Knowledge is a theme mentioned throughout Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818). This creates a notion that she considers knowledge as dangerous and a primary source of unhappiness. She portrays her main character, Frankenstein, as an individual holding the acquisition of knowledge with contempt.
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Labeling knowledge as a being dangerous refers to the science that means to play with the law of nature rather than the branches of science, which have benefits such as the study of disease or medicine. In the quest of gaining scientific knowledge, it can lead research to regions that have never been explored. This increases the study of science in order to understand the impact within a different environment. My essay investigates the instability of scientific ambitions in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Scholars such as Siobhan Carroll and Jessica Richard have shown that the exploration of polar adventures was done because of the assumed threat of global catastrophe and climate change. However, less scholarship has explored the challenges in science, the rationality, and the fear of scientific advancement in Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). In order to understand the arguments in Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and draw conclusions, it is essential to understand previous research on the instability of scientific ambitions. I frame my arguments on the instability of scientific ambition brought on by Robert Walton, and Victor Frankenstein. To achieve the research objective, the arguments drawn are from ART. VIII.-Greenland, the adjacent Seas, and the North-West Passage to the Pacific Ocean; illustrated in a Voyage to Davis’s Strait during the Summer of 1817 by Bernard O’Reilly. Developing new ways of thinking about the evolving realm of scientific discoveries, exploration, and impending consequences are crucial for the study. Therefore, I intend to use sources related to my primary resource and applying critical and historical contexts to make arguments about North America in the British Romantic Imagination.
Carroll (p. 96) argues that both in Shelley’s Frankenstein and Barrow’s Quarterly articles have scientific projects that she perceives them as poetic schemes for climatic improvement. She discusses the climatological controversies that are in Barrow’s early quarterly article to explore the link between climatic changes and polar ice in Romantic Britain. Carroll finds out that Barrows views on polar ice can be associated with the Botanic Garden by Erasmus Darwin with the aim of climatic improvement associated with polar ice (p. 122). In 1816, there was no summer in European countries causing a spread of ice that caused anxiety due to the extreme weather changes. This resulted in the efficacy and enhanced knowledge on a climatic modification that leads to authors such as Shelley, and Barrow to research and publish articles on the ecological crisis. Carroll views Shelley’s Frankenstein as a way to know and understand the problematic scientific inventions that explain productive responses regarding the global catastrophe even though Europeans undermined the poetic schemes of climatic improvement due to their cosmopolitanism of ecological crisis.
Jessica Richard (p. 295) introduces her research by explaining Shelley’s Frankenstein opening letter that Walton writes to his sister about his childhood passion for narratives of discoveries and voyages. She describes the instability of Walton in his quest to know about science and the climatic changes. Walton’s transition between reading and writing poetry and reading travel narratives, and his yearning and desire to participate in expeditions of discovery as a poet to get his place among artists like Shakespeare. Richard (p. 296) elaborates Shelley crediting Walton on his fantasies of voyaging in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by J. Lowes in 1999. He emphasizes the Lowes wondered how voyaging into unknown seas and travels along unknown and unchartered roads have stirred imaginative thoughts. In both his travel narratives and poetry, he looks for a Paradise of my own creation. He hoped his endeavors could make him able to be part of great poets and create a paradise for himself. This makes him go for an expedition towards to north pole making him anticipate for a polar paradise when he follows explorers’ paths and read journals. According to Richard (p. 256), ice had gained interest in military and in science, as the Royal Navy conducted expeditions towards the Pole searching for the fabled Northwest Passage. They had high expectations to find a hyperborean region, a place believed to have eternal spring. Richard demonstrates the mythologies that surround scientific research and discoveries. The mythological paradise in the Hyperborean region, which is past the north wind was first proposed by the Greeks. This mythology was a hypothesis formulated during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
O’Reilly claims that it is difficult to differentiate between false facts in physics and principles in abstract sciences physics may sometimes pass for the truth, and thus become a pernicious as in abstract sciences (O’Reilly, p. 75). He argues that there is little danger in present occasions. He jots down latitudes to show his discoveries, which is linked to a whale-fishing voyage to Davis’s Strait. In his quest for knowledge, he accuses the masters and the mates of Greenland ships for lying in their logs and journals for the interest of the government, their workers and for themselves. He becomes disinterested in science due to the inability to trust documents that were placed in custom houses because the information was uncertain and might be coaxed by the masters. He then focused on studying nature and keep a journal for all scientific objects he observed. However, in his quest to study journal he had to gain the information of the highest latitude from the master’s journals. While exploring he found out that there is an immense continent of ice that extends towards the Pole meeting the islands with the latitudes from the journals. He discovered the source of icebergs that flows from the north to the south. According to his research, ice in the high northern latitude has made scientists to have the idea that the farther north a navigator proceeds, there would be more destructions (O’Reilly, p. 79). He gained knowledge on the north pole being a source of heat even though they have snow, frost, and an elevated surface. This shows that elevate surfaces has a high degree of absorbing solar heat during summer, making the atmosphere sultry. Therefore, the exploring of O’Reilly led to some discoveries and discrediting some journals because of biases.
