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The Concepts of Knowledge and Happiness in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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"Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow" (Shelley 60). In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, she expresses her beliefs regarding the danger of pursuing happiness through the attainment of knowledge, because true happiness is found in the emotional connections established between people. The pursuit of knowledge is not necessarily an evil thing, but it can cause destruction when it is pursued beyond natural limits. Victor Frankenstein becomes a slave to his passion for learning in more than one way; first his life is controlled by his obsession to create life, and later he becomes a slave to the monster he has created.

Frankenstein describes the beginning of his life as a happy time with his family. During his childhood, Frankenstein was passionate about learning, but his emotional connection with Elizabeth kept him from completely engrossing himself in his studies (Shelley 38). When Frankenstein left home to study at the university of Ingolstadt, he became intent on his quest to uncover the mystery of life. He tells of working in the laboratory until sunrise and being indifferent to the beauty of the world around him (Shelley 56-63). These changes in Frankenstein's way of life represent Shelley's belief that one's passions must be controlled or the passions will eventually control the person.

Frankenstein begins his research with the good intention of helping people, but his thoughts soon turn to the quest for power over life and to be recognized as the creator of a species (Shelley 60-61). He became so caught up in his attempt to create life that he never thought about the consequences. The appearance of his creation changes in his mind from a work of beauty while he is still creating it to a hideous monster when it comes to life (Shelley 66). This belief that the end of knowledge can be different from one's intentions relates to the idea that the works of God are beyond a human's capacity to understand, and it is wrong for humans to try to comprehend Him. Shelley is telling her readers that God and His ability to create life are not meant to be understood by humans. One may think it would be good to understand God, but in the end one can see that this human attainment of this knowledge of life is truly ugly and destructive.

Frankenstein's passion for learning truly controls him when he reaches his goal of creating life. The result of his passion, the monster, is ever present in Frankenstein's thoughts and it controls his actions. The monster eventually destroys everything that is important to Frankenstein, because everyone he loved is dead. Frankenstein lives the rest of his miserable life in hope of avenging the deaths of his loved ones. Shelley expresses that relationships between people are the key to happiness, because Frankenstein is unable to find any joy after his loved ones are murdered. Throughout the story, Frankenstein is a slave to his desire for knowledge and the ability to create life.

The pursuit of knowledge is not the only passion that can lead to a person to a life of suffering. Shelley's example of Frankenstein's uncontrollable urge to learn can be applied to any passion that is taken to an extreme. "A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility" (Shelley 64).

Shelley also uses the monster to portray the idea that

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