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The Danger of Knowledge

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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 being; 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.

~ Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
In Frankenstein, Shelley illustrates the dangers of blindly pursuing knowledge, starting at the roots of Victor Frankenstein’s obsessive passion, where his powerful determination shoves out all thoughts of fatal consequence, eventually leading to the creation of the monster that ends up destroying everything that mattered to him. The stanza begins with Frankenstein’s description of his feelings when he listened to the lecture of his chemistry professor M. Waldman. He describes it first as a battle between his soul and an enemy, but it soon changes into a feeling of being molded and defined, eventually completely assimilating Frankenstein into performing that “one thought, one conception, one purpose.”

It can be deduced from this first line that Frankenstein’s former beliefs were at first challenged by the professor, but then changed by his teachings and materialized within Frankenstein as a new goal. In the next line, Frankenstein acknowledges the scientific advancements made by man, followed by showing his fierce determination to surpass them and achieve more. The stanza ends with the revealing of Frankenstein’s new goal—the unveiling of all secrets behind the “mysteries of creation,” marking the beginning of his end.

Frankenstein’s obsessive pursuit for knowledge was fruitful at first, gaining him “esteem and admiration at the university” (30). He “continually sought the attainment of one object of pursuit and was solely wrapt up in this, improved so rapidly, that, at the end of two years, [he] made some discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments” (30). Eventually Frankenstein achieves what he has longed for, a discovery so powerful that none other may compare—the secrets to the “cause of generation and life” (31). In the process of bringing life to his creation, Frankenstein has been completely numbed to his reason and humanity.

He explained how his obsession for knowledge subconsciously propelled him forward instead, “My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic impulse, urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit” (33). The tragic events that followed the creation of the monster ruined Frankenstein’s life, sending him on a quest for vengeance. When Frankenstein meets Walton and shares with him his story, he warns him not to pursue the forbidden knowledge, asking Walton to “Learn from [him], if not by [his] precepts, at least by [his] example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (31).

In this text, the dangers behind knowledge is explored and one could see why the phrase “ignorance is bliss” may have came to be. Although knowledge propels the growth of society, too much will be unnatural and dangerous. Through his experience, Frankenstein came to the realization that his obsessive passion for pursuing knowledge was wrong and is what caused him to be in his tragic state. What is the right balance between ignorance and knowledge? When does the pursuit of knowledge become dangerous? Is knowledge perhaps inherently dangerous? These are all questions that I want to further study and learn about, hopefully without incurring any danger.

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