The goal of this paper is to research how Goethe and Mary Shelley portray knowledge in Faust and Frankenstein. My selection of investigating this type of theme in these two works hails from the fascinating comparison in views that the creators exhibit in their works, even although two literary works were written during the same time period and both writers were significantly affected by Romanticism which experienced spread around Europe. It is also very interesting that the two authors evaluate their protagonist's shoot for unattainable in opposite ways. The research was carried out by the careful analysis of both the works in English and later a vast reading of several literary criticisms relevant to the research question and the works in conversation. My conclusion is the fact Mary Shelley portrays education and academic knowledge as a continuous improvement which never fails to improve man's condition, even though her thoughts and opinions on the including of out-of-date disproven malpractices as a base of modern knowledge is dubious. On the other hand, Goethe's Faust obviously disapproves of Wagner's humanitarian approach to learning and continually reiterates the futility of education in reaching any significant knowledge. Such a discrepancy in opinions is mirrored also in the manner that the two protagonist's ambitious journeys towards "truth" are judged: Goethe justifies and exalts Faust's bet with Mephistopheles, redeeming Faust for his constant shoot for knowledge, while Mary Shelley damn Frankenstein to a life of suffering, therefore condemning his try to create life.
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An examination of Goethe's and Mary Shelley's portrayal of Knowledge in Faust and Frankenstein 4
An research of Goethe's and Mary Shelley's portrayal of Knowledge in Faust and Frankenstein
This essay will investigate how Goethe and Shelley present knowledge in Faust and Frankenstein, respectively. My choice to research this particular theme in the two works stems from the very different views that the two authors communicate, even though their works were completed during the same time period and are both key works of Charming literature in European countries. Both these works narrate of two men who shoot for knowledge surpassing man's limitations. The term "knowledge" can have two different connotations: it may indicate the educational knowledge that can be obtained through the study of works of scholars (which, to avoid misunderstanding, I will mention of the in this article as "education" and "learning") and the deeper personal knowledge of the significance of life and of the elaborate mysteries of mother nature (that i will denote as "truth" or "essence of life"). In Faust and Frankenstein, Goethe denounces the futility of education, in contrast with Mary Shelley, who expresses the value of knowledge in enhancing mankind. Furthermore, Faust's pact with Mephistopheles is exalted and his spirit redeemed, while Victor's dark test is condemned and he is destined to a life of misery and hurting.
"You've worked your way through every school
[. . . ] and sweated it such as a fool.
Why labour at it any more?
You're no wiser than you were before" (pg. 14, 354-359).
"All this misery goes to show
There's nothing at all we can ever know. " (pg 14, 370-371)
Once more, this estimate from Faust's soliloquy, demonstrates the protagonist's status of despair, underlined by the use of the term "misery" to refer to the human condition and life on the planet. Faust is aware that man won't know what he identifies as the "truth", the central essence of life.
In Beyond your City Gates, Faust is appreciated of the inefficiency of academics knowledge as many peasants tell Faust of these gratitude towards him credited to his effort in healing the plague, even although protagonist is aware that his father's medicines performed "more mischief than the plague could ever before do" (pg 33, 1052). Goethe uses the scholar's assertion,
"For what we have to know is quite beyond our range,
And useless all the data we have found. " (pg 34, 1066-1067)
to once again remember the reader of the impossibility of man to attain into the better mysteries of life and the futility of all the knowledge humanity offers at present.
"Only if I could flee this den
[. . . ] Released from learning's musty cell, " (pg 15 392-396)
"You're jammed inside this lair,
In this accursed dungeon" (pg 15 398-399).
Once more, the diction is carefully chosen; indeed, the words "den", "musty cell", "lair" and "dungeon", with the strong obscure and negative connotations, illustrate Faust's gothic analysis as a prison for his heart and soul thirsty for knowledge of real life. Indeed, Peter Salm states that Faust "now desires to purge himself of the [education] to be able to get his dulled senses and his creativity restored. " Therefore, it is clear that Goethe does not limit himself to reiterating the usefulness of education through the use of dialogue, but, using careful phrase choice in Faust's soliloquy, he accuses educational knowledge of protecting against man from reaching the truth he longs for.
