Science, Technology, and Morality as Perceived in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley challenges the motives and ethical uncertainties of the scientific developments of her time. This critique has become increasingly relevant as modern scientists endeavor into previously unimagined realms of the natural world through the use of cloning and genetic engineering. Through careful analysis, we can see how the novel illustrates both the potential dangers of these exploits and the irony of the conflicts between science and creationism.

Prior to the birth of the story, Mary Shelley had begun to learn of advancements and speculation in the scientific world of the early nineteenth century; in Frankenstein's introduction, editor M. K. Joseph asserts that "Mary Shelley wrote in the infancy
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Lawrence, as Butler contends, engaged in a lengthy debate with surgeon John Abernethy in which he opposed the more conservative effort to produce a belief system which would straddle the gap between religion and science. This may have served as a model for one of Frankenstein's central themes: "[Frankenstein] to some degree acts out the debate between Abernethy and Lawrence" (13).

Butler's assertion may hold true as we examine the classic novel for indications of Shelley's influences. Frankenstein, while describing his revelations prior to the creation of the monster, poses the essential theological question: "Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?" (51). He then attempts to answer with scientific means by "getting acquainted with the science of anatomy" and by studying "the natural decay and corruption of the human body." Like Abernethy, Frankenstein seeks to meld the values of science and religion; like Lawrence, he esteems biological function above other convictions. In recounting his story, the doctor correlates scientific discipline with destiny: "Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate," he laments (38).

It is apparent that in her story Mary Shelley chose to impart a symbolic meaning with respect to the scientific efforts of her era, but the question remains: what was

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