Tag Archive: reason


by Steven Gonzalez

In William Godwin’s  Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), he contends that equality and justice in a society are eminently appealing and that the people within a society should look to achieve equality, not through the use of violence, but through peaceful means. Godwin admonishes the use of violence proclaiming, “Let us anxiously refrain from violence… The cause of justice id the cause of humanity. Its advocates should be penetrated with universal good-will.”(pg.789) Godwin notes that a society can achieve this ideal notion of equality and justice among all people through the individual’s focus on reason, tranquility, and the tireless pursuit of truth. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the character Justine personifies this idea of an “individual focus on reason, tranquility, and truth” as a manner to achieve equality and justice from the perspective of the reader. Consequently, upon Justine’s death, the ideal notions of equality and justice are eradicated within the society of Geneva along with her as a result of the lack of reason, tranquility, and truth expressed in her conviction and execution. Justine’s death, used to symbolize the death of justice in the novel, serves as a perfect exemplar for the consequences that arise from a person’s disregard for reason, tranquility, and the pursuit of truth.

 

Initially, Elizabeth introduces Justine into the novel in a letter to Victor by describing Justine’s past and her upbringing. Then, Elizabeth compares the republican institutions between France/England and Switzerland: she does this to convey the smaller distinction between people of different classes. She emphasizes this difference noting that “there is less distinction between the several classes of its inhabitants; and the lower orders, being neither so poor nor so despised, their manners are more refined and moral.”(Shelley 65). Additionally, Elizabeth further goes on to describe how Justine isn’t seen or treated as an inferior to the rest of Geneva because of her lower socio-economic status stating, “Justine… learned the duties of a servant, a condition which, in our fortunate country, does not include the idea of ignorance, and a sacrifice of the dignity of a human being.”(Shelley 65). Next, Elizabeth describes the righteousness of Justine’s character calling her the “most grateful little creature in the world”. Observing this through the lens of William Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice allows us to see the direct correlation between the benevolence of Justine’s character and the equality she experiences within her society. Following William’s death, we see a shift in Justine’s character and consequently, a shift in how society views Justine just like Godwin would predict. Justine begins to abandon her dedication to reason in her studies, tranquility in her demeanor, and truth in her statements and so society begins to see her as a wretched below human individual accusing her of murdering William. This is most evidently depicted in the lines, ” I did confess, but I confessed a lie. I confessed, that I might obtain absolution; but now that falsehood lies heavier at my heart than all my other sins… In an evil hour I subscribed to a lie; and now only am I truly miserable.”(Shelley 82). It seems that even Victor Frankenstein at this point seems to see her as being inferior referring her to her constantly as “poor victim” with a pitiful almost patronizing tone. It seems incredibly ironic that Victor, with the power to stop Justine’s death through truth, decides to let her die a violent death while simultaneously grieving and lamenting, ” I, the true murderer, felt the never-dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation … Anguish and despair penetrated into the core of my heart, I bore hell within me which nothing could extinguish.”(Shelley 83). Finally, Justine dies because of Victor’s deviation from reason, tranquility, and truth and Victor Frankenstein acknowledges this lamenting, ” I beheld those I loved spend vain sorrow upon the graves of William and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts.”(Shelley 84).

Ultimately, Godwin’s solution for achieving equality through the individual’s pursuit of reason, tranquility, and truth was evident as being correlative but not necessarily causative: There happened to be equality and justice when Justine expressed a pursuit of reason, tranquility, and truth but not necessarily because of her expression. One idea I found interesting  was Elizabeth’s introduction of Justine in her letter because even though she describes how Justine is not seen as inferior, she herself uses patronizing and condescending language to refer to her, often calling her “little creature”, and “poor girl” perhaps indicating the inevitable lack of equality in a seemingly perfectly equal society. On this point is where I ultimately disagree with Godwin, not on his methods of achieving an equal society but simply whether an “equal” society is eminently desirable in the first place. In a truly equal society, there is no variance in class, in politics, in character, and most importantly in ideas. Godwin even mentions this idea and even champions it stating, ” Each man will find his sentiment of justice and rectitude echoed by the sentiments of his neighbors.”(Godwin 794) This seemingly homogenous authoritarian society is not ideal in any definition of the word. Moreover, we should seek to achieve the highest order of equality of opportunity and to preserve the dignity of all human beings, but we as a society should not expect nor desire the homogenous equality of outcome which Godwin seems to idealize as his final goal. Ultimately, the idea that subscribing to an easy to follow, simple ideology in order to solve nuanced inequalities within a society is reckless, irrational, and untenable.

