Humans have always had conflicts with nature, whether it is getting hunted by predators, or causing mass-extinction events. Humankind is, by definition, a parasite, with its hoast being nature. Man destroys his hoast by attempting to shape nature in his image and strip her of her resources. In recent times, humans have been more intent on not only becoming natures equal but to surpass it entirely. Man has figured out accelerated ways of travel, how to harness the power of the stars, and how they themselves function.
Mary Shelley’s timeless classic Frankenstein not only toys with the struggle of man versus nature but makes it one of its main themes. Shelly portrays the conflict between humankind and nature through the desire to reveal nature, the creation of the monster, and Victor’s journey.
Shelly shows how humans seek to violate Mother Nature and plunder her secrets through two passages. During Victors first meeting with M. Krempe, the professor states “[Scientists] penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places” (Shelly, 39).
This quote shows that humans have an insatiable thirst for knowledge of the sciences. The use of the word ‘penetrate’ seems to suggest that mankind is raping the earth for her secrets, and taking them by force. Man wishes to understand how the world works so that they could control the laws of the universe for their personal gain by any means necessary. Another example of how humans seek to unravel the secrets of nature is personified through one of Walton’s letters when he states “I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (Shelly, 4).
Walton demonstrates his desire to discover the secrets of the previously unexplored places of the earth, as well as discover the secrets of the magnetic field that surrounds the pole. He wishes to steal from Mother Nature, to violate her secrets and privacy, and to take and discover what he should not. Walton attempts a great heist of the secrets of this earth, and nature has stopped him in his tracks, almost spelling his demise.
To create his monster, Victor had to knowingly violate one of the biggest laws of nature: death is irreversible and inevitable. “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body” (Shelly, 50). It was at this point in the novel that Victor had reached the point of no return. In Victor’s hyperactive and dazed frenzy, he had recklessly created life and defied death with his creation. Victor has played God by creating life without a female and prevented death, the only thing that sustains the natural balance of the earth. Exposing the secret to never-ending life would have eviscerated the carefully built structure that is the earth’s ecosystems. Victor did not see the creature he had created as a human being and thus neglected to raise the creature that he brought into the world like a human being. This act turned the creature into a beast of human nature and instinct. Victor is then punished for his actions against nature by losing his brother, two friends and watching his wife die, all at the hands of the crime against nature that Victor has created. Ironically, Victor seeks out nature for comfort after the death of each family member, even though it was nature that caused these deaths. After the various deaths in his family, Victor then must suffer throughout the rest of his days alone.
Every character that tells a story in the novel has some sort of battle with nature. Walton has his battle with the icy waters of the arctic and the monster with his great journey in which he must make his way through the snowy landscapes of Europe to find shelter and food for the winter. The most interesting of these struggles occur when Victor is pursuing the monster through the arctic. “As I still pursued my journey to the northward, the snows thickened and the cold increased in a degree almost too severe to support” (Shelly, 212). Victor endures this pain because he wishes to right the wrong that was creating his abomination by killing it, once and for all. This task entails venturing out alone into the depths of the unexplored arctic circle, with little preparation or supplies. Eventually, victor succumbs to the weather, constant exposure to the cold and the pain he has endured by losing everything he’s ever known and loved. Nature is seen as punishing Victor for his unnatural creation by throwing everything it has at Victor. This represents Mother Nature asserting her dominance over those who try to challenge her laws and question her authority.
Shelly excellently displays the constant struggle between humankind and nature through the desire to conquer nature’s secrets, the creation of Frankenstein’s monster, and Victor’s pursuit of the monster. This novel’s possible warning may never be followed, as it is human nature to keep on moving forward in discovery and defying nature through any means necessary. However, we must learn to not be as destructive as we, as a species, have been in the past. Nature is the most powerful entity in the known universe, it is the beginning and the end, it controls life and death, it rules over all of us. Yet humans overcome all odds and reach a place where Mother Nature’s power can be challenged. However, nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.