Introduction: The allure of eternal glory and knowledge of the secrets of the universe is one that many cannot resist. However, to seek greatness requires great sacrifice, for such things always comes with a price. Thesis

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Seminar- Frankenstein: The Pursuit of Knowledge

Presented by Lea Clarin

Introduction: The allure of eternal glory and knowledge of the secrets of the universe is one that many cannot resist. However, to seek greatness requires great sacrifice, for such things always comes with a price.

Thesis: In Frankenstein, the author Mary Shelley develops the characters of Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein and the Creature in accordance to how much they wish to learn- the further they immerse themselves in gaining enlightenment, the more they deteriorate, thus exhibiting the high price that comes with the pursuit of knowledge.


  1. Walton’s decision that glory is not worth so much sacrifice

  2. Victor’s obsession with science leads to his downfall

  3. The more knowledge the Creature gains, the more miserable he becomes.

Criterion 1: Robert Walton initially desired glory at all cost, but he hesitantly rethinks his goals after Victor’s cautionary tale.

Point 1: Prior to hearing Victor’s account, Walton was willing to do anything to achieve his goal of exploring the North Pole, exhibiting the disregard for human life that is caused by being obsessed with pursuing his goal.

Proof 1: In one of Walton’s letters to his sister Margaret after he rescues Victor from the ice, he says, “How gladly I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought for the dominion I should acquire and transmit over the elemental foes of our race” (Shelley 21).

Analysis 1: Walton relates to the reader that he will gladly sacrifice anything in order to gain dominance over nature. His obsession clouds his vision from realizing that he is not acknowledging the welfare of the men he brought with him nor his own. Sacrifice is the payment for glory in Walton’s case and he will do so just to achieve what he wants.

Point 2: After Victor conveys his tale to Walton, he is made aware of the danger that threatens the lives of his crew and that if they are harmed, the cause of their misfortune stems from Walton’s ambition, thus, Walton has come to accept and learn from Victor’s own experiences.

Proof 2: When Walton and his crew are trapped on the ice and are growing desperate, Walton reflects, “Yet it is terrible to reflect that the lives of all these men are endangered through me. If we are lost, my mad schemes are the cause” (195).

Analysis 2: Walton reflecting on the possible consequences caused by his fervent desire to achieve glory and knowledge indicates that Victor’s story has awaken in him a new perspective. As much as it pains him to, Walton now puts the well-being of his crew before his own wishes.

General comment: Fortunately for Walton, Victor warns him before he could run into some real damage. In the beginning, Walton was in serious danger as he was completely blind to the devastating results of willingly sacrificing anything to achieve knowledge. His realization of the magnitude of the peril he has exposed his crew to reveals just how big a price is demanded for obtaining prestige.

Criterion 2: Victor Frankenstein’s intense aspiration of surpassing human limits and learn the secret of life initiates the deterioration of his self and eventually leads to his downfall.

Point 1: Victor Frankenstein’s physical deterioration is caused by his ardent pursuit of challenging the limitations of humanity.

Proof 1: Soon after Victor uncovers the theory necessary to reanimate the dead and sets off to work on his experiment, he relates, “My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement” (45).

Analysis 1: Victor’s preoccupation with his pursuit of knowledge leads him to overlook his physical well-being and isolates himself from the world. One of the price to pay for the achievement of Victor’s ambition is his health and even his happiness as he shuts himself away in solitude just to focus on his work.

Point 2: Not only did Victor’s journey to access the secret to life deprave himself of his health, but by doing so, he also unleashes a menace onto the world and exposes his loved ones to danger.

Proof 2: After hearing about Walton’s goals for his expedition, Victor reveals his own unfortunate experiences from pursuing knowledge, saying, “I once had a friend, the most noble of human creatures, and am entitled, therefore, to judge respecting friendship. You have hope, and the world before you, and have no cause for despair. But I- I have lost everything and cannot begin life anew” (21).

Analysis 2: Through his pursuit of knowledge, Victor unknowingly sacrifices his loved ones, and humanity, by extension. Due to his desire to uncover the secrets of life and evade death, he unleashes the Creature to wreak havoc upon his friends, family and everyone in general, thus showing the devastating effects that what may seem as a harmless ambition may cause.

General comment: Through Victor, Shelley displays the specific kinds of sacrifices that pursuing knowledge may entail. Such sacrifices are one’s health and the welfare of others, which are things that cannot be replaced. Hence, the price to pay for zealously wanting to further one’s knowledge.

Criterion 3: The Creature’s yearning to learn more about itself and the world causes it to lose its innocence and leads it down the path of evil.

Point 1: The more the Creature learns about itself, the more it comes to realize why it is ostracized, which contributes to its misery that hardens its heart towards humans.

Proof 1: Upon admiring the De Laceys, the Creature catches a glimpse of its visage, in which it relates this experience to the reader, “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” (103).

Analysis 1: When the reality of its appearance dawned upon the Creature, it is immediately bitter and mortified. Negative emotions came with the newly obtained knowledge that it had the form of a hideous beast, therefore the Creature understood why he was detested by the humans he interacts with.

Point 2: The Creature regrets obtaining more knowledge as it is now faced with the bitter realities of the world, it delves deeper into a state of despair.

Proof 2: After he learns of the double-sided history and nature of mankind, the Creature reflects, “Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock. I wished sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling” (109).

Analysis 2: The Creature reflects upon the consequences of gaining more knowledge. To the Creature, the more it learns, the more miserable it feels and it occurs to it that one cannot unlearn, hence the Creature regrets pursuing knowledge in the first place.

General comment: The Creature starts its life devoid of any knowledge and for a while it lives a peaceful existence of optimism and innocence. Nonetheless, this bliss does not last for long- the more information regarding humans and the world is revealed to it, the more the Creature feels miserable and isolated. Happiness is another price to pay for knowledge.

Closing Statement: The pursuit of knowledge is one of the main themes of Frankenstein. Shelley uses the characters Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein and the Creature to demonstrate the effect of gaining too much knowledge. Through each individual’s attempts to further their knowledge, Walton, Victor and the Creature all suffer the similar sense of lost dreams. In exchange for knowledge, what really matters in life is discarded- those things are health, friends, family and happiness.

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