“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 discredits 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. His theory leaves us with questions such as, 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 De Lacey 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 merciless public recoil which caused him a lot of sorrow. 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, he was a blank canvas that was painted with hate by a harsh and critical society. He was born a creature but labelled a monster and then that is what he became.
As the plot of ‘Frankenstein’ progressed, we were shown far more clearly the impacts that experiences can have on a persons overall demean. Locke stated that “ideas we make when we’re young are important to when we’re older, because they’re the foundation of our thoughts forever.” Which is evident in the text, as the ideas that the creature perceived through his life were mostly negative. This was due to how no matter what he did or where he was, he was just screamed at and abused. If a child was brought into a world where they were hated, disrespected, attacked and discriminated against they wouldn’t be able to grow into an adult with a kind heart or a passionate facade. But this wouldn’t have been the Childs fault, we would always blame the parents in this situation. Yet the creature went through practically the same ordeal but he was the one who was socially punished. In the middle of the text, the creature says “my feelings were those of rage and revenge… I, like the archfiend, bore a hell within me, and finding myself unsympathised with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin.” The creature had considered Victor his ‘father’ and Victor rejected the creature immediately after his animation. It has been psychologically proven by many youth psychiatrists that the rejection of a child by a parent can leave the child with a damaged psyche, causing the child to have low self worth and to be controlled by their feelings more often. When the creature says how his feelings were those of rage and revenge, we can link the reason back to the paragraph above about how he has lost all sense of logic and is now just purely running on emotion. He also compares himself to “the archfiend” which is a malevolent spirit, and back in the 1800s when this novel was published this would’ve been considered the one of the worst beings to be compared to as Europe was still in a very intense religious state. The public exclusivity and the parental rejection all accumulated to the creature feeling as though he was horribly “unsympathised.” He was alone. He had no one on his side. He had no friends or family. He was hated by all. He was so hurt by the reality he endured that he wanted “to tear up the trees”, destroy the natural world. Which is symbolic as he destroying the one thing he isn’t; natural. Throughout the text nature had always been described as calming, the creature intended on disturbing the tranquility. Making the one sense of solace in the world as dangerous as everywhere else. The phrase the creature used was that they enjoyed the ruin. Showing how he found comfort in the pain of others, and was pleased with how he could cause a ruin which would make everyone else within the society feel the same was as him. It gave him the idea that the only way to be able to relate to others would be to cause destruction.
Lockes theory of human understanding depicts how no one is born with any innate feelings or perspectives. Throughout Mary Shelley’s text ‘Frankenstein’ she used the ideas of Locke’s theory in relation to the creature. Immediately upon the creatures animation it was rejected by Victor and was forced to self educate. The creature initially had a juvenile and innocent perspective, similar to a toddler. When the creature had first left Victors lab, he was instantly judged and criticised by the public. But as the creature had been yet to develop any understanding of the world, he was incapable of hate. Thinking in terms of a toddler, if a person yells at a toddler it cries but doesn’t hate forever. But as the story progressed and the creature began to have more and more vituperative experiences, and started to develop more mental capacity. The creature soon grew to hate. This shows a direct link to Locke’s theory as the creature was completely ignorant and innocent during his first moments, but turned into a fiend solely due to only witnessing hate and trepidation throughout his existence. I believe that Shelley’s intentions for making references to Locke’s theory throughout the text was so that we would be able to grasp an understanding on how we treat people, can have a deep influence on their overall personality. If she was trying to teach us anything it would be to treat people with kindness and respect, no matter what they look like, where they come from or what they believe in, because even one word of hate can change a persons perspective of themselves and the world forever.