Tag Archive: philosophical enquiry

Samantha Shapiro

Within Frankenstein, a large focus within the novel revolves around Victor, which cannot be avoided due to the nature of Victor being a primary speaker and self-centered perspective.

We see this through the approach of Justine’s seemingly unfair trial and later execution, in which she doesn’t receive any justice from a justice system. As the focus with Justine’s death is how it relates to Victor, the reader sees how Victor’s inner processes centralize his guilt, creating a situation that he can’t get out of. Victor victimizes himself through Justine’s situation, and we see this through the overall focus of the text. Due to this nature of the excerpt, as well as the nature and connection to William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, much of the passage appears to respond to core ideals found within Godwin’s work, especially in relation to suffering and the pursuit of humanity.

A primary focus to Godwin is that we have two major duties in order to perpetuate justice for humanity’s happiness: to focus attention to reason and communicate, or bring to light a way to “do justice to our principles,” and to do so peacefully (ECPJ 789-790). Justine, in giving a false confession to murder, did to to “obtain absolution,” but instead entered the courtroom knowing to have lied, but also now in the presence of a system, where “all looked on [her] as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition” (F 83). Her suffering in falsely communicating her reason correlates with Godwin’s view of a “tendency towards the equalization of conditions” through the eyes of Victor (ECPJ 791). Victor takes it upon himself and identifies with Justine’s feelings of “ignominy and perdition,” or even feelings of being dishonored due to his pursuits of science. Godwin notes that the followers in the pursuit of knowledge submitted to “servile dedications” and could only escape from this slavery with the “gradual revolution of opinion,” knowing that independence and ease are in reach, but he fails to look onward to other emotions, such as guilt and negative views of being brought to light (ECPJ 792, 793). Frankenstein is a “obsequious” and “servile” follower in character, to both science and his loved ones, and would “spend each vital drop of blood for [their sakes],…spend his life in serv[itude]” (ECPJ 792, F 85). However, the guilt of his pursuit of science and a fear of rejection leads to his guilt in creating, what he sees, as a violent monster. He loses a part of himself, and gains hopelessness when he feels like he isn’t even belonging to other humans, but a creator of a demon-like murderer. Victor sees himself as lost due to having a “never-dying worm alive in [his] bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation,” or guilt—while Justine can have resignation from suffering in death, his suffering of guilt, a metaphorical “never-dying worm” ate at him constantly due to his regrets in his pursuits (84).

Although Wollstonecraft and Burke pose startling arguments on the French Revolution that remain on separate ends of the spectrum, Godwin speaks of sentiment and knowledge being humanity’s gateway to equality and prosperity. His philosophy is subtly etched into the passage of Justine’s death in the forms of communication and reason, or rather, the lack of it.

Godwin says in a sort of hopeful demeanor, exuding optimism with the words, “We should communicate our sentiments with the utmost frankness.” Justine has no problem doing so as she earnestly wishes for Elizabeth to have faith in her innocence. Elizabeth and Victor work to reason and communicate with the jury responsible for deciding Justine’s fate as they stand before them offering their perspectives and assurances. They do exactly as Godwin says to do as their sentiments are expressed vocally and vulnerably in a manner that is “of utmost frankness”. However, their efforts prove to be of no avail as Justine proceeded to face punishment for a crime she wouldn’t ever dream of committing. Thus, showing the jury’s lack of sentiment and regard. Their stance on the philosophy of Godwin remains on a completely different scale than that of Elizabeth and Victor’s as they seem to be blinded by what they believe to be the right knowledge rather than what they should see to be the efforts of communication and reason.

Before we can apply Edmund Burke’s ideas on sympathy to Mary Shelley’s gothic classic Frankenstein, we  must first dissect Burkes complex writing on the subject. Burke’s complicated theories on sympathy far exceed the definition on the back of a 5th grader’s flash card. Burke identifies sympathy as mode of human connection. According to Burke, it is through sympathy that “we enter into the concerns of others; that we are moved as they are moved, and are never suffered to be indifferent spectators of almost anything which men can do or suffer” (A Philosophical Enquiry 41).

When Frankenstein re-encounters the creature for the first time since the creation scene, both Frankenstein and the creature must demonstrate sympathy in order to create a fragile bond between creation and creator. First, the creature expresses his sympathy through his attitude of self-loathing. The creature explains, “remember, that I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded” (Frankenstein 93-94). The creature identifies himself as Satan rather than Adam to show his negative feeling about his own being.   This shared idea of the creature’s wretchedness is one of the only conneections that Frankenstein and the creture share. Here the creature is, as Burke explains, “enter[ing] into concerns” of his creator. Essentially, the creature has sympathized with Frankenstein through the realization of his own horrid nature.

The sympathy shown in this scene however is not exclusive to the creature, Dr. Frankenstein also exhibits sympathy during this scene. Frankenstein has the choice to ignore completely the requests of the creature and banish him to live in solitude in the ice caves, but he instead engages the creature. What allows Frankenstein to listen to the creature’s story is the sympathy and compassion he feels for his creation:

“I was partly urged by curiosity, and compassion confirmed my resolution. I had hitherto supposed him to be the murderer of my brother, and I eagerly sought a confirmation or denial of this opinion. For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness” (Frankenstein 95)

Sitting down to hear the story of the creature is the first real connection between Frankenstein and his creation. The diction in the passage provides evidence for the feelings of sympathy that Frankenstein feels for the creature.  The use of the words “urge,” “duties,” and “ought” shows that Frankenstein felt some sort of obligation to his creature. As Burkes idea’s of sympathy explain, Frankenstein refuses to be an “indifferent spectator” while the creature suffers.

In this scene, the creature and Frankenstein must sympathize with each other in order to make a not-so-human connection. The creature shows sympathy through his self-deprecating attitude, while Frankenstein shows sympathy by feeling obligated to sit down and listen to the creature’s story.