The brutal fact of death is one that has puzzled humanity from the beginning of time, and one of humanity’s first quests was to find a way around it. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero travels to the underworld to find the secret to eternal life, to bring his friend back from the dead. However, after receiving the secret, he then loses it while carelessly taking a bath, as a snake eats the magical plant. Nathaniel Hawthorne also noted the fact that death will intervene whether we are ready for it or not: “[t]he founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery”(Hawthorne). Victor Frankenstein made it his mission to undo the harsh reality of death through the creation of his monster. However, as with so many other attempts to cheat death, his handiwork becomes so grotesque that it horrifies him to the point where he is extremely reluctant to repeat the deed; his remorse even leads him to destroy his own creation.
Despite the warnings of his friends and professors, Victor Frankenstein is “dead” set (no pun intended) on undoing the work of death. To that end, he spends his nights searching for dead bodies to reanimate, using the miracle of electric power. Initially, he is very enthusiastic about his project, staying up until all hours of the night to find the right body parts and assemble his machinery. Both grave robbing and bringing back people from the dead would have brought him into extremely hot water with the legal and religious authorities of his day; it is extremely likely that his university would have expelled him, so he has to work in secret – and in the middle of the night. He knows all of this, but his desire to erase this limit from human existence drives him to push past all of those social boundaries and pursue his own scientific dreams.
Of course, once the creature comes to life, Frankenstein’s reaction is one of instant revulsion. The “miserable monster whom [Frankenstein] had created” (Shelley) is nothing short of disgusting. The creature has facial features and even attempts to communicate with his creator, but the only response that Frankenstein can muster is to rush out of the room and pace around his chamber, listening for any sort of sound, as it might “announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which [he] had so miserably given life” (Shelley). Because of this monster’s horrid visage, Frankenstein has absolutely no desire to make a second one. One might compare it to the horror with which Albert Einstein confronted the truth of atomic power: “Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our modes of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe” (Einstein). The potential of atomic power was enormous for both good and evil: on the good side was the possibility of unlimited sources of electricity and other modes of propulsion. On the evil side, of course, was the power to bring absolute destruction on one’s enemies, in a manner unlike any ever seen before in human history. Frankenstein indeed has defeated death with his monster. However, defeating death has not been the panacea that he had hoped. Instead, it has led to a grotesque creation that cannot be allowed to repeat itself. It is for this reason that Frankenstein refuses to make a second creature when his first creation requests it.
Because the creature keeps pestering him, though, Frankenstein ultimately agrees to make a woman for him. The creature has traveled some throughout the world and has found no one who will accept him. His brief friendship with a blind man is ruined when the man’s family returns home and drives the creature away; the only solace that the creature can imagine finding is a mate who has also been brought back from the dead. However, when Frankenstein has almost completed his work on the second creature, he looks out his window to find his first creature grinning in at him. The grin is not malicious; however, when Frankenstein contemplates the possibilities that could arise with these two creatures coming together, he destroys it on the spot. He does not want those horrors on the earth. The ultimate consequence, of course, is the death of Frankenstein’s own beloved, but that is still to come. This would be similar to Einstein destroying the next round of atomic weapons after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – or perhaps even after the first successful test of the atomic weapon. Knowing the power that lay within those weapons brought Einstein significant discomfort. For Victor Frankenstein, of course, this discomfort leads to destruction – both for the second creature and for his own dreams.
Einstein, Albert. “Atomic Education Urged by Einstein.” New York Times 25 May 1946. Print.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. http://www.bartleby.com/83/. Web.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. http://www.literature.org/authors/shelley-mary/frankenstein/. Web.