The Double-edged Sword of Knowledge
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Walton (explorer who finds Victor) and Victor Frankenstein (scientist and creator of the monster) are two different people but share similar pathways to obtain knowledge. The heart of the novel relies on the characters’ pursuit for understanding the ways of life; however, their eagerness leads to their downfall. Contemporary social issues concerning education, question if advancement of knowledge will lead to future disaster, as illustrated in Frankenstein. If the advancement of knowledge is placed in the wrong hands, corruption, war, social controversies, and even death may occur. On the other side, many supporters of education believe society will always benefit from the progression of knowledge, and will continue to thrive like in the past. I, however, believe there must be a limit. I agree with both positions because I experience the knowledge that benefits society, but I also experience the negative effects of misused knowledge.
Education is essential for life, it is knowledge acquired by learning and instruction. However, there are controversies with our high-leveled, educated professors who no longer learn the learned, and seek beyond human limits. These professors introduce new knowledge to the world which can cause harm or benefit society. Indeed, the most horrific thought of unrightfully used knowledge would be one’s intentions for personal gain. I believe Victor, the scientist who crated the monster, seeks more than just the secret of life, but the god-like role of creation. On page 40, Victor states, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father would claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs.” In this quote, Victor straight forwardly expresses part his inspiration for the creation of Frankenstein. However, as we can see, these personal intentions can lead to disaster. Victor noticed the abomination of his work immediately. In the novel, we learn he is horrified by his creation, and runs into the streets, wandering in remorse. Soon, he begins to feel the demoralizing effects of guilt and regret. Society will experience the exact same anxiety as Victor if the extent of human knowledge reaches this far unchecked. It is uncertain when a catastrophe such as Frankenstein will occur, but why take the chances? In a similar standpoint, Victor states after seeing his creation, “The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature (p.43).” In other words, the catastrophes caused by the advancement of knowledge are not as reversible as human emotions. Humans can change what they think, but can not change what has been done.
On page 71, Victor mourns the result of a court case over the death of his little brother, William. Once innocent Justine was declared guilty of the murder, Victor mourns, “The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore my bosom, and would not forego their hold.” In the novel, Justine is mistakenly accused for killing William, however, Victor knows it is the monster that actually committed the murder. Victor never reveals the true killer, causing Justine to be executed. This situation is an example of a possible side effect of misused knowledge. The creator of a disaster most likely will not acknowledge his own fault, causing controversies of truth and lies, and blaming innocent people. Like Victor, his actions lead to the misuse of the social infrastructure of justice, a possible factor of a corrupt society under the wrong hands.
One highly educated criminal can cause disaster to society. Those who feel the effects of one’s wrongdoing may respond with spiteful actions, and partake in revenge. The monster demonstrates a similar response as Victor breaks his promise to create a female monster. On page 155, the monster cried, “You can blast my other passions; but revenge remains revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die; but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery.” The monster vowed revenge by killing Victor’s wife, Elizabeth. As a result, Victor, vowed revenge on the monster in response to his wife. Such evil intensions had lead Victor and the monster to their ultimate downfall. At last, both Victor and the monster die in a painful death, both emotionally and physically. This may happen to society if high educated criminals performed similar acts that Victor and the monster made.
Learning from Victor’s and the monster’s mistakes, readers of Frankenstein can see the negative effects of advanced knowledge set in the wrong hands. Their mistakes can relate to several problems happening in the world today. For example, the past history of many countries has fallen under the control of politically strong and corrupt leaders. Hiroshima and Nagasaki was literally destroyed due to the invention of the atomic bomb. Such knowledge and power has caused mass amounts of deaths and emotional trauma. Also, Alfred Nobel was an industrialist with good intentions of finding alternative methods to blast rocks to build buildings. However, instead he invented the detonator for dynamite. Take a second to count the number of deaths from explosives in the past wars. There must be a limit. A limit to where knowledge can be used to benefit society, and prevent it from causing harm. We must take charge and create a world of peace, free of corruption. Let us learn from Frankenstein.