Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Interplay between Nature and Human in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein

                                                       By: Mahesh Datt Pant
One of the earliest examples of science fiction in English literature Frankenstein by Mary Shelly has great deal of interrelationship between human and nature. It makes us making aware of the fact that nature is wonderful as well as dangerous thing i.e. it nourishes us as mother as well as controls within its values as father figure. This research shows how nature checks and defends human activities but humans, because of their unique abilities, try to control it rather than controlled by it due to new technologies. It also conveys us a message that scientific experimentations and expeditions against the natural rules can never be accepted by nature and surely resisted. Therefore, this novel can be considered as a significant representation of powerful nature and its resistance on human challenge towards its eternal rules.
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is a significant representation of powerful nature in the sense that nature is found resisting human activities throughout the novel. The novel criticizes the human foolishness to conquer the nature through their knowledge. Bill Philips supports this idea that nature resists human’s intention to conquer it. He quotes:
… nature has a habit of reminding us it is there, just as the monster, a force of nature perverted by human ingenuity, is constantly reminding Victor Frankenstein of his existence, just as the tsunami of December 26th 2004, and the Pakistan earthquake of October 10th 2005, remind us that we inhabit a world we do not control. (67)
Philip’s argument gives us sense that we human beings so called most intelligent creature on earth are pretending to be unaware of the fact that we are digging our own grave by challenging the nature. Therefore, this novel tries to make us aware that it is better to mend our hostile attitude and live in harmony with nature instead of challenging its power.
Eco-criticism is a combined term of ecology and criticism. Ecology is the science which studies about the interrelationship of living things with the nature. Criticism is concerned with defining, analyzing, interpreting, evaluating the literary works through some principles. Therefore, we can define eco-criticism as the critical study of the ecological interrelationship through literature. Human beings, the most intelligent creature on the earth, are also part of this ecology and found many times challenging the natural rules through its abilities. So, eco-criticism also studies about relationship the human being and the nature through literary works.  A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H. Abrams defines, “Eco-criticism designates the critical writings which explore the relations between literature and the biological and physical environment, conducted with an acute awareness of devastation being wrought on that environment by human activities” (71). It also studies literary expression of human experiences in a naturally and culturally shaped world. According to Greg Garrard,  Indeed, the widest definition of the subject of eco-criticism is the study of the relationship of the human and the non-human, throughout human cultural history and entailing critical analysis of the term ‘human’ itself” (5). One of the best known science fiction novels Frankenstein by Mary Shelly has many allusions which link human and nature. It gives us sense about the power of nature which conducts human activities with different kinds of signs. Thus eco-criticism helps us to analyze how nature has nourished the human species and controlled excess human curiosity through this novel.
During this novel the writer make a connection between nature and human through its different perspectives. From very beginning of the novel she uses the horrible scene of nature and tries to show that nature is not in favor of the characters. Walton, a young and passionate navigator wants to conquer natural rule and curiously wants to explore “a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man”(1-2). Through his way he faces many difficulties and a horrible accident where the ice broke and freed his ship. At this point he was introduced to a stranger named Victor Frankenstein and enlightened about the results of extreme curiosity of a human through his story.
As Walton, Victor, the central character of this novel is also an ambitious person who wants to learn “the hidden laws of nature” (19), “secrets of heaven and earth” (20). He tries to challenge the role of the God by creating life through scientific experiments and faces different kinds of environmental crisis throughout the process. Knowledge and passion of Victor makes him to create life under his terms and conditions rather focusing on natural role. Lewis Wolpert discusses that ‘knowledge is dangerous’ extracting words from myths, “Prometheus was punished for bringing knowledge to the world, and Faust for wanting it too much. Lest one thinks that the biblical tree of knowledge, for the tasting of the fruit of which man was expelled from Eden, was only about the knowledge of good and evil, Milton's version in Paradise Lost makes the issue clear” (151). As myth, Victor tries to be a mother figure by giving life to a naturally death body.  It seems as if he allowed nature to determine his fate in contrast what he had done by creating the monster. He disobeyed nature’s power and put a strain on his society by creating the unnatural creation and paid by losing his beloved ones. This shows that there is a limitation to take knowledge otherwise every creature in this world has to pay for it.
