The Influence of Tabula Rasa in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
Tabula Rasa (Blank State) is an empirical philosophical notion that John Locke used is a crucial factor in analyzing and understanding Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Locke is a philosopher who had an idea known as Tabula Rasa, which literally means the blank state and Locke implies that individuals are not conceived with innate ideas. Infants must learn from an instructor who is mostly the parents of the infant so that he or she will fill that blank state with knowledge. Locke stresses on the fact that experience is everything in terms of education. Locke’s concept of Tabula rasa affected the development of Shelley’s character, Frankenstein’s creature. It is understood that she was under the influence of John Locke’s theory as she was reading Locke’s book Essay Concerning Human Understanding while Shelley was writing Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.
As John Locke states in his book An Essay Concerning Human Understanding that “Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters.” (78). This notion is applied in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and it influenced the cognitive development of the creature in the novel. This idea is supported by the writing of Mary Shelley and it is understood in the novel from the words of the creature such as, “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.” (207). This statement is made by the creature when he was trying to explain his murderous actions. It is understood from this line that Mary Shelley’s depiction of the creature had a blank state when he was first created by Victor Frankenstein, but he became that way because he was rejected by his creator and society. Another example of how did Tabula Rasa influenced this literary work is that, “It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original æra of my being: all the events of that period appear confused and indistinct. A strange multiplicity of senses seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses.” (213). This line from the novel reflects that what the creature thought when he was created and how blank, empty state he was in.
Another influential subject that Tabula Rasa influenced Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus and Frankenstein’s creature is that the idea in Locke’s Tabula Rasa that the infant should be educated by her or his parents and when Victor Frankenstein created the Creature he abandoned him, and this shaped the actions of the Creature. It can be explained from these lines “But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; or if they had, all my past life was now a blot, a blind vacancy in which I distinguished nothing. From my earliest remembrance I had been as I then was in height and proportion. I had never yet seen a being resembling me or who claimed any intercourse with me.” (142). From these lines Shelley wanted to explain that the Creature was pure from the beginning of his life, but the absence of a family, friends or at least a father figure shaped him the way he is now because there was no one to teach or instruct him about life and morals so that the Creature had to dive into the world without no knowledge or no instructions from his creator Victor Frankenstein. As Tabula Rasa suggests that if Victor would not have been abandoned the Creature and instruct him the Creature would have been a completely different character, so Mary Shelley used this notion to stress the fact that the importance of a parental guide.
Other subject to analyze the Tabula Rasa effect on Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is society and environment because these concepts are a part of John Locke’s Tabula Rasa notion. When we consider the Creature as an infant who have no idea about life and morals because there was no parental figure that he should reflect the societal and environmental situation of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus setting, and it was not an ideal society or an environment that the Creature lives in and learn about life and morals. “I admired virtue and good feelings and loved the gentle manners and amiable qualities of my cottagers, but I was shut out from intercourse with them, except through means which I obtained by stealth, when I was unseen and unknown, and which rather increased than satisfied the desire I had of becoming one among my fellows.” (142). This line from the book shows that the Creature was ready to believe the goodness of people and society and perform good deeds, he was declined and detested by the members of the society which made him hide and disguise from people in society, but this made the situation worse and slowly turned him into an evil human being that he does not really want to be. As Tabula rasa implies people are not driven to develop based on the internal or biological force; they learn and develop through interacting with the environment. Contacting with situations in the environment creates a change in the person. The non-existent relationship with the environment and society shaped the Creature and it is understood that the influence of environment and society about Tabula Rasa influenced the way Mary Shelley wrote and depicted the setting of the book.
To conclude, the idea of Tabula Rasa had a big impact on literary work Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus because the way Mary Shelley wrote this novel. In the novel, it is clearly seen that the Creature is like an infant with no opinions or knowledge about the world he came in. He was all alone and there was no one that could teach him what to do or how to do even his creator Victor Frankenstein ran away from him. He could have been a completely different person and character if his creator or even the society had not turned their backs on him, but he was detested so this made him who he is and how he reacted the situations he was in. He was basically a baby in a big body that wanted sympathy, love, compassion and human interaction and a parental or societal guidance which maybe would have made him to be a better person and a part of society. Without John Locke’s Tabula Rasa this novel could have been completely different and maybe it would not gain the attraction it had on the literary world as a classic novel it is now.
John Locke, The Works, vol. 1 An Essay concerning Human Understanding Part 1. Online Library of Liberty, 2011. eBook Collection. http://lf-oll.s3.amazonaws.com/titles/761/Locke_0128-01_EBk_v6.0.pdf. Accessed 25 Dec. 2017
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