Nature vs. Nurture in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Categories: Nature Vs Nurture

For centuries, the debate has persisted over the extent to which inherited genes and environmental influences shape an individual's personality, development, behavior, intelligence, and abilities. While physical characteristics are undeniably hereditary, the influence of nurture becomes particularly prominent in shaping an individual's manners and character. This intricate interplay of nature and nurture is vividly depicted in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, where the monster's behavior is molded by a convergence of genetic predispositions and societal influences.

Characterization: The Rejection and Transformation

Frankenstein explores the theme of nature versus nurture through the meticulous characterization of both Victor Frankenstein and his creation.

Victor's rejection of his own creation, a being he had once been obsessed with, sets the stage for the monster's tumultuous existence. Despite months of meticulous creation, Victor is repulsed by the creature's appearance, initiating a chain of events that culminate in the monster's reign of terror against Victor's loved ones.

Victor's abandonment forces the creature to navigate the world alone, grappling with a society that misunderstands and rejects him.

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Initially seeking acceptance, the creature approaches humans only to be met with violence and hostility. The rejection he faces, particularly from the De Lacey family, propels him towards a path of vengeance against humanity. Contrary to Victor, the creature longs for societal acceptance, revealing a poignant irony that underlines the novel's exploration of nature versus nurture.

Upon creation, the creature is not inherently monstrous. It is Victor's rejection that sets the creature on a trajectory of despair and vengeance. The pivotal moment of Victor fleeing in terror instead of embracing his creation instigates a series of events that ultimately shape the creature's destiny.

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The rejection, a profound form of societal neglect, becomes the catalyst for the creature's transformation into the feared monster.

Furthermore, the creature's emotional depth becomes evident as it longs for acceptance, especially from the De Lacey family. In its pursuit of knowledge and understanding, the creature gains intellect and abilities by observing the family's interactions. The irony lies in the stark contrast between the creature's inherent desire for connection and society's relentless rejection, emphasizing the role of nurture in determining its path.

The Impact of Setting: A Crucible of Misery

The setting in Frankenstein plays a pivotal role in shaping the creature's destiny. Much of the narrative unfolds near Ingolstadt, where the creature is immediately met with rejection and violence upon venturing into a nearby village. This initial encounter with humanity forms the foundation of the creature's bleak outlook on life.

The time period in which the novel is set further amplifies the creature's plight. Mary Shelley's decision to place the story in her contemporary era enhances the realism and relatability of the creature's experiences. Readers are immersed in the societal norms and values of Shelley's time, deepening their understanding of the creature's despair and the societal neglect that fuels its monstrous transformation.

Ingolstadt becomes a symbol of the creature's harsh introduction to the world. The hostile reception in the village, coupled with the creature's physical deformities, reinforces societal prejudices and further alienates it. The setting becomes a crucible of misery, intensifying the creature's sense of isolation and laying the groundwork for its eventual rebellion against a society that has rejected it.

The Irony of Accountability: Victor's Denial

The theme of nature versus nurture is underscored by the pervasive irony within Frankenstein. Despite Victor Frankenstein being the creator of the monster, he absolves himself of any responsibility for the havoc wreaked by his creation. Victor's refusal to acknowledge his role in the tragedy, exemplified by his self-perceived victimhood, adds a layer of complexity to the nature versus nurture debate.

Ironically, Victor sees himself as guiltless, attributing the curse on his life to a crime he feels he did not commit. The very act of creating the monster, however, is the genesis of the tragedy. Mary Shelley uses this irony to highlight the consequences of neglect and the vital role nurture plays in shaping an individual's destiny. Victor's failure to nurture his creation becomes a damning indictment of the potential consequences when nature and nurture are not in harmonious balance.

Victor's denial of accountability is not only ironic but also emblematic of societal tendencies to deflect responsibility for the consequences of neglect. The creature, created as a blank slate, becomes a mirror reflecting the consequences of a lack of nurturing guidance. Victor's refusal to take responsibility underscores the novel's broader commentary on societal accountability and the far-reaching implications of neglecting the nurture component in the development of individuals.

The Nuanced Tapestry of Nature and Nurture: A Cautionary Tale

In conclusion, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein intricately weaves the theme of nature versus nurture through the threads of characterization, setting, and irony. The rejection by Victor Frankenstein, the hostile societal environment, and the ironic denial of accountability collectively mold the creature into the monster it becomes. The novel serves as a cautionary tale, urging reflection on the profound impact of both innate qualities and external influences on an individual's development.

The interplay of nature and nurture is not a dichotomy but a complex tapestry that unfolds throughout an individual's life. The creature, initially a blank canvas, is painted with the brushstrokes of rejection and societal neglect, ultimately transforming into the monster society fears. Shelley's timeless exploration prompts us to consider the delicate equilibrium required between nature and nurture for the flourishing of every living being.

Frankenstein challenges us to confront our own societal tendencies towards neglect and rejection. The creature's journey serves as a stark reminder of the consequences when individuals are denied the nurturing environment necessary for their development. As we navigate the complexities of the nature versus nurture debate, Frankenstein stands as a literary testament to the intricate forces that shape human behavior and the moral imperative of fostering environments conducive to growth, understanding, and acceptance.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
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Nature vs. Nurture in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. (2016, Nov 13). Retrieved from

Nature vs. Nurture in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein essay
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