In the novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley addresses the conflict of nature vs. nurture: is a child the product of his/her natural genetic material or the nurture he/she receives from his/her parents' upbringing? Victor Frankenstein as the creator gives rise to a child, the Frankenstein monster, through quite unnatural circumstances. The child is born not as a result of a natural birth, that results from sexual intercourse between a male and a female, but rather by use of scientific endeavor. Shelley questions the morality of Dr. Frankenstein's attempts and portrays the result of his hubris, playing God, as ending in tragedy: the creature kills the loved ones of Victor, his creator.
Under natural circumstances, a child is born and then reared by being instilled with particular values that are fitting to that are acceptable to that social order. In Frankenstein's situation, no process of socialization took place; upon conception, the creation was abandoned and left to determine his way on his own. This lack of mothering left the creation not as a child, but rather a monster. We can learn from this that in the creation of a person both science (nature) and cultivation (nurture) are required.
Shelley warns against tampering with nature by showing how is can go wrong, but in her perspicacity, she addresses an important issue that is constantly debated in the scientific community 250 years later. That is: is it morally correct to alter nature, "to pursue nature to her hiding places" (Shelley, 53)? Frankenstein had good intentions, but his product wreaked havoc. How can it be determined whether it is right to change what is created. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Frankenstein wanted to advance medical power by bringing people back to life. "I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption" (Shelley, 53).
His commendable goals to help humanity were slowly corrupted by his obsession with his work. He was able to relate to no other humans. Frankenstein cut himself off from all of humanity and concentrated on only his one subject. "I was thus engages, heart and soul, in one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest, or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage; but my eye were insensible to the charms of nature." (Shelley, 53). By excluding everything and everyone else from his life, Frankenstein lost his touch with reality. His once lofty medical goals of creating life from dead matter became skewed to include his selfish desires to control a being of his own creation. At the time when his creation gained life, Frankenstein could only think of his power as a divine creator, rather than a parental figure, with empathy for a fellow mortal being.
Victor had become a creator rather than a scientist or a parent. His obsession once to cure mankind had transformed into power-hunger and hubris — that he could be like God and create life from where there was none. "A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs" (Shelley, 52). Frankenstein sees his goals no longer as for the benefit of humanity, but as his deserving of others indebted to him. The charity in his heart had disappeared — his primary purpose now was the power of a creator.
The monster escaped from the confines of his creator's workplace and explored the world on his own. He learned language and of the nature of the world on his own. He watched human interaction as an outsider, and tried to mimic their behavior. But he was never be accepted by humanity, not because of his ugliness, but because he was never taught how to be human. Shelley does not specify whether the monster might have been accepted by humanity, had he been properly reared him by supportive parents and been instilled with a strong sense of humanity within him. But instead he was excluded by his only parent, and therefore all he knew was exclusion from others. The monster experienced only isolation, and yearned for companionship. The monster relates to his creator his story of desolation and loneliness:
Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. He had come forth from the hands of God a prefect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with and acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature: but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me.
The monster recognized the lack of care in his existence that led him to the state in which he found himself. This led him to hate his creator, rather than to love him, for there was no security or shelter offered to him by his creator.
What makes this novel science fiction is the fact that Dr. Frankenstein accomplished his goal of creating life. In this respect, he succeeded in the science. But since he lost his sense of humanity, the usage of his accomplishment is put toward evil rather than the original good. Through this shift, Shelley presents the risks of science tampering with nature, and she demonstrates that attempting to play God can lead to disaster. Important to note, however, is the fact that Dr. Frankenstein does not fail in his attempt: he did succeed in creating life, but his failing was in that he did not create a person.
The ethical dilemma posed is whether or not science has the right to modify the nature of life as it exists. Genetic engineering utilizes the ability to alter the genetic information that dictates the forms of all life. Modern biological technology has the ability to determine faulty sequences in the human genome and to modify them to cure disease. This innovation possesses the potential to alter genes and insert new information to code for functions that were previously missing. A disease such as diabetes (type I) may be cured by inserting a missing gene for insulin, so that an individual unable to manufacture insulin now may do so. Gene therapy makes use of infectious agents that transfer genetic information to oppose diseases such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, and even cancer.
With the amazing capabilities of modern medicine come significant moral questions: is it ethically acceptable to change an individual's genome? In the cases of curing disease, it seems legitimate, however, the limits are questionable. Amniocentesis, a method by which the genetic composition of a fetus is obtained to determine whether the child possesses any genetic problems. In a child is found to possess a hereditary disease, is it correct to abort the fetus? Or, is a concept of eugenics, which deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed. This was the practice of the Nazi movement during the Holocaust, in which a movement sought to exterminate a population of people
Victor Frankenstein, in looking back on his vice, recognized where he lost track — his sanity was disturbed by the power of his power-hunger. He concluded that he had lacked balance in his mental state was not able to act completely rationally.
A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a clam 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 a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste 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 (Shelley, 54).
Frankenstein's mind had lost its human quality. His motives lacked human emotion and empathy, so that he could neither love his relatives nor his creation. If the parent cannot offer human love, the child will not be able to feel human, unless it can be searched out from another source.