 

 

In his work, “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice” William Godwin argues that the only way humanity and mankind will progress and evolve smoothly is if they begin to value communication, truth and reason above all other virtues. He states, “If there be any force in the arguments of this work, we seem authorized to deduce thus much from them, that truth is irresistible. Let then this axiom be the rudder of our undertakings” (789) thus showing how much he valued the act of truth. Godwin believed that truth and reason should govern the way in which disputes were settled and only through reason/truth would justice be achieved. His view relies on the idea that reason, truth and communication above all other things would decide the best course of action for everyone. Godwin also emphasized on the importance of communication when he said, “We should communicate our sentiments with the utmost frankness. We should endeavour to press them upon the attention of others.” (790) He thought that through communication, and people’s willingness to shed their selfish natures, society would be able to progress and move forward. Therefore, when we view Justine’s death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein under Godwin’s lense, we notice that Shelley is affirming her father’s beliefs and through Victor’s selfishness and inability to communicate or tell the truth, he was unable to meet up to Godwin’s beliefs and therefore created a setback for the progression of society – which was represented by Justine.

The death of Justine not only holds significance because it was the second death of the novel due to the acts of the monster but it also represents the failure to serve justice due to lack of truth and communication, just as Godwin feared. Justine, who was wrongfully accused for the murder of William, was being sentenced to death due to her false confession and the fact that it was her word (a woman’s) against those who accused her. Victor Frankenstein is tormented by these facts the day before her sentence because he knows the truth regarding the actual murderer and who is truly responsible – and it is himself just as much as the creature. Victor states, “But I, the true murderer, felt the never dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation” (84) and this is when his guilt and anguish truly began. He later states, “Anguish and despair had penetrated into the core of my heart; I bore a hell within me, which nothing could extinguish.” (84) showing just how much the truth was beginning to torment him. Yet we ask ourselves, why didn’t Victor just bring himself to tell the truth and confess? I believe it is because Mary Shelley was demonstrating the idea her father was well known for, the idea that when society lacks communication, reason, and truth justice will not be attained and there will be a disturbance in society. She is demonstrating that without any of Godwin’s important virtues, innocent members of society would suffer due to lack of knowledge and rationalization. Not only that, but she is also affirming the idea that selfishness in people is what causes setbacks for society to be able to progress. In this scene, I believe Victor was acting as a setback for society because due to his selfish nature, and selfishness fogging his reasoning kept justice from being served for Justine. Overall, through the use of Victor’s anguish and despair, and yet his inability to tell the truth to spare Justine’s life, Shelley reflects her father’s ideas and deeply rooted beliefs. She uses Justine’s unfair death as a way of representing not only that violence led to her unjust death but also how the course of action was greatly altered due to Frankenstein being unable to prioritize truth in his decision and therefore Justine’s fall also signals the fall of justice. I also believe Shelley used Justine’s death as a mean to reflect on what was her current society and the fact that revolution had altered the lives of many simply because society refused to communicate and didn’t place much importance on the ideas of communication, truth, and reason – like her father hoped for. Overall, I believe that through Justine’s death Shelley was using her father’s ideas and beliefs in her work to prove to society why that course of thinking was still relevant to their time.

-Beverly Miranda-Galindo

lady-justice

After losing his brother William in a cold blooded murder caused from his creation, Frankenstein soon finds himself in danger of losing yet another loved one when Justine becomes convicted of the aforementioned killing. Despite knowing her innocence, Justine confesses to the crime in hopes that she “might obtain absolution”(Shelly 83). Because of this, the judges “failed to move…from their settled conviction in the criminality of the saintly sufferer,” and Justine was executed. According to William Goodwin, Justine’s actions are a complete obtrusion of justice because they violate the plain duty of upholding “the great instrument of justice, reason” (Godwin 790).

