation means he then becomes particularly cold blooded, but he does know that it will prove effective in affecting Frankie.
Due to the creature describing his ‘heart swelling with exultation and triumph’, it demonstrates that to some extent the creature has developed sophisticated planning, because it was not spur of the moment (the fact that there is no regret mentioned proves this). The creature has learnt to be cold from his ‘father’s’ abandonment of him, and the people in the cabin rejecting him solely on the basis of physical appearance. Therefore he has learnt that to cause emotional suffering is the best way to commit revenge; the preferred method of hurt is to destroy someone’s heart.
The creature’s knowledge did not turn out to have a positive effect on anyone’s life, but rather ended up causing several deaths and miserable lives for many. Whether or not the creature deserved to be given a full education is still unclear, but it shows that knowledge can be very harmful. However it did not appear to be so for Safie, who was also learning at the same time as the creature, albeit it not as surreptitiously as it, because Safie simply learnt the language and was not mentioned as having later committed acts of evil. The creature learnt from afar, much as an infant does, by listening to language and eventually picking up the ability to manipulate it in one’s own way, although he evidently learnt from books as well for research and insight.
Despite all this, he still isn’t an intellectual, and primarily learns about his strength, about others and about others’ perceptions of him through trial and error.
There is the question of whether or not the creature was solely spurred on by William’s being such an unpleasant child or whether it was simply in the creature’s blood. Nevertheless, this proves that to some extent, people learn behaviours from what they experience of what occurs around them, and it is not just pre-learned behaviour. It raises the question of whether the creature would have been more docile if either Victor had directly cared for him, or provided a creature as a friend. He has learnt to become so disillusioned with humanity, that now they are now worthless to him, even a defenceless young child. This heinous crime doesn’t mean anything to him, in the same way that it didn’t technically mean anything to Victor to about the creature; only disgust about what he had created was realised.
This disgust can be easily understood, because he has managed to reanimate dead flesh; who is to say that there might not be some imprint of the personality of the old owner of these body parts existing still? Despite the addition of ‘luxuriances’ such as ‘lustrous black, flowing hair’, it is still a crime against nature, and also raises the moral question of whether or not the creature learns from scratch with his blank slate of a ‘child brain’, or whether he simply possesses the mind of the old brain. How a new creature made from death can still have life, particularly have its own mind is uncertain, especially when we consider that the creature must suddenly have had a consciousness emerge out of oblivion, but all we know is that there must be something real about it for it to be able to affect the lives of real humans.
Whether or not education is simply learning how to live by gathering and experiencing simple pleasures, having sufficient food, and utilising fire depends on what and who is being asked, but surely anything that is learnt counts as a sort of education in its own way. Learning through experience means that on the plus side, you know what you have learnt is true, and you know what will work best in a certain set of circumstances, but when you arrive at something new and unfamiliar, trial and error (error being the key point) is the only way forward. Frankenstein in a way is all about education, particularly when it comes to the misuse of formal education, and mistakes made, but because not all of the plot details in the end come down to a matter of education, it therefore cannot be deemed to be the key theme of the novel.