We can observe many instances where nature resisting Victor’s efforts to challenge the rule. He observes “most violent and horrible thunder-storm”  (22) at his teenage; Elizabeth caught by severe illness, his mother fell sick and died before he leaves for the University of Ingolstadt are the signs of nature which were making him to resist from doing the inhuman thing he was about to do. But he stubbornly led himself to create the “daemon” and finally couldn’t endure the aspect of being he had created. He quotes:
Oh! no mortal could support the horror of countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then; but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion; it became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived. (37)
This shows however human challenge the nature but it gives glimpse of realization through many ways and signs. It’s upon human to realize it rather running behind his blind curiosity. Glen A. Love in his Practical Ecocriticism: Literature, Biology and environment quotes Joseph Wood Krutch as, “We have engineered ourselves into a position where, for the first time in history, it has become possible for man to destroy his whole species. May we not at the same time have philosophized ourselves into a position where we are no longer able to manage successfully our mental and spiritual lives?” (27). He ironically indicates that our superiority is about to harm our existence if we won’t realize our right position. Therefore, we must try to develop a friendly relation instead of competing with its eternal power.
Frankenstein faces another thunder-storm after he reaches Geneva after he gets news of his brother’s death which makes him a sight of the monster. This was a warning of nature to him that it is time to pay for his curiosity. “A flash of lightening illuminated the object, and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic structure, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belong to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon, to whom I had given life. (53).” This incident made him aware that he could know the truth that his own creation has come to take revenge with him. We can take examples of different disasters human civilization facing because of unnecessary efforts to experiments on natural resources as opposing effort of nature. Though nature always tries to resist us showing its wilderness for exploiting its rules but we stubbornly through our curiosity lead ourselves to be ruined as dinosaurs disappeared many centuries ago.
            Another aspect of debatable issue in Frankenstein may be the scientific experimentation of human being. Science and nature has a long history of conflict. Western scientists firmly tried to challenge the role of nature rather thinking of consequences of their work time to time. As a result whole human race is paying for it by facing different kind of disastrous side-effects. We can consider the commitment of USA President Roosevelt for the creation of atom bomb as inhuman activities of science. Lewis Wolpert quotes a petition signed by some scientist to president which never reached to him:
. . . a nation which set the precedent of using these newly liberated forces of nature for purposes of destruction may have to bear the responsibility of opening the door to an era of devastation on an unimaginable scale. . . . We, the undersigned, respectfully petition first, that you exercise your power as Commander-in-Chief to rule that the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender . . . . (156)
As a result in Second World War Japan had to face that destructive atom bomb and its side-effects are still in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this novel Victor Frankenstein is representing the western scientists who are making discoveries and formulating experiments on how God’s creatures work. CFC’s role in ozone depletion, global warming, fears of destructive world war etc. are the biggest problems we are facing nowadays just because of scientific invention. It also verifies that human beings are bound to follow the natural rule and should work within it.
            After Frankenstein abandons his own creation and reaches to Clerval disoriented, exhausted and confused with fear of that ‘daemon’, he tries to recover taking solace through the natural beauties around Ingolstadt. He looks as if discovering pleasure of life within the natural beauty beyond his laboratory with a warm company of his friend. His words has glimpse of his enjoyment and recovery after the heart breaking moments through nature:
I became the same happy creature who, few years ago, loved and beloved by all, had no sorrow and care. When happy, inanimate nature had the power of bestowing on me the most delightful sensations. A serene sky and verdant field filled me with ecstasy. The present season was indeed divine; the flowers of spring bloomed in the hedges, while those of summer were in already in bud. I was undisturbed by thoughts which during the preceding year had pressed upon me, notwithstanding my endeavors to throw them up. (47)
This shows how a person gets pleasure within the nature even after horrified events keep a person in solitude. We can observe the development of Japanese ‘haiku’ – a poetic form that represents “the poet’s emotional and spiritual response to a natural object, scene, season of a year” (Abrams 120) – in Japanese American prison camps during destructive Second World War. These ‘haiku’ are the result of confinement through the world war effects as Frankenstein has after making the monster. Angela Waldie quotes, “The internment haiku provide a unique counter-balance to this work, as they help to illuminate the role of the natural world in a place not home, but exile, and the ways in which immersion in the natural world can help one to express a reaction to being unjustly taken from one’s home” (54). We can find many events in this novel where Victor visits nature and tries to get pleasure and thinks as if he gets rid of burdens in the lap of nature. This justifies that whenever human gets in any kind of frustration, exhaustion or confinement physically or mentally it takes support from natural beauty to get rid of it.
