Infatuated with Knowledge: A Dangerous Fate | Teen Ink

Infatuated with Knowledge: A Dangerous Fate

April 6, 2015
By AnInkling SILVER, Castle Rock, Colorado
AnInkling SILVER, Castle Rock, Colorado
6 articles 0 photos 110 comments

Favorite Quote:
“This is your life. Is it everything you dreamed that it would be, when the world was younger and you had everything to lose?” Switchfoot
“Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:16

Excerpt from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Chapter Three, Paragraphs Fourteen through Fifteen
“The ancient teachers of this science,” said he [M. Waldman], “promised impossibilities, and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmutes, and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature, and show how she works in her hiding places.  They ascend into the heavens: they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.”
Such were the professor’s words—rather let me say such the words of fate, enounced to destroy me. As he went on, I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my beings: chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein,--more, far more, will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.

Knowledge is a gift. But when the human mind seeks to usurp God by trying to understand all mysteries, the pen of fate touches the page, and a tragedy is written. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, she focuses on exploring Victor's obsession with knowledge and its result. Looking back on his life, Victor Frankenstein tells Robert Walton about the exact instance when he became obsessed with discovering the hidden knowledge of the universe and how it led to his ultimate ruin. Through metaphors, extended personification, and tone, Mary Shelley reveals how Victor views human power, his helpless fall into ruin, and his worship of knowledge.
In Victor’s professor’s speech, Mary Shelley employs many metaphors to emphasize human power and to show the source of Frankenstein’s plans and desires. As a type of figurative language, metaphors occur when the author compares two items or ideas by directly stating that one is the other. Thus, metaphors cannot be taken literally, and their meaning is implicit. Speaking of modern philosophers, Professor Waldman says that they only seemed “made to dabble in dirt.” This metaphor gives the implication that the modern philosophers should only be playing with the base, simple things in life, like a crude farmer who knows only how to plow and drop seeds into the dirt. However, Waldman continues and claims that these base philosophers “have indeed performed miracles,” which shows that these scientists have achieved what was declared to be impossible. The stark contrast of these two metaphors gives both the reader and Frankenstein hope that anyone, not just the masters of philosophy, can accomplish anything. This motivates Victor to find the knowledge of creating life. Waldman continues his lecture with an exciting list of metaphors which demonstrate human power. Claiming that humans can “ascend[] into the heavens,” Waldman’s words reveal his belief that humankind can not only achieve unthinkable things, but also can rival the feats of God who sits in heaven. Moreover, this metaphor foreshadows the downfall of Frankenstein by using the same terminology that the Bible uses to describe Babylon’s and Satan’s goals which caused their ultimate ruin (New King James Version, Isaiah 14.13) . Waldman then continues to say that humans “can command the thunders of heaven, [and] mimic the earthquake” (New King James Version, Job 38-41) . Again, these metaphors are an allusion to the chapters in the Bible where God is describing His power to Job in almost the exact same words. In these metaphors, Waldman goes beyond saying that humans can understand forbidden knowledge and claims that humans can also control the powerful phenomena of their planet. In the final metaphor of the professor’s speech, Mary Shelley reveals the true purpose of finding this hidden knowledge: to “mock the invisible world with its own shadows.”  This metaphor shows that the true goal of these modern philosophers is to blaspheme the spiritual realm, which is commonly referred to as the “invisible world” in the Bible and other literature. Also in popular myths, invisible beings have one weakness, which is of having a visible shadow in the sun. These philosophers wish to flaunt their knowledge by finding God’s own shadows or weaknesses. Used together, these metaphors reveal human power to Frankenstein and lure him into the worship of human knowledge. Though the metaphors initially create a feeling of wonder and elation at human wisdom, they forebode a darker future than they promise.
Stepping back from his story, Victor Frankenstein then comments on the effect of this speech on his future by using an extended personification of Fate, showing that Victor sees this as his first step of folly which leads to his doom. Another type of figurative language, personification is the technique of giving human qualities, such as emotions or actions, to inanimate objects, animals, or ideas. Victor refers to his professor’s words as “the words of fate.” Giving the idea that Waldman’s speech was more than just another lecture, this personification indicates that the speech became the inciting incident of Victor’s tragic fall and subsequent death. Furthermore, Victor comments that the words were “enounced to destroy” him. This adds the idea that Fate was lying in wait to trap him into destruction. Speaking of Fate as a malicious musical composer, Victor remarks, “[O]ne by one the various keys were touches,… and soon my mind was filled with one thought.” Like a piano has no control over the music that fills it, Victor claims that he could do nothing to stop the thoughts that took control of his mind. This creates a helpless and hopeless effect for Shelley’s audience as they watch seemingly innocent events cause Victor’s ruin. The personification of Fate reveals how naïve Victor is trapped into an obsession with knowledge and how this eventually leads to Victor’s creation of the monster and his death.
After Victor comments from his future perspective, the narrative shifts back into the hopeful and excited tone of Victor’s past to reveal the irony of his emotions. Tone is the underlying emotion in the scene and the attitude of the speaker or author toward the events or ideas in the scene. Words such as “exclaimed,” “pioneer,” and “explore” all reveal the excited, elated tone of Victor's past. Victor also declares, “More, far more, will I achieve,” which reveals his hope for success and happiness in his scientific ventures. These sentences show that the Frankenstein of the past was ecstatic, elated, and eager to pursue knowledge. However, when the joyous tone of these sentences is paired with the miserable predictions from the future that preceded it, the effect of irony is created. The past Frankenstein had ignorant joy as he excitedly walked into his doom by unfolding the wrong mysteries, and now the future Frankenstein sees his folly. By emphasizing the irony in the euphoric tone, Mary Shelley reveals that Victor’s worship of knowledge, though it looked attractive at the time, ultimately would lead to his death.
Describing the beginning of Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with knowledge, Mary Shelley uses metaphors to emphasize human power, personification to show Victor’s naive helplessness, and an optimistic tone to reveal the irony in Victor’s goals. These three devices help create Shelley’s tragic theme of the danger of worshiping knowledge. Though Frankenstein learned the dreadful lesson too late, Robert Walton, the captain to whom Victor tells his story, realizes the fate that awaits him if he continues in his own search for the forbidden knowledge of the arctic. So, as a foil to Frankenstein, Walton turns back from his quest. It is the attractiveness, hopelessness, and irony of Frankenstein’s story which allows Walton and Shelley’s readers to sympathize with Victor Frankenstein. Through metaphors, personification, and tone, Walton and the readers understand the trap of worshiping knowledge.

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