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Frankenstein’s relationship with the Industrial Revolution


A new age of progress transformed humanity in the 19th century. Historians have labeled this past age as the Industrial Revolution. According to Britannica, the Industrial Revolution is, “The process of change from an agrarian and handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacturing.”[1] Mary Shelley, a popular author, crafted her most popular novel, Frankenstein, on this revolution. Pessimists such as, Mary Shelley, viewed this new future with fear. She believed that the Industrial Revolution was not improving humanity’s nature. Mary Shelley’s cautionary tale, Frankenstein, proposes an interesting perspective on the Industrial Revolution. As the majority of people embraced this new age; Mary Shelley proclaimed the minority’s opinion. Yet, progress has routinely beaten this conservative narrative that focuses on the most pessimistic view of humanity.

Mary Shelly’s main character in Frankenstein embodies the Industrial Revolution. Victor Frankenstein is the main character in Mary Shelly’s popular work of fiction. Victor Frankenstein labors immensely at university to advance science. He states his labor on page thirty two, “I pursued my undertaking with unremitting ardour. My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement.”[2] Mr. Frankenstein pushes through health issues to make scientific progress. Later on, the dream becomes reality when Frankenstein’s creation becomes alive. This causes Victor Frankenstein to run away. He sadly had given no thought to what reality would occur when he accomplished his scientific goal. Mary Shelley showcases Mr. Frankenstein’s actions perfectly, “It was on a dreamy night of November, that I behold the accomplishment of my toils.” [3] Victor Frankenstein continues, “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.”[4] Finally, “I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited.”[5] Mary Shelley’s hidden wordplay is steeped with metaphors to the Industry Revolution. She knew that the Industrial Revolution didn’t have definite knowledge on what it would result in. She disliked the change in humanity caused by the Industrial Revolution. As you can tell, this is very similar to Victor Frankenstein’s reality.  Hence, Victor Frankenstein is the characterization of the Industrial Revolution.

Mary Shelly projects that the Industrial Revolution would produce the downfall of humanity. Her characterization of the Industrial Revolution, Victor Frankenstein, would lose his family and his own life to the monster that he creates. The most important person to Victor Frankenstein is his wife and sister, Elizabeth. She met an unfortunate end at the hands of the monster. Here is Mr. Frankenstein’s reaction, “Great God! Why did I not then expire! Why am I here to relate the destruction of the best hope, and purest creature of earth? She [Elizabeth] was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down, and her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair. For a moment only did I lose recollection; I fell senseless on the ground.” [6] Mary Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein in an emotional realistic response. Any man who sees his wife and or sister murdered would reasonably react this way.  Later on, Mr. Frankenstein dies in the artic climate near the North Pole after pursuing his creation for years. Mary Shelley imagines Victor Frankenstein’s death as, “His [Victor Frankenstein] voice became faint as he spoke; and at length, exhausted by his effort, he sunk into silence. About half an hour afterwards he attempted again to speak, but was unable; he pressed my hand feebly, and his eyes closed for ever, while the irradiation of a gentle smile passed away from his lips.”[7] He is pushed into the afterlife because of the Monster that he creates. The Industrial Revolution causes misery and death to thousands. Some people’s humanity is lost because of this change in civilization.

Inside of Frankenstein Mary Shelley shows the ugly side of humanity. She does this action in her work to show the reader that progress does not always improve humanity. As stated earlier the, Industrial Revolution’s characterization, Victor Frankenstein, is driven to death by the “Progress” that he creates. Here is another example of failed progress, “I [The Monster] cried, ‘Now is the time! Save and protect me! You and your family are the friends whom I seek. Do not you desert me in the hour of trial!”[8] In this quote the Monster is pleading with an old blind man for friendship and peace. The Monster just wants to establish good relations with people for the first time in the Monster’s life. Sadly, this is what happens, “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.”[9] Broad ignorance prevents the people from seeing that the Monster came in peace. The male, Felix, tries to kill the Monster with a stick. Mary Shelley tells this entertaining tale to put forth the idea that progress like the Industry Revolution does not improve are civility. We are just as savage as our brute ancestors.

Progress has won! If Mary Shelley was correct in her doubts on progress than humanity would have rejected progress. However, humanity has embraced progress because progress helps humanity. Many incorrectly say there are natural and ethical limits to progress.  There are no natural limits to humanities’ collective knowledge. Humanity has a drive to increase its knowledge. Mary Shelley shows this drive when Victor Frankenstein talks about his mind. Early on in the novel Victor states, “I have described myself as always having been imbued with fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature.”[10] The word, “Always” shows that mankind has been born with the drive to learn. In the pursuit of knowledge through learning mankind has produced progress. Hence, there are no natural limits to our collective knowledge. It is unrealistic to believe there is or there should be ethical limits to progress. Morality differs in cultures, nations, and people. Mary Shelley recognizes the differences between cultures when she wrote, “He is as silent as a Turk.”[11] The majority of Turks are Islamic. While the majority of English are Christian. Both peoples have distinctive views on morality because of their faith. It is wrong to say that one morality is better than the other. History has proven that this ignorant thought leads to war and mass murder. These wars never settle the matter because both peoples continue to survive after the war with ever hardening beliefs. Since, humanity cannot settle on a single morality there will never been a real ethical limit to scientific inquiry. Nor, should anyone try to impose an ethical limit to scientific inquiry. Finally, Mary Shelley’s life proves she did not truly believe in her anti-Industrial Revolution rhetoric. Mary Shelley used the, “Immoral” factories developed in the Industrial Revolution to produce her book, Frankenstein.  She was fine collecting profit via the Industrial Revolution’s mechanisms. Progress has won and will continue to win.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a cautionary tale about the Industrial Revolution. She makes a compelling argument that refutes the majority’s opinion about this new age. Frankenstein, shows the reader Mary Shelley’s anxieties about the Industrial Revolution. However, the Industrial Revolution continued and humanity today embraces its founding principles. Progress is view positivity. We recognize that the positives of the Industrial Revolution outweigh the negatives.


[1] Industrial Revolution.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 9 Mar. 2017. Accessed 22 Apr. 2017.

[2] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Dover Thrift Edition, Page 32.

[3] Shelley, Frankenstein, 34.

[4] Shelley, Frankenstein, 35.

[5] Shelley, Frankenstein, 36.

[6] Shelley, Frankenstein, 144.

[7] Shelly, Frankenstein, 162.

[8] Shelly, Frankenstein, 96.

[9] Shelly, Frankenstein, 96-97.

[10] Shelley, Frankenstein,21.

[11] Shelley,Frankenstein, 6.