Danger of Knowledge
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein’s thirst for knowledge and his defiance of nature due to desire to resurrect dead matter, leads him to his deterioration.
Frankenstein’s immense ambitions ensue in his eventual downfall. In a flashback, recalling a thunderstorm from his childhood, Frankenstein reminisces the destruction of an oak tree, which envisages his fate, resultant from his thirst for knowledge. Frankenstein describes the scene of the storm with specific detail; the “dazzling light”, lighting, came from “heaven”, and “utterly destroyed” a beautiful oak”, transforming it into “thin ribbons of wood” . The incident illustrates the destructive forces of nature by visualizing a tree undergoing an unexpected and complete annihilation. Tactile imagery is utilized to illustrate the dreadful aftermath of the thunderstorm, by metaphorically identifying “wood”, a hard material, as a “ribbon”, a fabric, contrasting their dissimilar texture and appearance. “Lighting “, electrical discharge, symbolizes nature’s discontent towards human scientific innovations, which alter its natural order. Frankenstein was written in the beginning of the industrial revolution, when nations were exploiting natural resources in order to urbanize and develop. The aforementioned destruction of a tree is a synecdoche for the process of deforestation as a whole. As humankind advances technologically, nature gets destroyed in the process. However, natural resources are essential for humanity’s survival, hence humans are self-destructing with their development and innovations. Likewise, as industrialization destroys human population and the Earth, Frankenstein’s scientific discoveries and his defiance of nature’s boundaries will demolish both him and the physical world. Therefore, the utter demolition of the tree foreshadows Frankenstein’s destruction, as the result of his thirst for knowledge and his attempts to challenge natural order.
Strive for forbidden knowledge results in nature revenging Frankenstein for his defiance of it, through his expression of hubris against it. “Light” , an element of lightning, symbolizes knowledge, which will later be acquired by Frankenstein. Furthermore, the symbol of “light” alludes to Greek mythology, specifically the myth of Prometheus, where fire, a source of light, was given, as knowledge, to the humankind. Acquirement of knowledge being destructive alludes to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a biblical epic, where Adam and Eve consume the forbidden fruit, receiving a rational perception of reality, losing their purity, becoming aware of sins. Their disobedience of God’s advice, expression of hubris against him, and their acquirement of knowledge resulted in their exile from the Garden of Eden. Likewise, Prometheus expresses hubris against Zeus and Frankenstein expresses hubris against nature. Prometheus faces a fatal punishment from Zeus, and Frankenstein will end his life in misery. Hence, the allusions underpin the dangers of Frankenstein’s ambitions and pursuits of knowledge.
Through a recollection of a thunderstorm from his childhood, Frankenstein foreshadows his drastic fate, resultant from his desire to acquire knowledge and his defiance of the limit for human discoveries set by nature. His eventual destruction will be unexpected, sudden, and fatal, like the tree’s whose collapse he experienced.