Does nature give shape to our characteristics or does the environment make us who we are today? Since the beginning of the studies on development stages of individuals, there has always been this question posed by some researchers. John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau were two people who claimed crucial opposite ideas about how human characteristics and traits are obtained. Initially, Locke claims that human characteristics are acquired through environment. The phrase “tabula rasa” means “blank sheet” which highlights “empty mind” of a humans when they are born. People are born with this “blank” mind and their observations, experiences and the environment in which they live affect the individual. However, Rousseau supports the idea of biological determinism. According to him, human characteristics and traits are coded in genes and their innate personalities come with birth makes people who they are. In Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein, this stark contrast between two opposite ideas can be observed through analysis of two main characters: Victor and the creature. According to the book, Victor and the creature have some innate characteristics, yet without any doubt, they have different personalities, different innate nature and different environment conditions in which they raised.
Throughout the novel, Victor feels hunger to power, curiosity and information. These traits are his main characteristics that we observe throughout the book. He is desperate for information. He is burning with hunger of new information and thus he wants to learn everything not only to improve himself but also to quench his hunger. According to him, his family is one of the distinguished families in Geneva (Shelley. M., Chapter 1, (pp.24). His family served for people and led them (Shelley. M., Chapter 1, (pp.24) which shows their reputable place of the family in society. Thus, his ancestral heritage has surely an effect on his development. He is determined to accomplish only one goal that he struggles to achieve. His curiosity has no limits and he does not know how far he can go without any wrong step. One thing is for sure that he goes far beyond the irreversible truth since he will surely feel regret for what he will do when he gives life to the creature. “I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” states Victor (Shelley. M., Chapter 5, (pp.58-59). His saying shows he was so determined to go for his aim that he did not even care about either his health or anything. He did not know how he can be victim of his own curiosity and his obsession with science and information. His role of god will surely bring him no rejoice and happiness.
Victor’s nurture conditions are far better than any person in that society because being born in such a prestigious family is a gift for any individual. His father is very keen on Victor. Victor says “My mother’s tender caresses and my father’s smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are my first recollections. I was their plaything and their idol, and something better—their child, the innocent and helpless creature bestowed on them by heaven, whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot it was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery, according as they fulfilled their duties towards me. With this deep consciousness of what they owed towards the being to which they had given life, added to the active spirit of tenderness that animated both, it may be imagined that while during every hour of my infant life I received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self-control, I was so guided by a silken cord that all seemed but one train of enjoyment to me” (Shelley. M., Chapter 1, (pp.27). Victor emphasizes that he was raised in a compassionate and tender environment which he was exposed. He had every chance to improve himself in such a rich environment. In these conditions, thinking about the relation between nature and nurture of Victor, despite the fact that Victor had been through positive environment conditions, according to the story, he was defeated by his innate traits.
On the other hand, for the creature, these are not included in his either nature or nurture. If Victor was black, creature would be white. He is quite opposite to Victor in terms of his innate characteristics and nurturing conditions. First of all, the creature is alone. He does not have a family, a wife, a brother or sister, or just a friend. From the resurrection to the end, he is in pursuit of a company. He is innately eager to learn the world himself alone. His struggle to write, read, and speak demonstrates his innate curiosity. He simply wants to know the world that he was born into out of blue. Beyond this, emptiness of his both hearth and soul needs to be filled with love and passion which he does not possess any. In the novel, Victor describes him as a demoniacal corpse and says “…the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.” (Shelley. M., Chapter 5, (pp.60). In the book, he states how he feels about his creation as “Mingled with this horror, I felt the bitterness of disappointment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me.” (Shelley. M., Chapter 5, (pp.60). That being said, Shelly uses “bitterness, disappointment, demoniacal corpse, hell” words for a reason. The intention is to reflect the nature of the creature in Victor’s perspective. Victor thinks that the creature was born with his innate evil and he regrets abomination he unleashed to the world. However, as a creator, Victor is the father of the creature which he did not struggle to be. Victor was lucky that he had a father that responsible for his children whereas creature has none. Simply put, the creature is “a person” and like a new-born infant, he is not able to give meaning to anything around him. His mind is just like a “blank slate”.
The creature experiences many unfortunate events that nobody could bare. However, creature indeed likes discovering the world that is new to him. He is as curious as his creator. That is why the creature feels joy while he learns. On the other hand, people do not share the same joyful perspective when they witness the creature’s presence. Naturally, humans fear from something that they do not know. The creature is an utter stranger to them, so they show no mercy on him in the novel. For instance, in the book, creature tells us the reaction when he finds a cottage in the forest, experiencing that how cruel people can be. “At that instant, the cottage door was opened, and Felix, Safie, and Agatha entered. Who can describe their horror and consternation on beholding me? Agatha fainted; and Safie, unable to attend to her friend, rushed out of the cottage. Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung: in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick. I could have torn him limb from limb, as a lion rends the antelope. But my heart sunk within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained. I saw him on the point of repeating his blow, when, overcome by pain and anguish, I quitted the cottage and in the general tumult escaped unperceived to my hovel.” (Shelley. M., Chapter 15, (pp.161). Also, this statement is another obvious proof of a brutal nurturing environment that creature was exposed. Another example of an unpleasant reaction of negative nurturing environment takes place when creature tries to save a girl who falls into the water. He tries to save her but the man who chases her shoots the creature in the chest. “This was then the reward of my benevolence! I had saved a human being from destruction, and as a recompense, I now writhed under the miserable pain of a wound, which shattered the flesh and bone. The feelings of kindness and gentleness which I had entertained but a few moments before gave place to hellish rage and gnashing of teeth. Inflamed by pain, I vowed eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind.” (Shelley. M., Chapter 16, (pp.169). This statement of the creature in the novel shows that how people forced him to turn into “a monster”.
John Locke and Jane Jacques Rousseau were important philosophers of the era whose ideas gave influence to many researchers and today, their ideas are still being discussed and improved by new findings. Also, they are the founders of the conflict of nature versus nurture on human development. Mary Shelley was surely influenced by these ideas and gave place to them while creating the both background and the ongoing lives of the characters. She constructed the characters with both nature and nurture facts and variables and shaped them in accordance with these conditions which had a vast impact on both Victor and the creature from the beginning to the end. After all, Victor’s nature overcame his nurture and he became the victim of his innate personality whereas nurture made the creature a beast who could unwillingly commit terrible deeds.