WR#8 Response to Shelly
November 2, 2004
“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my
example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be
the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature allows”
The year 1816 might be considered the dawn of the industrial revolution, and it was during
that year Mary Shelly began writing The Modern Prometheus, which later evolved
into the work we know as Frankenstein. Was
Shelly writing only a scary “ghost story” as Frankenstein is generally viewed, or was she trying to tell us something
The textile industry began in the mid 1700’s, and the factory system was invented for
the textile industry. By 1816 this industry was in full swing, and there were riots and protests in Britain
between 1811 and 1816 when the “Luddites” protested low pay and unemployment by storming factories and destroying
machinery. In 1802 Richard Trevethick produced the first steam powered locomotive. In 1821 Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic
rotation and by the 1830’s had invented the electric motor. For the first time in history the agricultural way of life
was being surpassed by industrialization.
Industrialization is a monster brought to life from inanimate matter by the hands of men. Scarcely
a soul can escape this monster, for everywhere one turns it is there. Even in
the relative security of ones own home, tucked away in some small rural corner of the world, the monster finds them. The television,
the radio, the computer, the telephone – or even if these are not to be found in a household, the silverware, dishes,
toiletries, and even the very clothes we wear are all products born of the industrial monster.
What does the monster we have created do to the land and the inhabitants of the earth as it
stalks relentlessly, its’ iron jaws ever expanding seemingly in an effort to consume its creator? Before it mountains
and forests fall, the waters become stained and poisoned, the air tainted with noxious fumes. The creatures of the earth,
both human and animal are pushed, crushed, exploited, and are offered the choice either to conform to the will of the monster
A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow
passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to
this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your tastes for
those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting
the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility
of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered
more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed (Shelly276).
1945 a giant iron monster weighing 9,000 pounds fell from the skies and spilled fire over an entire city. Over 75,000 people
lost their lives immediately and many more died later. Perhaps for the first time in history people realized that they had
given life to a monster that could annihilate the entire world and reduce it to a cinder. This acquirement of knowledge brought
“Frankenstein” to life in a way Mary Shelly might have never imagined.
The monster unleashed in 1945 may be better compared to Prometheus, who according to
Greek legend stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind. This was no singular unit comprised of spare body parts and infused
with electricity. This monster was given life by the manipulation of the very building blocks of life itself, the ordered
structure of the universe, the splitting of the atom; the fire stolen from the gods themselves. This monster was no animated
dead flesh stalking the night seeking its creator, but rather the fire kindling Prometheus unbound, whose only intent was
to destroy its creator.
We live with the results of Viktor Frankenstein’s experiment, and it lives amongst
us. The monster has threatened our existence for nearly 60 years, and will continue to haunt us unless those who create such
monsters realize the horror they unleash and decide to terminate the experiment.