"How could it be that [Wagner's] head calls for such pleasure
Forever dabbling in these shallow terms.
He digs so avidly for concealed treasure,
And then rejoices when he digs up worms. " (pg 21, 602-605)
Faust strongly mocks Wagner's short-sightedness and limited view of learning. The use of the expression "shallow terms" reveals the protagonist's disgust for the individuals condition that his good friend experiences. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of what "treasure" and "worms" metaphorically indicates Wagner's deception in looking for the "truth" but being satisfied when he discovers insignificant knowledge. Once more, Goethe's accurate choice of diction emphasizes Faust's low thoughts and opinions of the data that can be obtained through the study of other scholars' works. In this particular distinction of different ideals, the author's mocking of Wagner's amount, urges the audience to sympathize with Faust's view. This result is attained by presenting Wagner as a "plodding bore" (pg 19 521), which immediately creates in the reader's brain a comical view of the famulus and for that reason converts him into an unreliable persona.
"You only know a single urge; much better so -
That other impulse you should never seek to learn. " (pg. 35, 1110-1111)
Even though, Faust dreams his friend's simplicity and ignorance which lead him to believe knowledge from books will disclose him the "truth", he's conscious of his friend's limitations and blindness to the true essence of life. Through the use of diction and Faust's dialogue with Wagner, Goethe juxtaposes Faust's disillusionment towards education with Wagner's out-of-date and close-minded view of learning, therefore reaffirming his own view of the inefficacy of learning from the works of other scholars.
Goethe uses metaphors, dialogue and storyline development to justify and exalt Faust's seek out increased knowledge in his trip with Mephistopheles. Indeed, as Vazsonyi points out, "Faust's ceaseless striving and his continuous dissatisfaction using what were insufficient or imperfect knowledge acquired now become positive characteristics". Goethe's purpose is first attained by negatively portraying the melancholic real human condition through the choice of diction in Faust's dialogue with Mephistopheles. Indeed, when Faust is asked to be joyous by the Devil, the scholar replies with a more elaborate speech which clearly underlines the constraints of man on the planet. Faust says:
"You need to forgo, renounce, abstain -
This is the wearisome refrain
That echoes inside our ears, that dismal song.
Hour after hour we hear its croaking tone of voice,
It mocks and comes after us our very existence long" (pg 48, 1549-1553)
The use of the synonyms "forgo", "renounce" and "abstain", makes these words effectively achieve a repetition effect on the reader, therefore emphasizing the static quality and inescapability of the individuals condition. This effect is confirmed by the term "echoes" and "refrain" and the phrases "hour after hour" and "follows us our whole life long", which display the recurrent mother nature of the limitations that man has to succumb to. Furthermore, the words "dismal" and "croaking" reiterate the fantastic effect the second option have on the feelings of man, while the phrase "mocks" may be considered a reference to men that, like the famulus Wagner, are beguiled into believing that man can in fact obtain real knowledge. In addition, the utilization of the first person singular indentifies these constraints as common to the whole of mankind.
"I curse the power whose spell
Deludes our souls using its enticing wiles,
And using its false alluring methods beguiles
Us in this dreary cavern where we dwell. " (pg 49, 1587-1590)
In this price from Faust's discourse to Mephistopheles, Faust's transformation is obvious: if before he envied Wagner's ignorance and short-sightedness which placed him unaware of his limits, he now curses this illusion of delight that vanishes and then leave man to its delusion. Indeed, Goethe underlines Faust's full awareness of the unreality of this false impression through the words "false", "tricks", "wiles", "spell" and "beguiles" which all have a negative connotation of deception. Goethe therefore reduces all the contentment in man's life as only natural illusion. The metaphor "dreary cavern" to represent the world demonstrates that man's restrictions arise directly from its earthly nature and that an escape from Globe would free him from his melancholic individuals conditions, as we will have down the road.
"EASILY should ever choose a life of sloth or leisure,
Then let that moment be my end!
