Frankenstein-Knowledge and the Desire to Know

Question 3. Examine some of the ways in which Mary Shelley presents knowledge, and the
desire to know, as a problem in Frankenstein.

The desire to know, to learn and to educate ones-self was a recurring preoccupation for
Romantic writers. What particularly troubles them is the recognition that the traditional
grounds of knowledge are far from certain (Swingle 58). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a
novel predominantly about knowledge and the dangers that come with acquiring that
knowledge. This essay will examine the importance placed on gaining knowledge and the
means with which it is obtained. It will also elucidate how knowledge is a hindrance to both
Frankenstein, through his creation, and to the creature through his acquisition of language.
Knowledge will be shown to only be of benefit to an individual if that knowledge is used to
benefit the society in which one inhabits. Ultimately, this essay will illustrate that knowledge
is a powerful force in Frankenstein that hinders Victor Frankenstein because he pursues
knowledge for his own selfish purposes.

The procurement of knowledge and the way knowledge was understood was a recurring
feature among Romantic writers. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is occupied throughout with
the incessant dangers of knowledge and what it means to know. Victor Frankenstein was
educated by his father from a very early age and he proclaimed that he “…ardently desired
the acquisition of knowledge” (Shelley 27). This desire for knowledge consumed Victor and
he ardently believed that “none but those who have experienced them can conceive of the
enticements of science” (Shelley 30). Knowledge here is represented as an enticement,
perhaps even an addiction for those who pursue it, but ultimately it is something that an
individual should strive to gain. Interestingly, what Victor is most preoccupied with is
acquiring unknowable knowledge: the knowledge of creation. In reflecting upon the power of...