It has been assumed by people for as long as formal education has been around that education can only help people, and more recently, damage their bank accounts. In society having an education is important to moving up economically and socially. People who are looked at as “successful” are often people with high educations. People who have an education are also more likely to achieve better benefits in life such as more money, more prestigious job and the “right” kind of friends. It is true that having an education can help someone out in life, but people tend to over look and ignore the negative effects of education, especially the negative effects that come from specific styles of education.
In the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, she tends to look at mostly the negative effects of education. In fact this idea is what helps keep the plot moving through the whole book. Shelley spends a great deal of time explaining each character’s style of education in depth and the specific that they learn. Subtly, she also allows the reader to think about the certain the characters do not learn. The flaws that are foreshadowed in every form of education discussed are seen in the dealings and choices of each character. During the description of each character’s form of education, she highlights the positive and important details of what they learn. After the explanation, the story enters into the true gothic themes and we read mostly about the flaws of their education that are pointed out as the ultimate doom to their existence. In the story of Frankenstein, education is an illusion of something positive happening in each character’s lives and ends up being the deciding factoring in the character’s dreadful fate.
The Creature created by Victor Frankenstein first learns abandonment from his master. He comes into this world learning that he is more or less on his own. Therefore, the Creature realizes that to survive he must depend upon himself and learn whatever he can about survival. He strives to learn things in order to keep himself alive and hopefully to bring himself closer to his master. The Monster believes that if he can gain a human education he might be able to relate more to Victor and might therefore be more accepted by Victor. In the cold, the Creature learns about fire on accident by noticing a fire already built. He quickly figures out that it burns to touch the fire and adding more wood keeps the fire alive. The Creature, in search for food, breaks into a hut and scares an old man almost to death. When he enters the town, he has the same fearful reaction from the people who live there and learns how to avoid being noticed by humans.
The Creature becomes educated from studying humans and human reactions to life events. Also, the Monster learns how to speak and how to understand emotions by following around a family that he noticed he could see through a hole in the wall of the hovel in which he had taken shelter and studies their behaviors. “I learned what a family is supposed to be,” the monster said, with longing, to Victor. He learns to copy what he sees and act out the behaviors that he learns. While learning from this particular family, he learns to be kind. Shelley gave him that specific family because his education can only work best with a group of people he can really relate to. He relates best to the young girl learning French since he also needs to learn the language. He receives from this family a second hand, education style for a woman which adds to his natural calm nature. Another reason why this family works so well for him is because the family is an out cast like he is, due to Felix’s, actions; as a result they were kicked out of the country. Ironically, deception and betrayal happened for both the monster and the family by someone who should have been trustworthy. Both the family and the monster deserved more than they were given. When he feels the time is right the monster wants to face these people and try to create an idea of friendship. However, when he comes out in front of them, their reaction is terror and they run away in the sight of him, like humans’ reactions before. After this disappointment, the Monster learns to react the same way he is treated. To most people, he responds as if he is an evil and angry character because that is how all people treat him. Shelley goes into great detail and spends chapters discussing how the Creature watches and learns from this family that he finds, making it understood that his education is important in the kind of personality he will display. In the case of the Monster, the more knowledge he gains, the more he needs someone to accept him. The Creature has the mind and attitude of a child. He is more human than anyone in this play but he has the view point and feelings that a child would about each situation. “Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded” (87), exclaims the Monster. He realizes that he is a monster and he will never have a loving family without his Creator, or someone like him.
The Creature, like most children, still has a love for his creator. He learns to be compassionate, and tries to earn people’s love even though he fails every time. When he saw a girl was drowning in the water, he wanted to save her life but his reward for his kind actions was to be shot at, thus teaching him that no good deed goes unpunished when it comes to humans. The flaw in his education, since he was self taught, is that he did not learn right from wrong in the sense of dealing with his problems; The Monster did not understand how to attract attention from his master, and every time he was upset his reaction would be to cause Victor pain in the death of someone closest to him. It is likely that since love and affection did not work to get the positive attention that he was looking for, the Monster thought that killing and causing Victor to be angry might help him get that attention. However, this did not give the monster the satisfaction that he was looking for. It instead only drove Victor farther away from the monster and caused Victor to love the monster less, if he ever loved him at all. The sad, tragic fate of the monster that he never gains the love of his master before his master dies. This left the Monster to die with his master weeping for a sense of acceptance: “While I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires” (211), The Monster weepingly admits to Walton as he stands over Victor’s dead body.
