John Locke

In this essay, I will explain the connections with Mary Shelly’s gothic novel Frankenstein, John Locke’s theory “Concerning human understanding”. The novel Frankenstein seems to incorporate the idea of Locke’s theory as you see in the novel when we as the audience come in contact with Frankenstein’s monster for the first time.

Born on the 29th of August, 1632 John Locke was an English philosopher and physician, known widely as one of the great minds of the Enlightenment thinkers. Locke attended Westminster School in London and then went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he studied medicine, which played a major part in his understanding of his Tabula Rasa theory. Locke was also the one who distinguished between simple and complex knowledge. Locke was one of the most well-known philosophers and political theorists of the 17th and 18th centuries. Locke also wrote many books on a range of different topics. Locke is considered the ‘father of liberalism’, which is established on the principle of the liberty and equality, which then lead him to be a founder of the U.S Declaration of Independence and Constitution of human rights.

The theory that we are focusing on, and that is Tabula Rasa or ‘blank slate’ theory. The Tabula Rasa theory is that the when a child is born their mind is ‘white paper, void of all characters’, and we learn by experiences Locke says in one his essays “No man’s theory goes beyond his experience”. Locke believed that every human was born with their mind completely blank, which went against all traditional philosophy, which was that at the very least that when we were born we were born with some rational thinking and ‘human nature’ which Locke did not believe in. Locke believed that all men were born equal. This was thought of when Locke meet Anothny Ashley Cooper, who advanced Locke’s career, he followed him to Holland where he first wrote “Concerning human understanding” – his first novel – and then later returned to England where he wrote more books.

In Mary Shelly’s gothic novel Frankenstein Victor Frankenstein (the protagonist), creates a monster from numerous body parts, from the dead. After Frankenstein created the monster he left the monster to fend for himself. Not knowing any language or had no capabilities of any sort, the monster spied on a family living in the woods where he learned everything he needed to know, how to survive, how to read and write. He soon after turned to kill all of Frankenstein’s family, payback for leaving him alone.

At the beginning of the novel, the monster narrates and he says: “I started up and beheld a radiant form among the trees”. Here the monster lacks initial awareness of the world, just as a child would, this is showing how the monster is learning by experience, Like Locke’s theory. We also see throughout the book that just like a child the monster craves knowledge: “…was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it… I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned the ideas appropriated to each of various sounds and was able to pronounce them”. 

“I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rang in my ears, and on all sides, various scents saluted me”. This said by the monster shows us that, the monster had no prior knowledge of the world, this is another place where we see Locke’s theory come through the story.

This quotes from the story said by the monster: “I began to distinguish my sensations from each other. I gradually saw plainly the clear stream that supplied me with drink, and the trees that shaded me with their foliage.” shows us that the monster learned by experience, there showing us Lock’s theory that all children are born with a blank slate for a mind, and that we learn and comprehend the world by experience.

All together in the novel, we can clearly see Locke’s theory make appearances throughout the book, the monster being created with no comprehension of the world no previous knowledge of the outside world, and that the monster leaning by experience; but if we are meant to say that the monster learnt from experience are when then meant to say if Frankenstein only looked after the monster he might not have become a monster. Nurture over nature.

In conclusion, I think that Mary Shelly was inspired by Locke with Tabula Rasa, that she decided to incorporate it into her gothic novel. I think that the novel was a bit of realism with the growing of a child, sure it had people coming back from the dead and killing all of his creators family, but, I think it showed realism when it came to the monster developing his personality, the novel showed the readers that no matter where you are born or how you look, we are all made the same we all have a blank slate for a mind when we are first born. The novel showed us that “No man’s theory goes beyond his experience” which was Locke’s theory.

One Comment

  1. Hi Ayla,

    During our final two periods, I would like you to consider the following things:

    -Take time to read your work out loud to yourself. If you stumble on a phrase or sentence, it is likely you have a mechanical error (spelling, punctuation, grammar etc.) in it. Look to re-word these sentences. There are several mechanical lapses in your work which make your ideas difficult to understand without re-reading the sentence.

    – When you begin to discuss something from the text, ensure you have evidence to support your observation.

    – Ensure that the evidence you have selected from the novel is explained in a way that develops how the point you are presenting. Remember, the statement asks for you to comment on how the philosophers of the 18th century may have impacted on Mary Shelley’s intentions in Frankenstein. All the analysis you provide about the text should relate back to this statement.

    Mrs. P


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