After Victor attempts to play the role of mother by creating the monster and abandons his duty, that monster learns his life through nature. Like an abandoned infant, the monster is forced to learn by itself or to seek some mother figure. Nature, as witness of the abandonment of the creator, adopts the wretched creature in order to live his life. Do Animals Have Right? by Alison Hills explains, “It is natural to think that some animals have minds that are very similar to ours: many animals can suffer pain and fear, some appear to be able to think, and some, like the great apes, can even be taught a basic language” (4-5). Though the monster was abandoned he had brain to adopt the nature. The Monster first finds a pool to drink water and learns the dangerous of fire by touching inflamed branches. Then his hunger made him aware of food and found a shelter as a hovel joined to a cottage belonged to a pheasant family. Though the monster couldn’t throw him in that family thinking he could be abandoned by them as his creator did. He learns language imitating to a pheasant family as “we learn our language and driving skills from other humans in our society: no one is born knowing English or which way to point their car” (64). By imitating the family and using tools around them the Monster could learn happiness, generosity and affection as well as the pain. “If such lovely creatures were miserable it was less strange that I, an imperfect and solitary being, should be wretched” (83) was his reaction on the pathetic condition of the family. He learns what pleasure or relief is after he helps the family by bringing firing sufficient for them. The knowledge gained by the monster can be connected with the animal’s struggle to have knowledge through nature. He didn’t have anyone to teach him life but he could perceive all that through nature itself. So, we can consider nature as mother figure for the monster that nourished and helped him to survive.
            Another aspect of interplay between human and nature in this novel is the realization of human being about the consequences of their activities. Victor Frankenstein realizes what he is going to commit creating a female species for the monster and destroys it. Though he had promised the monster to create his companion with a condition to leave Europe but finally realizes what he was going to do is harmful for his own species. Frankenstein argues as:
Even if they were to leave Europe, and inhabit the deserts of the new world, yet one of the first result of their sympathies for which the daemon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated on the earth, who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror. Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? I had before been moved by sophisms of the being I created; I had been struck senseless by his fiendish threats; but now, for the first time, the wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race. (131)
This is the realization which every human being has to think of if they want their race to continue for long time. Victor realizes that even he has to pay lives of himself and his beloved one he gives us a sense what is nature all about. Tim Lindgren in his article “Composition and the Rhetoric of Eco-Effective Design” extracts words by McDonough and Braungart as:
As descendants of the Industrial Revolution, we have come to accept as normal an industrial paradigm in which our products, routinely made with toxic chemicals, hurtle through their short lives toward landfills, there to wait until our grandchildren are forced to deal with them. . . . Such a system of production creates the environmental problems we face today – pollution, deforestation, species extinction, global warming – and it bequeaths even worse problems to future generations. (112)
This shows that if we do not change our attitude nature will be forced to take its correcting measures which may result collapse of human existence. By including this realization Mary Shelly wants to make her readers to think of consequences of their curiosity and trying to give a strong message to scientists to think of nature before they discover anything. We can consider this realization is a part of nature that it controls human behaviours as father figure.
To conclude, this novel considers nature as a parental figure for human beings that plays vital role in development of their knowledge. It also shows nature encourages as well as controls human mind for their daily work through different kinds of signs but it’s upon us to realize what nature is pointing us to do or not to do. This novel gives a strong message that scientific experimentations and expeditions should be held keeping nature and its rule in mind. If we will not be able to realize it in time our own discovery may be used on us as destructive force as nature uses the monster on Victor Frankenstein. So I consider Frankenstein by Mary Shelly is a significant representation of powerful nature and its resistance on human challenge towards its eternal rules.

Works Cited
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Bonston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.
Gerrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Rouledge, The Taylor and Francis e-library, 2004.
Hills, Alson.  Do Animals Have Rights?. Cambridge: Icon books Ltd, (2005)
Lindgren, Tim. “Composition and Rhetoric of Ecoeffective Design.” Coming into Contact: Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice. Athnes and London: The University of Georgia Press, 2007. 111-127
Love, Glen A. Practical Ecocriticsm : Literature Biology and The Environment. London : University of Virginia press, 2003.
Phillips, Bill. “Frankenstein and Mary Shelley's “Wet Ungenial Summer.”’ Atlantis 28.2 (2006): 59-68.
Shelly, Merry. Frankenstein. New Delhi: Robin Books, 2003.
Waldie, Angela. “Challenging the Confines: Haiku from the Prison Camp.” Coming into contact: Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice. Athnes and London: The University of Georgia Press, 2007. 39-57
Wolpert, Lewis. The Unnatural Nature of Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.

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