Victor Frankenstein learns all he can about the field of science, both before, during, and after his work at the university. Prior
to his enrollment at the university, Victor focuses on the ancient art of alchemy, which had been discredited by the time of
Shelley's writing. Alchemy was an early form of chemistry, with philosophic and magical associations, studied in the Middle
Ages. Its chief aims were to change base metals into gold and to discover the elixir of perpetual youth. At the university,
Victor gains new knowledge with the most modern science as a background. However, it is Victor's combination of old and
new science that leads him down a path to self-destruction. This is one of Shelley's themes: "How can we harness the
knowledge that we have so that it is not self destructive and for the benefit of all mankind?" The answer is not an easy one,
and Shelley is not clear on her feelings about the use or abuse of technology. The reanimation of man from the dead is a
useful thing to revive people who have died too soon, but what responsibility must we exercise once we bring people back
from the dead? This is a morally perplexing question. Thus, we are stuck in a dilemma: "How far can we go in raising the
dead without destroying the living?" Shelley seems to conclude that man cannot handle becoming both like God and a creator
without much difficulty.
Since the Industrial Revolution had pervaded all part of European and British society by the time of her writing, Shelley
questions how far the current wave of advances should push the individual in terms of personal and spiritual growth. She
conveys the impression that perhaps the technological advances made to date rob the soul of growth when man becomes too
dependant on technology. Personal freedom is lost when man is made a slave to machines, instead of machines being
dominated by man. Thus, Victor becomes a lost soul when he tries his ghastly experiments on the dead and loses his moral
compass when he becomes obsessed with animating the dead. Victor's overindulgence in science takes away his humanity,
and he is left with the consequences of these actions without having reasoned out the reality that his experiments may not
have the desired effects.
Jonathan Swift's view of science and scientists is explicitly portrayed in his novel,
. Swift, in satirizing
science, asserts that much of their studies are essentially useless for mankind. To him, the goal of science should be to benefit
man; the speculative sciences and many of the so-called utilitarian projects are a waste of time and energy. In Part III of
, Swift describes many projects undertaken by the scientists at the Academy of Lagado; many of these
projects were "modelled on actual research carried out by members of the Royal Society" (Turner xx). Swift also endeavors
to show how not using science for utilitarian purposes is, not only useless, but also detrimental to mankind.
The placing of the scientists (and intellectuals in general) on a floating island symbolizes their detachment from mankind.