Nature’s Role in Frankenstein
The writers of the Romantic period portrayed nature as a celestial source. In many Romantic works, nature’s beauty is praised with pantheistic, almost pagan, terms. To these writers, the natural world was a direct connection to god. Through appreciation for nature, one could achieve spiritual fulfillment. The contrary, failure to surrender to natural law, results in punishment at the hands of nature. Mary Shelley, as well as her contemporary, Samuel Coleridge, depicts the antagonistic powers of nature against those who dare to provoke it.
Victor Frankenstein offends nature in several ways. The first and foremost insult is his attempt to gain knowledge forbidden to humanity. Then, he uses this knowledge to create an unnatural being that serves no purpose in a natural world. Finally, Frankenstein refuses to take responsibility for his creation’s actions, which have obvious and dangerous consequences for society. By daring to tread on the laws of nature, Frankenstein becomes the target of the natural world’s wrath. He, much like the Ancient Mariner, suffers due punishment for his sin.
In both “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Frankenstein,” nature is portrayed as a divine power. It is a deific force, capable of creating transcendental beauty, as well as inflicting horrific torment upon those who violate its laws. The Ancient Mariner’s crime is his senseless murder of the albatross; his punishment presents itself through a series of natural phenomenon. Nature deprives him and his men of natural elements, food and water, “Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink. ” (Coleridge 433). Nature also uses other natural elements to cause him further suffering.
For instance, the Mariner and his men must endure the heat of the sun as their ship halts, the wind stops and intensifies the heat, “Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down… ““All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody sun at noon. ” (Coleridge 433). Frankenstein also faces retribution for his disobedience to the laws of nature. His punishment, however, is not as simple as the Mariner’s. Nature bestows a far more cruel and spiteful fate upon Frankenstein. It uses Frankenstein’s creature against him, adopting his former object of pride and manipulating the creation into a weapon against its creator.
Abandoned by its “father”, Frankenstein’s monster is forced to seek another parental figure. It finds one in Mother Nature. As the creature embarks on a lonesome journey, nature teaches him the lessons that Frankenstein does not. The creature learns of the dangers of fire by burning its hand in the flame “One day, when I was oppressed by cold, I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain.
How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects! ” (Shelley 389). In other such lessons, Nature shapes its “child” as a tool of revenge. For instance, the creature learns of it’s hideousness by seeing it’s reflection in a pool of water, ” At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification. Alas!
I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of this miserable deformity” (Shelley 431). This realization evokes anger within the monster, and its resentment towards its creator grows. Nature uses Frankenstein’s hubristic disposition against him. When creating the monster, Victor Frankenstein gives it a gigantic stature. He states that he did this due to his haste, “As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make a being gigantic in stature… ” (Shelley 171).
However, Frankenstein’s ambition also played a role in his decision to make the creature a physically intimidating size, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley 172). Here, Frankenstein states his desire to become the father of a supreme race of beings. By giving the creature an enormous form, Frankenstein is assuring that it will be dominant over other species. This is not only a threat to nature, but it also adds to the creature’s unnatural genesis.
The monster is abnormally powerful, as it possesses abilities far surpassing to any other species on Earth. Therefore, it is something unnatural and cannot be apart of the natural world. Nature, instead of removing the monster straight away, uses its physical superiority to taunt Frankenstein’s pride. As the scientist begins his all-consuming quest to seize and kill the monster, he is constantly mocked by his own creation’s power. Even at the end of his life, Frankenstein is still unable to capture the monster. The unnatural being has no true place or purpose in he natural world, so Nature uses the creature in the only suitable way: a tool for revenge. This becomes the monster’s only role in the natural world. Once it has finally inflicted true punishment against Frankenstein, it will have no purpose. The monster does not belong in the natural world, and so it will be destroyed, “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on” (Shelley 886). Revenge is its only objective, when nature finally achieves this intention it returns the monster back to nature.
The creature’s birth was allied by the use of natural materials, human flesh and lightning, similarly its death is caused by Nature’s elements, fire, “I shall collect my funeral pile, and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch, who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. ” (Shelley 889). The creature is of no use to Mother Nature any longer, and so it must remove itself from the natural world. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Frankenstein” describes the horrors that result from invoking nature’s rage.
The natural world, according to the Romantics, was a divine force. Like the pagan gods of Greek and Roman culture, nature’s wrath is terrible and unmerciful to those who dare to wrong it. Victor Frankenstein, the Promethean figure of the Romantic period, defies nature in his decision to bring unnatural life into the natural world. This is an act of blasphemy against nature, and to an extent, “God” himself. Frankenstein’s punishment for this sin is both thorough and justified. Like Prometheus, Victor Frankenstein spends his remaining life paying for his act of defiance against the gods of nature.