Or if you can beguile or flatter me
Into a state of self-contented convenience,
Delude me with pleasure or luxury -
Then that day shall be my previous. " (pg 52, 1695-1697)
As Tantillo creates, "Faust's wager with the devil reflects his assurance in his own unhappiness in light of his divided nature". Indeed, Faust is so positive that he'll never achieve real pleasure and valuable knowledge in his own lifestyle that he agrees to perish if he should ever before be satisfied with his accomplishments. Goethe's radical portrayal of individuals condition and man's restrictions through an accurate choice of diction and metaphors in Faust's conversation to Mephistopheles justifies the protagonist's search for unattainable knowledge beyond human being possibilities for him to reach gratification.
"If only I had formed wings to lift up me from the ground,
To soar and keep tabs on it on its onward trip" (pg 34, 1074-1075)
Through this metaphor, Faust expresses his will to forego miserable simple fact and soar towards the Sun, which symbolizes for Faust ultimate knowledge. The key phrase "lift me" signifies the relieving of the responsibility of real human condition on the planet, while the expression "track" symbolizes the scholar's "titanic search for knowledge and experience", as though the protagonist is jogging after the knowledge of the substance of life.
Later on, Faust that his mother nature is two times: one part of him desires to experience earthly pleasures, while the other has "an inborn craving to disperse its wings, / shake off the dust of Earth and soar to loftier heights" (pg 35, 1116-1117). The imagery of wings and airline flight recurs again in this metaphor, reiterating Faust's desire to flee his role on the planet. Indeed, since air travel represented one of the biggest dreams of man, the connotation of the word "soar" suggest the overcoming of the same limits of man which Faust lamented earlier in the novel. In addition, the saying "get rid of the dust of earth", reminds the audience that man's limits are manufactured by humans' earthly nature and that to obtain true knowledge one must leave behind his non-spiritual home. It is clear that Goethe uses diction and metaphorical aesthetic imagery to portray Faust's "compelling drive towards fullness of life and understanding" as a natural inborn desire deriving directly from his wretchedness caused by man's limitations, therefore justifying his pact with Mephistopheles.
"For man's activity can slacken all too fast,
He falls too soon into a slothful simplicity;
The Devil's a friend who'll tease
And spur him on, and work artistically at last" (pg 12, 340-343)
From this estimate it is immediately clear that on earth created by Goethe to be the environment of his play reverts traditional Christian doctrine, as God is provided as an inactive observer, as the Devil is the catalyst that urges man to be profitable. GOD, THE FATHER of the play feels that men are in their best while they strive, even though he acknowledges that man will err so long as he lives. It is Faust's own anxious endeavour for knowledge and failing to attain satisfaction that earn him his last redemption. Monica Montanaro suggests that Faust has achieved the apex of real human fulfilment in his intensive knowledge and frequent love of creation.
In realization, it is visible that Goethe uses dialogue, diction, imagery, story development and Faust's compare with Wagner to denounce Humanistic learning, which is seen as an obstacle to the attaining of the best knowledge, and to exalt the protagonist's constant striving in the search of the real fact of life, which causes the character's redemption. Indeed, as Stuart Atkins argues, in Faust"man is doomed to failing, error and irritation; only in struggling against his doom he does achieve tragic dignity".
Before contrasting Shelley's own view on education portrayed in Frankenstein, one must first acknowledge one main difference according to Goethe's Faust: if in the German masterpiece the ideas of the key character reveal the author's take on knowledge, in the Gothic novel the protagonist is an anti-hero and for that reason his own views are often accused and declined by Shelley. Indeed, by linking Victor Frankenstein's damnation to his alchemical studies and by juxtaposing Mr. Krempe's and Mr. Waldman's different opinions on ancient technology, Shelley condemns Victor's reliance on the out-of-date method of learning and expresses contrasting thoughts on the potential of science to always improve real human condition.
