“No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience”
The quote above was said by an English philosopher John Locke. I will be focusing on one of his most influential essays ‘Concerning Human Understanding’ where he explains that he believes all humans are born with no knowledge, or as he called it Tabula Rasa. We do not acquire any of our knowledge at birth, rather we learn and adapt through the process of education we will then gain skills, then being able to improve it with the more time we spend learning the given skill/subject. A famous novel that has many key moments throughout that show examples of Locke’s theory is Mary Shelly’s book written in 1818 – Frankenstein, throughout this well-known novel Frankenstein learns new abilities by observing what the people around him are doing.
John Locke was a philosopher and physician born in the seventeenth century on August the 29th in England. Locke mainly studied Western philosophy and then later studied his key interests which were philosophy, political philosophy, economics and epistemology, and was later said to be ‘one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers.’ A major part that stood out in his ‘Blank Slate’ theory is the fact that we are limited to the amount of knowledge we can retain and successfully use and perfect, he uses the words “to be more cautious in meddling with things that are beyond its powers to understand… to stop… at the extreme end of its tether… to be peacefully reconciled to the ignorance of things that turn out to be beyond the reach of our capabilities.” In that quote, Locke is trying to put across the idea the amount of knowledge that we retain can be satisfied and to be content with that, rather than trying got force yourself to try and remember more information. “… it is useful for the sailor to know how long his line is, even though it is to fathom all the depths of the ocean.”. This quote states that we as humans should be aware of the fact that we can only learn so much for it to still be useful, though we want to learn more.
Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein is focused on a very intelligent yet mindless scientist named Victor Frankenstein, whose interest lies mainly in the science region. Victor decides to create a monster out of various body parts that came from separate deceased bodies. He claims to be creating this creature for the ‘betterment of mankind.’ whilst studying science victor becomes obsessed with attempting to create life out on inanimate objects that one would not imagine having a life. “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe they’re being to me. I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.” The quote above makes it seems as if Victor is more so creating this monster for his own satisfaction rather than something that will assist in the; ‘betterment of mankind.’ At the beginning Victor seemed to be going to great length on learning how to cheat death and to me this seems that he was genuine about helping mankind, but as he proceeded he let himself be overcome by his ego making him believe he will be on some sort of ‘high horse’ once he had completed his creation.
This all relates back to the quote “… it is useful for the sailor to know how long his line is, even though it is to fathom all the depths of the ocean.”. As Victor was unaware that though he thought he was helping, his act in order to satisfy his own intellectual need was later going to cause more damage than he can imagine, but because he was so caught up in himself he didn’t think of what could and would happen once he completed the creation.
Another connection to Frankenstein became very clear through the birth of the monster. When he first came to life and to awareness he was unaware of his capabilities or surroundings, The creature was oblivious to who he was and how he was different from everyone else as he had never been educated before. Slowly Frankenstein’s monster begins to learn new things. When he discovered the ability to walk, he said ‘…but I now found that I could wander at my liberty, with no obstacles I could either surmount or avoid.’ All of the monsters behaviours are very much similar to a newborn baby with the fact that he knew nothing when born, but is learning through observing others and being education from that. When the monster goes out by himself, he became aware of other sensations saying “I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rang in my ears, and on all sides, various scents saluted me” as well as that he learnt was able to solve basic problems like building a fire to combat him being cold. when learning something new it filled him with such joy, yet he had not met anyone yet. So he did not know he was different.
Once Frankenstein’s monster was aware of what he was and shunned for his monstrous appearance, he became filled with anger and thirst for revenge on Victor and learnt that. Though he would have liked to hurt victor directly over time he learnt that it was more effective to harm victors loved ones, which ends with him committing murderous acts furthermore making not only himself but victor realise his true capabilities
In conclusion, we can see that as humankind, we get carried aware in attempts to make a difference to either ourselves or the people around us, Victor started off his research trying to find a way to assist mankind cheat death but ended up solely doing everything for his own benefit though he could never be satisfied with what he was doing no matter the length he went to do so.
The monster, on the other hand, was forcefully created and throughout the novel we can see his transformation from being lost and innocent to ending up revengeful, murderous and malicious. It was all because of the fact that he wasn’t aware of who he was nor the purpose for him to be created, Victor’s abandonment meant that the monster had to educate and experience the outside world by himself. As the creature, Victor made was made up of body parts from many people there was no way to tell if any of the deceased people he had taken the parts from were also malicious and murderous and this could have been what lead the monster to become so aggressive once angry. We as humans tend to portray the behaviour of what we have been taught in our surrounding but when you aren’t educated by anyone and left to your own accord that’s when things can get out of hand.
To summarise, not only Victor himself but also the Monster he created show key behaviour that links back to John Locke’s theory because one of them is unable to be satisfied by his work and the other was abandoned and left to educate himself how he sees the best fit.