On the other side, Victor Frankenstein has a beautiful and peaceful childhood. He grows up as a child with almost all pleasures of life. When Victor is old enough to attend college, he travels to Ingolstadt and receives great formal education. He is taught by two very different, but wise, teachers by the names of: Krempe and Waldman. His first meeting with Krempe creates distaste for Victor on the ideas of Natural Philosophy, while his first lecture from Waldman encourages Victor’s interest in science. Victor becomes extremely interested in science and studies endlessly, ignoring all things that used to give him pleasure before. Victor becomes a very single minded person and no longer thinks about the consequences of his actions. In learning about the anatomy and death, Victor becomes interested in taking it a step father to creating life from dead tissues. The flaw in his education that becomes more and more obvious as the story goes on, he is taught how to do things but not how to react and deal with things in a positive and healthy manner. Therefore, he reacts based on his first impulse – which is not something a professional scientist can afford to do, especially when they have created something as important as life from dead tissue.
Frankenstein is smart enough to create life, because of his education, but when his creation actually works and the creature comes to life, he can not deal with is creation like a scientist. He deals with it like a human who has not been taught how to manage emotions. Because of this, Victor runs from his creation sending his life in a downward spiral. During the whole story there is never a point when he accepts the creature he created or tries to be a father, or even just a mentor, toward his creation. Victor doesn’t realize how much he needs to teach and be with the creature in order to end all the murders and harm that the creature is creating. Ironically, even though Victor found the key to creating life, he did not figure out that he also holds the key to keeping people alive by expressing love or acceptance towards his creation.
Walton is probably the only positive character in this story. Besides Victor’s father, Walton is the only character who survives. It’s almost as if he exists to show what Victor could have become with a different form of education and a warning to heed him away from discovering too much knowledge. He shows himself a Romantic, with his “love for the marvelous, a belief in the marvelous,” which pushes him along the perilous, lonely pathway he has chosen. In this way, Walton relates to Victor and it is his more open and self taught education that helps him to survive in the end. Walton, being self taught, has learned to listen to everything that he can to gain knowledge. Therefore, when Victor speaks, Walton listens to his warning in the form of a story and therefore survives. It is the idea that Victor saw so much of himself in Walton and did not want Walton to make the same mistakes with his life and dreams. This is when Victor warns Walton to avoid them, “Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries” (208). Walton had an education very similar to the creature’s but being born as an actual human with real people, like his sister; he was also born with human instincts and a respect for human life, which makes it apparent why he turned out a bit different than the creature. Walton chose a life of loneliness and wasn’t forced into it like the creature. He had times when he was with people and learned how to deal with people. Walton is portrayed to have similar ambitions and dreams as Victor, but having such a different education and more understanding of relationships with people is what saves him from enduring the same fate as Victor. Though Walton is alive, he has gained more knowledge than he might have wanted, and his vision of the world will forever be tainted because of it.
In the end, education is the driving force of this novel. Each character goes after education believing it will change their lives for the better only to realize that education is like a cancer in disguise, that builds from the inside and the painful effects are not noticeable until it is too late. Education is decorated with shimmering lights and an alluring image of greatness which drives every character towards it. The damaging part of this novel is however, when they finally reach their dream of education, they notice that it isn’t all the things it promised to be. Instead of a water pool in the middle of a desert they realize that they are still drinking the sand. Each character learns as their education fails them that education can be an illusion of good and end up being the deciding factoring in someone’s fate.
Shelley, Mary. (2006). Frankenstein. Michigan: Borders Classics, Inc.