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The Tree of Knowledge

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The Tree of Knowledge by Sara Granovetter May 25, 2002 In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley warns that with the advent of science, natural philosophical questioning is not only futile, but dangerous. In attempting to discover the mysteries of life, Frankenstein assumes that he can act as God. He disrupts the natural order, and chaos ensues. Mary Shelley goes to great lengths to emphasize the beauty and order of life when man engages in �natural� pursuits. She idealizes Frankenstein's home life: �I feel exquisite pleasure in dwelling on the recollections of childhood, before misfortune had tainted my mind� (38). His family is orderly and wonderful. Clerval's �presence brought back to my thoughts my father, Elizabeth, and all those scenes of home so dear to my recollection�I felt suddenly, and for the first time during many months, calm and serene joy� (58). Shelley also stresses that man should feel at one with nature, not at odds with it: �When happy, inanimate nature had the power of bestowing on me the most delightful sensations� (68). Certain occupations allow man to be at one with nature and his fellow creatures. Shelley feels that science should be useful and beneficial to mankind. Clerval, a clearly pure and benevolent character, studies languages. He loves poetry. These disciplines allow man to help others and glorify nature without questioning it. ...read more.


His actions, performed in isolation, did nothing to better human kind, being so far removed from human nature. He realizes the full horror of what he has done in his dream, which foreshadows the chaos and destruction that is to come. He sees how horrid it is to meddle in superhuman affairs and attempt to alter natural processes. In his dream, he sees his beloved Elizabeth, and kisses her. But to his horror, she turns into his dead mother, �a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of flannel� (57). With this image, Shelley illustrates the evil of man trying to venture into the domain of God. Frankenstein succeeds in creating life, but this creation results in nothing but death and destruction. He profanes his mother's death, and turns a vibrant life into decaying nothingness. His attempts to change life's natural boundaries can only lead to chaos. As a mortal, he cannot do what God does. He can create life, but he cannot create order. Man stepping out of his natural place can only cause disorder. Shelley further portrays Frankenstein as a perverted God through references to Adam and Eve. The monster laments having been created by such an imperfect God. He says, �How dare you sport thus with life� I ought to be thy Adam� (97). ...read more.


Shelley equates man's grappling with higher questions with Adam eating from the tree of knowledge. Frankenstein wanted to stop the destruction, �but the apple was already eaten� (183). But man's knowledge is never as perfect as God's knowledge. His presumption to know the secrets of life made him �like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence...chained in an eternal hell� (204). Frankenstein finally realizes this. He never should have presumed to create life, because the creation of life is more than the physical act�the order and harmony of the world can only be produced by a perfect creature. Frankenstein cries: �Man�how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom! Cease; you know not what it is you say� (194)! Frankenstein has finally learned his lesson. Or has he? After his excruciating pains and hardship, Frankenstein's dying words are: �I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed� (210). Unless Frankenstein is referring to beneficial, pragmatic scientific knowledge, then he has not yet acknowledged that man cannot know the secrets of nature. Shelley means his final words to be a warning to the reader. Man's growing ambition and intellect will render him desperate to discover the deepest mysteries of life�it is a difficult task to halt this ambition. But this ambition is greater than man's intellect. He can never know all, though he aspires to heaven. Until he realizes his limitations, the spread of science can only lead to chaos and destruction. ...read more.

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