A compare between alchemy and modern knowledge is established in Section 2, when Victor's father despises his son's readings on Cornelius Agrippa by dialling them "sad garbage" (II, 40). As Frankenstein later clarifies, "if [his] dad had used the pains to clarify to [Victor] that the key points of Agrippa have been totally exploded, and a modern system of knowledge [. . . ] possesses much greater capabilities, [. . . ] because the capabilities [. . . ] of the former were real and sensible" (II, 40) he would have certainly ended reading Agrippa's works and came back to his previous scientific tests. Victor's remark demonstrates the author's personal admiration for modern knowledge, whose forces are described as "real and practical", and her disapproval of the natural philosophers like Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus, which symbolize the out-of-date alchemical approach to the planet. Indeed, in the same way from Wagner's humanistic approach to learning in Faust, the alchemical ideas in which Victor is convinced in are accused by the author, who blames Victor's fate on his will to find the chimerical elixir of life, of which he had learned in those early on scientists' works. Victor is therefore the anti-hero of the book, the character whose values are straight condemned by Mary Shelley. Soon after, following a lightning destroys an old oak tree trunk, Frankenstein, in circumstances of despair, says, "It seemed to me as if little or nothing would or could ever before be known. [. . . ] I [. . . ] established down natural background and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation; and entertained the best disdain for a would-be science, that could never even step within the threshold of knowledge" (II, 41). Here, just for an individual instant in the novel, the protagonist refuses the work of Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus which he details as a "deformed and abortive creation", foreshadowing the creation of the fiend, identified down the road through the same adjectives, which is the immediate product of the protagonist's faith in their works. In such a instant of the book Victor Frankenstein talk about Faust's view on education and learning; Victor does indeed indeed acknowledge the impossibility of knowledge of obtaining any significant knowledge. The strong connection between his study of works of alchemy and the creation of the monster is underlined by the narrator intrusion by the end of this chapter: "ONCE I look back, it seems to me as if this almost miraculous change of inclination and will was the immediate recommendation of the guardian angel of my life-the last effort created by the heart of preservation to avert the surprise that was even then hanging in the stars, and prepared to envelope me. " (II, 41-42) Once more, the author foreshadows the Frankenstein's damnation consequently of his attempt to create life and inevitably links back to you it to his love for the historic looks for the elixir of life by alchemists and natural philosophers.
The author also juxtaposes Mr. Krempe and Mr. Waldman's a reaction to the great dedication with which Victor has researched the works of ancient natural philosophers expressing contrasting ideas on science's potential to improve human being condition. Even though both the professor clearly have a strong faith in the energy of modern research, they keep different values regarding historical malpractices of science such as alchemy. Indeed, Mr. Krempe clearly despises the protagonist's elderly studies contacting their work "nonsense" and accuses Victor of having "burdened [his] recollection with exploded systems and useless names" and not understanding that those works were "a thousand years old, as musty as they are ancient" (III, 46), demonstrating his belief in the futility of alchemy and other outdated sciences as well as their total rejection as foundation for modern science. Mr. Waldman, however, expresses a significant different opinion: he says, "[the traditional natural philosophers] were men to whose indefatigable zeal modern philosophers were indebted for the majority of the foundations of their knowledge" (III, 48) On this quotation, the difference in views of the two professors is visible: indeed, Mr. Waldman thinks that even though the work of these creators has been disproven by modern research, contemporary experts must discover their role in laying the foundation for scientific discovery, therefore delivering the acquisition of knowledge as a constructive linear process which occurs little by little and sometimes includes the need to look back on the task of past scholars to learn their intuitions and their mistakes. Later on, Mr. Waldman remarks that "the labours of man of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever are unsuccessful in ultimately embracing the solid benefit of mankind" (III, 48). This assertion is much more powerful than the preceding for the reason that it asserts the author's perception of the efficiency of any scientific work improving the individual condition, even though this work may be endeavoring to prove a wrong hypothesis or going in the wrong way. Indeed, Mr. Waldman identifies the ancient writers Victors has read as "man of genius" and through the words "ever" and "ultimately" shows that the truth of his statement is applicable to all or any eras, even to those characterized by technological malpractice such as magic and alchemy ("however erroneously directed"). This emphasizes a fundamental difference between the beliefs indicated through Faust and Frankenstein: Goethe obviously dismisses all the educational knowledge that Wagner is willing to review as futile and pointless, while Mary Shelley shows that not only will educational knowledge lead a man to become wiser, but even the knowledge of old scholars which were disproven can be a base for modern knowledge. In conclusion, diversely from Goethe, Mary Shelley is faithful in the ability of modern science and education to significantly improve humanity, but condemns Victor's frustrating enthusiasm for a technological malpractice and is dubious on whether disproven technology is in charge of laying the foundations for modern technology.