Throughout his article “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice,” Godwin makes it clear that when it comes to justice, above all “we should sharpen our intellectual weapons; add to the stock of our knowledge; be pervaded with a sense of magnitude of our cause; and perpetually add to that calm presence of mind and self-possession”(790).  Justice should be primarily served with reason and truth. However, instead of communicating her sentiments with the utmost frankness as Godwin suggests, Justine gives into the illogical idea of salvation, due in no small part to her confessor who “threatened and menaced, until [she] almost began to think that [she] was the monster he said [she] was” (Godwin 790; Shelly 83). Seemingly everyone is against Justine and like her confessor, they continue to guilt and harass her without any logical proof or reason of their own until she becomes convinced that the only way out of the situation is to accept her lie as the truth. Unfortunately because of this, injustice was wrongfully served in the place of justice.

–Jose Ramirez

William Godwin expresses his advocation for peaceful, nonviolent revolution through reason and honest communication of sentiment, in order to obtain justice, as explained in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, “Let us anxiously refrain from violence” (789), and “communicate our sentiments with the utmost frankness” (790). In addition, he encourages to “press them upon the attention of others” and “sharpen our intellectual weapons” (790) which will work to end injustice.

Godwin’s ideologies fail to be seen through Justine as she claims, “I did confess; but I confessed a lie that I might obtain absolution” (83), because she had admitted to the false accusation and did not communicate with the utmost frankness, which then contributed to the eventual death of Justine/justice. Ultimately, it is Victor Frankenstein’s dishonesty and failure to communicate his true sentiments of anguish and guilt that lead to the death of Justine/justice. This is seen when he confesses, “I beheld those I loved spend vain sorrow upon the graves of William and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts” (85). Victor’s lack of truthful communication and complete failure to bring attention of his sentiments to others therefore lead to further injustices, including the deaths of all his loved ones. However, we see Godwin’s faith in reason and sentiment through Elizabeth, who explains that she will obtain justice for Justine, saying, “I will proclaim, I will prove your innocence” (83) with the knowledge that Justine truly was innocent regardless of the evidence that proved her to be guilty. In Godwin’s eyes, Elizabeth is his only hope to restore and save Justine/justice. Unfortunately, any of these efforts fail because of the pervasive absence of nonviolent revolution through frank reason and sentiment. We can further draw parallels from the French Revolution and Justine’s death because of humanity’s failure to communicate and refrain from violence, which then brings an even more constant stream of injustice, deaths, and barbarity.

-Serena Ya

Upon reading Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein, I held various images and judgements about this story. For example, the creature is created by scientist Victor Frankenstein and possesses no exact name, which is a common misconception prior to reading Shelly’s work. Throughout one’s childhood, one is introduced to this creature as a wild, inhumane monster who has no true perspective on the world and lives blindly. This perception is quickly debunked after reading the novel, for Frankenstein’s creation holds his own perspective on what the world around him is, and understands the dangers which lie within societies.

Furthermore, the audience is forced to empathize with this “monster”, who is more human than we would like to admit. The audience comes to the realization that this creature possesses human qualities, which allows the reader to relate to the emotions felt by this creature. Frankenstein’s human-like creation is viewed as a being with no true intuition or internal morals, but we soon realize the creature contains the same characteristics that humans do. Although Frankenstein’s creation has the ability to react and live like a civilized individual, he is soon forced to become involved in dangerous acts of violence and destruction. These actions take place as a result of his daunting physical appearance and abnormal size, which makes the “monster” unable to conform to normal standards of living within a society. Prior to reading Shelly’s work, people are led to believe that the creature is innately cruel and evil, when in reality he is only reacting to the judgements and cruelties of society in the only way he knows how. Without being properly taught the rules and intricacies of civilization, the creature displays his anger and frustration through inhumane acts of physical violence, which ultimately leads to the death of his creator, Frankenstein.

After reading Shelly’s novel, I clearly see the misconceptions about this story and how society has shaped people’s perspectives of the “monster”. The creature is depicted and illustrated in a way that does not accurately represent the intentions and true desire of the creature. Through this novel, I have created my own conclusion about this creature and understand his actions towards the individuals in his life.

-Cathryn Flores

proxy