There is a dark side to ambition. There are a lot of self-help books that deal with “Go out there, grit and grind. Be determined to work hard at what you want to achieve” etc. But I really doubt that they touch upon the dark aspects of what it means or what you could lose when you develop a total obsession with ambition. People tend to point the finger at successes, mere anecdotes, but they never really point a finger to those who failed or succeeded but paid quite the price for the fulfillment of their ambition.
Victor Frankenstein is one such man. The cursed, as he calls himself, the protagonist of this novella wants to be a judge over life and the living. Not in a very broad sense, but he wanted to recreate life from various parts, a physically superior life. He succeeded, and this great success, this delightful fulfillment of his ambition will be his ruin and the ruin of his family. The recreated life he fashioned out of parts of dead people and animals will curse him for creating him, rebel, and kill people he holds dear. In a roundabout, metaphorical way, that is the price of total commitment to a goal. You will start to neglect the ones you love, and eventually lose them. A man is not just one dimension. But there are people who see themselves in that light, mostly tied to their profession; if they are employed; and to some other group if they are not working. If you totally commit just to one thing, those close to you will suffer, because they need you. As time passes we become more integral to the lives of those we are closes to. Our absence will cause rifts and pain in their being that needs soothing. If that soothing comes in the form of another person you are set to lose your nearest, dearest people. Once that happens, there is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. You can try, as Victor did to make things right after tragedy struck, but you will only bright forth more pain, suffering, even tragedy.
But there is another level, way to interpret this book. The mother of Mary Shelley was Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first eminent feminists in Great Britain. Even if I’m not fully aware of the ways in which she has influenced her daughter, it is hard not to look at Frankenstein’s monster and not see it as a reaction most people in those days had of women’s ambition. To a lot of people back then, and sadly in some parts of the world now, a woman has a very strict, rigid life. She is expected to fulfill certain duties. Or in other words, she is to live a lot of lives, but not her own. She is to be a mother, a wife, a cook, a cleaner, a lover, etc. All without pay. Male products of such a strict patriarchal system loved that and shunned female ambition. Both Mary’s most certainly felt like monstrosities. I bet there were numerous times when they would talk about their ambitions in a company when they will get a disgusted look, maybe even some bad remark how the world will come to its end since women dismiss being women. That’s my second take on this book, that the monster is a metaphor for how a large part of the people in those times saw female ambition, the need for more than a family, four walls, and chores. They saw it as an unsightly monstrosity that could bring forth the end of the world as they knew it.
The bizarre question this book made me ponder is” Did J. Robert Oppenheimer read this book after the Second World War?” I think he might have felt some very close to Victor Frankenstein. He might even consider him the closes thing to the avatar of his guilt or pain.
Reading this book was also depressing. Not because of the plot or characters, but when you read it as an aspiring writer. This book was written by a 20-year-old because she was bored during her vacation. Boredom caused a 20-year-old to write a multidimensional masterpiece with beautiful flowing language. Maybe that is one thing that a lot of creative people need these days, boredom. In this wired, chained with FOMO world, boredom is shunned as an unbearable evil. Judging by this book, as well as things Bertrand Russell said in his autobiography, we all need a bit more boredom in our lives.
I read the Project Gutenberg version which can be read for free here.