In previous decades, scientists within the society have made many advances in the development of science and technology, which has mostly benefited mankind. The scientific discoveries made are because the human has a thirst for knowledge and dedicate to gain more information and power. O’Reilly in his endeavors was curious to read different journals in order to understand, the extent of the Masters of the whale- fishing have traveled, and what they discovered in his journey. This triggered his desire to understand what lies beyond the highest latitude written in his journal. With respect to Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), explains the romantic pursuit and passion of a man longing to make history by exploring the Northern passage. Richard argues that Walton seeks out paradise through travel narratives and poetry, with a secondary fulfillment and belief in discovering the lost paradise (p.295). When Walton dreams of the “phenomena of the heavenly bodies,” (aurora borealis) and a land of “perpetual splendor,” he is referring to a popular myth among mariners: the belief that an undiscovered “lost paradise” exists in the “land of eternal light,” somewhere in the uncharted land of the frozen expanse of the far north (Shelley 7). According to Richard “few of the Polar explorers whose narratives Walton is supposedto have read, share his belief in a hyperborean Eden, they do search for a fantastical paradise…an open navigable sea over the North Pole” (Richard 296).
Exploring geographical regions for scientific gains entails trusting previous research. Reliability of information is important because modern scientists are able to use the study for scientific advancement. This shows that it important to weigh what information is essential to natural discoveries, and which ones have a negative impact. The ideals of scientific romanticism led some scientific explorers such as Victor and Walton to go to extreme measures to learn and understand the geographical concept of nature, and climatic changes. The journey to the north pole was filled with dangerous circumstances, but Victor and Walton, and O’Reilly were persistent to know more. Walton had to read scientific journals which made him travel to observe nature. On the other O’Reilly was adamant and did not believe what was written making him to disinterested in science and wanted to observe nature for himself where previous researchers had gone and discovered ice. He gained knowledge in his journey, and journalized it, like the masters in whale ship. My perspective on O’Reilly discrediting the findings of other discoverers shows that there was no moral compass and ethics in writing journals in the 1800s. If the discoveries of one individual can create doubt instead of lessons that lead to more knowledge, then it might be destructive, because of the inability of what to believe in the documented journals. Therefore, to gain knowledge, curiosity should be guided by trust for an individual’s work.
Shelley believes that people find true happiness in emotionally connecting with other people. Pursuing knowledge is not bad but it can be destructive when pursued past the natural limits. In Shelly’s Frankenstein she explains what victor learns after his pursuit of knowledge victor advices that “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my 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” (Shelley 60). This explains that acquiring knowledge should have a limit. In rare circumstances, does it happen that the acquisition of knowledge can create benefits more than the cost of the exploration. In this case, even though O’Reilly, learnt more on climatic changes, it came with a cost, since he risked his health and those of his uninformed followers.
O’Reilly’s main purpose of keeping a journal was to write down all the scientific objects he observed. This was his main purpose in undertaking the dangerous voyage, that involved uninformed and unsociable beings. His sole consolation for the journey was nature. The desire to fulfil the choices and pursuit an individual makes in life can alter the decisions they make. The acquisition of scientific knowledge can be dangerous as O’Reilly was sleep deprived, went through sever transitions of temperature, because he did not want to pass any opportunity presented by nature. According to my understanding, lack of sleep and poor health can lead to impaired judgement due to fatigue, this presents the instability of knowledge ambitions, because a scientist or researcher can become obsessed with his discoveries, to a position that they become more persistent and focused even when it means deteriorating their health to achieve their personal desires. It stops being about science, when a researcher, yearns for more knowledge that poses a danger to self.
The 1800s was a period of Romantic imagining of North America. O’Reilly made scientific discoveries in his quest to prove that master’s of the whale ship was falsifying journals. This shows the instability of scientific ambitions because of doubting the work of previous researchers. It can be argued, that exploring science makes an individual want to experience and observe nature by himself. Moreover, Shelly’s Frankenstein explains the phenomenon of gaining knowledge and happiness. She posits that Walton puts his life and others in danger, as he is causing emotional distress to other people in his life such as his sister. Even though he learned of the dangers that comes from his search for knowledge, he believed that acquiring knowledge about the North pole was not among the dangers. His journey made him learn about limits, that there is danger in acquisition of knowledge. Shelley gives insight to her readers by explaining that “a human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquillity. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say not befitting the human mind” (Shelley 34).
The negative aspect labeled in the acquisition of knowledge as being dangerous making man unhappy is rooted from the type of science that intends to interrupt the law of nature than the branch of sciences. Gaining knowledge should be about reaching the truth and finding oneself rather than showing off. This can lead to instability in scientific ambition which is perceived to be dangerous for man. Therefore, it I important for man to create a balance between scientific beliefs and discoveries and personal belief to fulfil personal desires. This is demonstrated on how Victor, Walton and O’Reilly explored natural objects.
Understanding that there are benefits to scientific discoveries is crucial. Scientists have explored geographical regions to understand the phenomenon of climatic changes within specific areas. To this extent, it led to the idea of acquiring knowledge to be understood different this is because there should be a moral compass or a specific degree that man should stop and think the cost of acquiring knowledge. Shelley’s Frankenstein explains that the cost of Walton to acquire knowledge led him to a dangerous point. He could not find any happiness in his paradise as he was constantly reading and writing poetry. there is a thin line between poetry and science, which explains the romantic is that literacy can have on science. To romanticize science increases the desire for people to explore the different region. In his quest to observe and explore nature, Walton had the chance to learn from Victor. Victor showed that he was smart when he said that the acquisition of knowledge is dangerous. This leaves the modern scientist, to observe and explore with guided ethics, rules, and regulations since a man can be happier if he believes his native town is his word. It is a dilemma to understand that people who look to far might be wrong. This is because, O’Reilly, yearned to reach the highest latitude, and through his eagerness he was able to discover, the source of heat in the north pole, from an elevated surface, and the source of ice, that flows towards the south. Therefore, having scientific ambition can lead scientists to many discoveries that would help man, but the cost should be analyzed before pursuing the journey to discovery and exploitation.
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