Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, was written and published anonymously in London in the year eighteen hundred and eighteen but the second edition bore her name and was published in France five years later. Her work explores human enhancement through the eyes of different characters and the depiction of Frankenstein’s monster clearly shows that it is against human enhancement. Critics, over the years, have mostly viewed Frankenstein through the lens of Mary Shelley’s world and political times and as such, have regarded the monster created by Frankenstein as the monster that would be created by industrialization. However, the conclusion of the book, when keenly studied, serves to show that the work focuses on human enhancement and its limitations as well as the dangers that lie therein.
Other than the conclusion of the novel, there are various reasons that allude to human enhancement as the theme in the book as one goes through it. From the creation of the Frankenstein monster and the underlying intentions of Victor as he delves into science and technology when making the being to the struggles with his creation till he is found collapsed and emaciated while chasing the monster all allude to the dangers presented by enhanced human beings (Shelley, 27). Even though the story is fictional, the main idea, that human enhancement is wrought with greater evil to the society at large and the creator of the enhanced individual comes out clearly in the novel.
Critics have over the years been divided on the main theme of the book with some opting to critique the society through the eyes of the monster and others of the opinion that the book was about the advent and dangers of technology when adopted blindly without ethical considerations. Those of the view that technology can be used for ill gains and evil purposes maintain the view through alluding to the efforts of Victor that see him surge beyond the available technology and science in the creation of another human being, initially through innocence, but bringing out an evil entity that proceeds to destroy his life through targeting his family and friends. Therefore, such critics view the book as one that was used as a premonition of the growing scientific knowledge and technology on humans as well as on morals and ethics of the society as a whole. This, therefore, augurs well with the theme of human enhancement as presented in the book.
Through viewing the scientific work of Victor in the creation of the monster as efforts in human enhancement, the theme that human enhancement is not supported in the work of Mary Shelley takes shape. From the instance that Victor lays eyes on his creation and regards it as a wretched daemon to the final presentation of the monster floating away to oblivion (Shelley, 132), the theme that human enhancement does not sit well with people is enhanced and supported in the work as agreed upon by the majority of authors on human enhancement.
Human enhancement is a topic that has been in existence and been discussed for a long while and involves the adoption of science and technology in bioengineering with the aim of overcoming not only the limitations of human body parts but also their cognitive and physical abilities as well (Savulescu et al., 14). Human enhancement is steeped in medicine and relies mainly on technological advances as well as scientific advances and research in fields such as nanotechnology, bioengineering, pharmacology and genetic engineering among others. This, therefore, makes the theme of human enhancement a broad, complex, interconnected topic that brings together various disciplines under it and thus makes it quite hard to regulate and have ethical rules regarding it. This is because advances in such fields as genetic engineering, cybernetics, nanotechnology as well as bioengineering lead to the creation of techniques aimed at improving the functions of the human body as well as some organs, far above the normal range. This has presented itself in the sports industry through cases of doping that allow athletes to perform at levels previously unimagined and as such be regarded as super humans.
The work of Mary Shelley addresses this topic under the monster created by Frankenstein. Human enhancement has its basis in medicine, and it is clear that the aim of medicine has always been to provide therapy through returning the body and the ailing to normal health. However, human enhancement requires the improvement of the normal for the creation of a super being capable of performing at more enhanced levels than the normal human being. Frankenstein’s novel supports this in various ways. Firstly, as a method of coping with the grief brought about by the death of the mother through scarlet fever, Victor delves into scientific experiments and develops techniques that enable him to animate inanimate matter (Shelley, 47). This leads to his creation of a human being who is bigger than the average person but hideous than the ugliest person alive then. The creature immediately realizes his fate and knows he is hated by his creator and the world at large but overcomes his limitations and destroys the life of the creator. As such, the creature can be said to be more enhanced due to its ability to commit murders and frame others along the way.
Secondly, the ability of the monster to also blackmail Victor to create another creature that would be a female version with promises of good to follow and its self-banishment from the society also shows that human enhancement arises from good intentions with unquantified outcomes. This serves to illustrate the point that failings in human enhancement can be used as an argument to create better which is presented as a pipe dream in the novel as well as described as the unleashing of more evil in the society (Savulescu et al., 32). Human enhancement is therefore frowned upon in the book through presenting the creature as an unwanted and unloved creation that is not only hideous but also inherently evil and would stop at nothing short of the destruction of its creator, to achieve its ends (Shelley, 127).
Other than that, human enhancement has been linked to the erosion of morals in the society since such organs, and parts that would be enhanced through scientific and technological means cannot be supervised nor regulated. Therefore, fears abound in the society regarding the creation of a Frankenstein monster through the advancement of science and technology in procedures that allow the enhancement of various body parts in humans. This is because it has been seen as not only unnatural and hence can only be accepted by the blind in the society, as is the case with Frankenstein’s monster, but also as procedures that can lead to psychological harm as well as erode human values such as equality. The mental breakdown of Victor after dismissing his creation serves to illustrate the effect of human enhancement on the psychology of a person and bodily harm can be deduced from the actions of the monster which include killing and framing people.
The action of Victor Frankenstein to rejecting his work of creation indicates his lack of support for human enhancement. Despite succeeding in humanizing the monster Frankenstein which would have been a mark for scientific achieving, Victor is not happy with his creation. Accomplishing such as task would have seen him glorified in the field of alchemist and among his academic peers. If continued to support his work, more advancement would have been made in the topic of human enhancements. On the other hand, the Victor turns out to be full of remorse, shame, and guilt of his works. This is evident in the fact that he admits to no one about the horror he had created. He came to understand the effects of playing God and attempting to carry out his own scientific control. The creature he created works against him by killing his family and friends (Shelley, 111). The action of Victor isolating himself from the society and his growing urge to carry out revenge against the monster indicates that he does not support the advancements in human enhancement.
Had Frankenstein been supporting his innovations in advancing human advancements, he would have worked to promote the idea all over the world of science. Rather than doing this, Victor embarks on journey to chase his works of creation to the North. It is clear that he is not proud of his scientific achievement as he only shares his story with one person just before he dies. Through Victor’s actions it can be deduced that human enhancement is not beneficial as it was being discouraged. Victor refuses to be held accountable for his action thereby moving into unknown scientific world where he could escape the reality of negative effects of his scientific explorations.
Human enhancement is not supported by the work of Mary Shelley for various reasons as stated above. The road to human enhancement is paved with dangers that are beyond comprehension due to the fact that the path is uncharted as well as unmapped thus providing a margin of error that is too big to ignore. Frankenstein’s monster is presented as a big beyond proportion creature as a way of showing that human enhancement may be a bite that is too large for humanity to swallow. The fact that the monster destroys the life of Victor and ultimately leads to his death shows that human enhancement has its finality in the destruction of not only the creators but also the lives of the society around. However, there are critics who would postulate that human enhancement when done for good reasons their benefits would far outweigh its risks.
Savulescu, Julian, and Nick Bostrom, eds. Human enhancement. Oxford University Press on Demand, 2009.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818. Engage Books, AD Classic, 2014.
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