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How does Frankenstein engage with the debate between nature and nurture in the creation of personality? Discuss using close analysis of the text. The concept ‘nature vs. nurture’ refers to the debate surrounding the influence of genetic factors and the environment in determining personality. It still remains contentious as to whether our personality is primarily determined by inherent genetics (biological approach) or by environmental conditioning (behaviourist approach). Shelley effectively embodies this life-long debate through the characterisation of Victor Frankenstein and the Frankenstein creature.
She highlights the significance of the environment in creating personality as indicated by the influence of Victor’s home education and the creature’s character development. This essay shall hence illustrate that Frankenstein does not only engage with the nature vs. nurture debate, but significantly supports the behaviourist stance. The prominence of the behaviourist approach in Frankenstein is made obvious in the first chapter. Victor Frankenstein nostalgically describes his warm and supportive father who ‘had devoted himself to the education of his children’1 from early on in Victor’s life. Victor nhances the significance of behaviourism as he states that ‘no creature could have more tender parents than mine’2 which highlights the loving and compassionate environment that Victor was brought up in. This explicitly presents elements of the behaviourist approach which attributes Victor’s education to his familial environment. Furthermore, his parents love is presented as being the force that can significantly shape his future. Victor states that he was ‘their child, the innocent and helpless creature bestowed on them by heaven, whom to bring up to good, and whose future…was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery. Here Victor unequivocally implores that his future was determined by how his parents nurtured him; their influence could either lead him to ‘happiness or misery’. The power of nurture is hence exhibited by Victor in these passages; it is the deterministic force which shapes his education. Interestingly, Victor implores that his education was ‘never forced’ and he ‘always had an end placed in view. ’3 The free nature of Victor’s education and the constant emphasises on achieving a goal significantly effects Victor’s personality. Indeed, if his education was not so unrestricted he would not have read ‘books which encouraged, not an wareness of human folly and injustice, but rather a hubristic desire for human omnipotence, for the gaining of the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life. ’4 Hence, Victor’s education influenced him to pursue power and knowledge which undeniably shaped his personality. Victor’s resulting megalomania is highlighted in his creation of the Frankenstein creature, he states: ‘I had worked…for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body…I had desired it with ardour that far exceeded moderation. ’5 The adjective ‘ardour’ indicates the extent of Victor’s craving for power which is reinforced by ‘exceeded moderation’. This is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, (Oxford: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2008), p. 60. All further quotations shall be to this edition. 2 Frankenstein, p. 60 3 Frankenstein, p. 62 4 Anne K. Mellor, Making a Monster. In: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, ed. Harold Bloom, (Chelsea House, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007), p. 55 5 Frankenstein, p. 276 How does Frankenstein engage with the debate between nature and nurture in the creation of personality? Discuss using close analysis of the text. explicitly connected to his objective based education and therefore reinforces the notion that he environment is the significant factor which shapes Victor’s personality. Frankenstein on the other hand is characterised as possessing no natural disposition, as if he is a blank slate. This is indicated by Frankenstein who asserts ‘no distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused. I felt the light, and hunger, and thirst and darkness. ’6 At this point Frankenstein merely possesses basic instinctive behaviours and no natural disposition. The syntax which contains repetition of the conjunctive ‘and’ mirrors Frankenstein’s simplicity. What Mary effectively creates here is a medium in which she can accentuate the significance f the environment. Essentially at this point Frankenstein is not a monster, it is his experience within human society which determines his future evil behaviours. We perceive Frankenstein burning himself on a fire: ‘I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars… in my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain. ’ In this instance Shelley conveys the fundamentals of conditioning. Frankenstein learns that putting his hand into the fire results in pain, which reinforces the notion that Shelley presents behaviourism as a dominant force.
More importantly, the influence of the social environment upon Frankenstein is explicitly conveyed with his experience with the De Lacey’s. Frankenstein seemingly exemplifies operant conditioning as he begins to learn language, understand human relationships and develop feelings of empathy through observation. Again, this reinforces the notion that it is behaviourism, not the biological approach, which fundamentally shapes Frankenstein’s personality. It is within Frankenstein’s experience of humans that his personality significantly shifts from neutral to evil because ‘the reature learns from sensations and examples’. 7 Essentially Frankenstein is treated with contempt by his creator, violence for doing a noble deed and violence from the De Lacey’s who he admires. These experiences fundamentally shapes his personality and transforms him to ‘eternal hatred and vengeance on all mankind’8, not his genetic disposition. Ultimately, ‘in the great debate on the relative importance of nature versus nurture, Mary was convinced that nurture is crucial’. 9 6 Frankenstein, p. 129 7 Anne K. Mellor, Making a Monster. In: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, ed. Harold Bloom, (Chelsea
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House, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007), p. 54 8 Frankenstein, p. 346 9 Anne K. Mellor, Making a Monster. In: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, ed. Harold Bloom, (Chelsea House, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007), p. 54 How does Frankenstein engage with the debate between nature and nurture in the creation of personality? Discuss using close analysis of the text. Bibliography Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, (Oxford: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2008) Mellor, Anne K. Making a Monster. In: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, ed. Harold Bloom, (Chelsea House, New York, 2007)
Author: Dave Villacorta
Frankenstein Nature Vs Nurture
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Nature Vs Nurture In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Philosophers and scientists alike have debated for centuries whether a person’s character is the result of nature or nurture. In the writings of Thomas Hobbes, it is expressed that humans are endowed with character from birth, and that they are innately evil in nature. John Locke’s response to this theory is that everyone is born with a tabula rasa, or blank slate, and then develops character after a series of formative experiences. The idea that true character is the result of experiences and societal interaction is a theme deeply explored throughout Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Through different interactions with the monster, Shelley attempts to express that it is because of Victor’s failings as a parent and creator, because of the monster’s isolation, and because of society’s reaction to the monster that the monster has become evil. The monster’s character is a direct result of how he was nurtured, based on his experiences and circumstances, rather than his being innately evil from “birth.”
One of the most influential contributions in the formation of the monster’s character is Victor’s failure as a creator and a father. As a creator, Victor has the responsibility of providing for his creation, just as God provided for Adam and Eve. At the same time, Victor also falls under the role of a father, and should therefore seek to strengthen the familial bond between the two of them. However, Victor fails in both of these endeavors, because he cannot accept the monster in his deformity. “Frankenstein’s sole regret… is that he did not create an aesthetically pleasing being” (Bond). Victor, due to his skewed vision of humanity, believes outer beauty to be a reflection of inner character, and that because of the monster’s hideous appearance, it must therefore be savage in nature. Even in Victor’s own description of the monster, he asserts that “it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived” (Shelley 52). The allusion to Dante implies that, based on appearance alone, the monster is more evil than Hell itself. Victor took no time in getting to understand the monster or develop the familial bond between them, which leaves Victor with a narrow, biased opinion on the monster. Shelley uses Victor’s hasty judgment of the monster in order to demonstrate the irrationality of Victor’s actions regarding the creature. This also discounts Victor’s opinions of the monster, forcing Shelley’s audience to judge the monster based on their own inferences, rather than Victor’s. Through Victor’s actions and his faulty reasoning behind them, Shelley is able to shift the responsibility for the monster’s character from it being instilled in him from birth, to Victor’s failings as a parent and creator.
Shelley also attempts to express that Victor’s failure as a father and creator stems from his inability to accept responsibility for his actions. The monster, who openly regrets his actions and recognizes that he has done wrong, “demonstrates that on one...
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