Differently from Goethe, Mary Shelley condemns Victor's ambitious project of creating life through diction, light and dark imagery and story development. First of all, it is evident from the closing of the novel that Victor Frankenstein's experiment which results in the creation of the monster is negative event which contributes to Victor being "condemned by nature's gods to unlimited fighting". Indeed, Victor loses all his relatives and friends and dies on the pursuit of the being he himself has created.
Aside from using plot to condemn Frankenstein's deed, Shelley also identifies Victor during his work on the creation of life as isolated, unhealthy and mentally crazy, therefore urging the reader to consider the effects of this project both on Victor and on humanity. Victor says "My cheek got cultivated pale with analysis, and my person acquired become emaciated with confinement" (IV, 55), which demonstrate the protagonist's almost inhumane request to his job. His job soon becomes an obsession, as exhibited by the words "a resistless, almost frantic, impulse, urged me onward: I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit" and "I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit. [. . . ] my eyes were insensible to the charms of character" (IV, 55), foreshadowing the suffering that will derive from the creation of the monster. Most importantly, you'll be able to start to see the change in Victor's identity deriving from his work, since, once a great fan of character, he totally ignores the beauties of the exterior world, showing his complete immersion in his job. The repetition in "my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one goal" (III, 47) obviously underlines Victor's insanity due to an abnormal fervour to reach his goal. Victor also postpones "all those things related to [his] sense of love" (IV, 55), which once again underlines how greatly his starting has damaged his person. Mary Shelley emphasizes the great changes that eventually Victor's identity while working on the creation of life to suggest a demonical ownership of his spirit, therefore denouncing his ambitious look at and foreshadowing the disastrous result of his experiment. Indeed, in a narrator treatment at the end of the chapter, Victor himself later says, "I do not think that the quest for knowledge is an exception to the rule. If the analysis to that you apply yourself tends to weaken your affections, and destroy your style for the easy pleasures [. . . ] then that research is obviously unlawful" (IV, 56).
Shelley also uses light and dark imagery throughout the play to condemn Victor's creation of the monster. Indeed, in the time frame during which the novel was written, "light" experienced a connotation of "knowledge" and "reason". Victor constantly choose light imagery in his narration when describing his will of achieving ultimate knowledge: "pour a torrent of light into our dark world" and "I had been like the Arabian who possessed [. . . ] found a passing to life, aided only by one glimmering [. . . ] light" (IV, 54). However, Victor's research is carried out in graveyards and slaughter-houses, that have a connotation of darkness, and the field of the creation of life in the monster is referred to using the following words, "It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally up against the panes, and my candle was practically burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I noticed the dull yellowish attention of the creature open up" (V, 59). The absence of light in this world, highlighted by what "nearly burnt out", "glimmer", "half-extinguished" and "dull", contrasts with the previous imagery of light, underlining that the creation of life is not the wonderful breakthrough of knowledge that Victor was imagining, but rather a dark function which will have profoundly negative repercussions on his life. As Paul Sherwin points out, this is a "negative epiphany" for Victor, as he aids to the "dissolution of his expectations" and "witnesses the embarrassing fact of the creature". The creature therefore becomes a "dark supplement to Frankenstein's light". Therefore, it is clear that in Frankenstein, in another way from Goethe in Faust who justifies and exalts the protagonist's bet with the Devil and quest to acquire knowledge, Mary Shelley condemns Victor's ambitious task through storyline development, diction and light imagery.
In bottom line, it is clear that Goethe and Mary Shelley express two contrasting viewpoints on knowledge. In Faust education is portrayed as ineffective and futile, whereas in Frankenstein is present the idea that technology, even though erroneously aimed, always improves the health of man. Another discrepancy is in the way where the two authors assess their protagonist's strive for unattainable knowledge and real truth: Goethe not only justifies Faust's pact with Mephistopheles, but actually exalts his quest in search for the deeper substance of life, while Mary Shelley explicitly condemns Victor's ambitious task by sentencing him to a life of inescapable fighting.
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