“It seemed to be a near contradiction to say that there are truths imprinted on the soul, which it perceives or understands not; imprinting if it signify anything, being nothing else but the making certain truths to be perceived.”
John Locke was an English philosopher, who was an influential thinker to the era of enlightenment. He was named the father of ‘liberalism’ by his followers in the late 1600s and Mary Shelley was a female English author who was prominently known for writing gothic fiction in the early 1800s. They lived 200 years apart yet they intertwine almost perfectly. In Shelley’s text ‘Frankenstein’ she had made reference to the concepts within Locke’s theory. She wrote of a character with the traits of new life, and as the text progressed the character began to change as it went through experiences, thus demonstrating Lockes theory.
John Lockes theory of human understanding was published in 1689. Which was a controversial time for society as it was in a formative religious state. John Locke’s theory disproves the idea that many people believed, that we were all born with innate intentions. Locke had a strong belief in ‘Tabula Rasa’. Tabula Rasa is the philosophical concept that people aren’t born with any mental content, and that all knowledge comes from experience. He believes that, “all of us start off in life with minds that are blank.” Void from all thoughts and predispositions. This is when biology clashes with sociology. Do we gain our personas from what is in our dna or do we gain it from the experiences we have? Are people born evil? Does it run through their veins? Do we grow into it? Or do we develop it? We are able to link Lockes theory to Gothic fiction as it allows us to start thinking about how everything and everyone is surrounded by mystery, as every single person has been crafted by their environment and experiences that we may know nothing about.
No one is born with any innate ideas or perceptions. The ‘creature’ in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ at first had gained an appreciation of the worlds beauty through positive experiences with nature allowing him to have a kind inclination that was later turned into a soul of murderous destruction after he suffered great public shame and brutality. This shows how Lockes theory can be linked to the novel as his philosophy believes that “we are not born with any innate knowledge… At birth, the human mind is a sort of blank slate on which experience writes. That ideas are the materials of knowledge and all ideas come from experience.” Which in the case of Shelley’s creature is correct. The creature was ‘born’ without an intellect, so therefore couldn’t house ideas of destruction from ‘birth’. The creatures resulting personality can only be justified by how broken the world had made him feel. The extreme discrimination, the loneliness, the abuse, the violence were all experiences that the creature had been confronted with. He had believed that his “heart overflowed with kindness and the love of virtue. He had begun life with benevolent intentions and thirsted for the moment when he should put them in practice and make himself useful to his fellow beings.” When the creature uses the word “overflowed” it shows how he felt these emotions so much that he couldn’t control them. Showing how he was more controlled by his emotions rather than by logic. The creature had possessed traits of love and was characterised by his giving nature, Which was shown throughout the text as the creature showed compassion and provided selfless acts of kindness. Especially towards the DeLacey family by collecting wood for them throughout winter, without expecting anything in return. The creature states how he “begun life”, which means that it started anew. Which allows us to understand that he didn’t come into this life with any preconceptions from his last. Finally, the creature states “his fellow beings” when discussing how all he wants is to help the world become a better place. By referring to people as his “fellow beings” it shows that he thinks of himself as equal to everyone else, he sees everyone to be the same as him. This original perspective soon lead to his demise as as soon as he sought people to surround himself with he received harsh public backlash which caused him a lot of grief. This quote from Mary Shelley, can link to Lockes theory as the creature was indeed ‘born’ innately vacant, without any predisposed thoughts. The creature wasn’t born evil, it was a blank canvas that was painted with hate by a harsh and critical society. He was born a creature but labelled a monster by the society of which he was segregated out of, and then that is what he became.