Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, An Academic Wiki

Nature versus Nurture

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The Monster sharing his development narrative to Victor Frankenstein. Digital Image. Frankenstein (Universal, 1931)

is nature or by his nurturing that the monster became malicious and cruel? Is nature or nurture the better method or the correct way of growing up (if there is one)?

The nature aspect of this ongoing debate among philosphers, psychologists, and scientists, refers to the hereditary and/or the biological genes of an individual. Jean Jacques Rousseau was one of the leading philosophers of this belief. By this theory, an individual already has the genetic markers at birth that will determine his/her personality traits and characteristics. This is also referred as biological determinism. (05 The Developing Child, pg. 1)

On the other side of the debate, is the nurture philosophy. A prominent leader in this theory was John Locke. He believed that every individual was born as a "blank slate"-meaning that knowledge and culture from that person's environment would determine his/her personality and behavior (05 The Developing Child, pg. 1). In this model, the society impacts the individual with language, culture, values, relationships, etc.

In contemporary studies many experts believe that nature and nurture are interconnected. S.J. Gould argues for integration of the two by stating, "The best guide to a proper integration lies in recognizing that nature supplies general ordering rules and predispositions...while nurture shapes specific manifestations over a wide range of potential outcomes." (The Monster's Human Nature). In the novel, Shelley forces the reader to grapple with the idea that the creature may not have been inherently evil, but that his experience with humans made him so.

Relevant Characters Edit

Victor Frankenstein and his monster's upbringings are juxtaposed as opposites. Frankenstein represents a nurtured boy with both his parent's being involved with his development. Victor explains to Walton, "No youth could have passed more happily than mine," expressing the bliss he had as a child (Shelley, pg. 21). However, the creature is abandoned by his creator and left to fend for himself in the woods during his period of infancy and mental development.

Mary Shelley is drawing a distinct line between these two main characters. The monster does not begin as evil, rather Shelley uses the monster's negative interactions with people to develop or nurture his sinister behaviors. Shelley has his character shift in polar extremes of benevolence and malice towards the other characters he encounters. We are also given a look into the monster's natural sensory reactions to the world around him that represent the nature theory. Then later we read his reflections and perceptions with words as he learns to speak and read. In addition, the material from the three novels that the monster learns from during his stay with the DeLacey family, leads the monster to the conclusion that humans are really cruel to one another.

The contrast between the two are even more evident in their actual personalities. For instance, Victor is self-confident, ambitious, and chooses his isolation; while the creature is strong, hopeful, and forced into his isolation. It appears that the creature's need for a meaningful relationship is much more prominent than that of Victor's. This is most likely because Frankenstein has never been forced to be alienated or completely isolated. Even in his own isolation, Frankenstein was still receiving letters from home. The question arises again of which aspects of development, nature or nurture, creates these major differences between these two main characters.

Major Scenes Edit

The Monster's Narrative - Living in the Woods (Nature) Edit

Frankenstein- woods

Representation of the monster in nature. Digital Image. Frankenstein (Universal, 1931)

At the heart of the novel in volume II is the monster's narrative to his creator, Frankenstein. At this point, the monster describes his development from a confused, ignorant infant into a knowledgeable individual (from his interactions with the DeLacey family) to being in need of a mate/equal.

The monster described his natural feelings and instincts in the woods after his abandonment, "I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rung in my ears, and on all sides various scents saluted me...," with emphasis on his senses, thus establishing his behavior was prompted, at that stage, by his primal, natural traits (Shelley, pg. 76). In addition, Shelley specifically has the monster living off a vegetarian based diet consisting of berries, nuts, and no meat. This detail signifies an inherent benign characteristic in the monster's personality, as he is not out killing animals for his sustenance.

The creature is driven by his most basic needs for survival. This natural approach to his development leaves him devoid of language or a way to express himself, and yet he derives pleasure from simple items that help him meet his needs. For instance, with the discovery of fire, the monster receives warmth, light, and better tasting food - all of which bring him joy.

Overall, this scene creates a lonely yet successful perspective of the nature theory of development within the monster. There is no evidence of malice, cruelty, or evil. Then, the creature sees humans in a hut. During this encounter he is being yelled at, ran away from, and physically hurt, but he still does not cause any harm nor have any ill wishes against his attackers as his primary concern was a curiosity for the new shelter and of the new people. Shelley paints a picture of simplicity with this natural method of the monster's development that would not have actually happened in society, however it adds to the complexity of the monster's character.

The Monster's Narrative - Learning from the DeLacey Family (Nurture) Edit

The monster begins to learn about culture, society, language, reading, and domesticity from watching the DeLacey family. Gaining knowledge and understanding falls under the nurture philosophy of his development. These new societal customs and values creates a new realm of experiences for the monster. From the books read he learns sentiments/emotions, and the cruelty of mankind (Shelley, Vol. II, Chap. V). He continues to display benevolent actions towards the family in helping with their wood pile and other tasks around their property explicitly showing his inherent kindness. However, his good deeds are not enough to compensate for his deformities and he is rejected by the very people that he had grown to love and to view as his adoptive family.

The DeLacey family in fact did not knowingly become parental figures for the monster. They were not nurturing him in an unconditional loving method with interactions and relationships. The creature was an outsider, an "other" who they had no place for nor any knowledge of his existence. The experience of total rejection, creates hurt, malice, and destruction from the monster. The monster explains his scorn, "...when I reflected that they had spurned and deserted me, anger returned, a rage of anger...," and his spiraling acts of evil begin with the burning of the house (Shelley, pg. 106). This first example of anger from the monster is significant in showing the readers that the negative reactions and interactions with people- this "nurturing"- is directly correlated with the evil that has developed in the monster.

Shelley is once more complicating the ideological perspective of nurture. The monster does not have a mother, just a male creator who abandons him upon his first day of life. The example that he has from the DeLacey family, does teach him love, domestic family roles, and the ever valuable mechanics of language. Unfortunately however, he is also taught the crudeness and baseness of mankind. Their behavior towards his disfigurement leads the monster to the realization that he must have another being of his own species to live with and to love.

Impact in/for Frankenstein Edit

By the time the monster demands a mate from Frankenstein, the culmination of the monster's personality and behavioral traits through both nature and nurture have been presented. Although inherently good, the creature has become hardened, evil, and desperate. S.J. Gould states that, "He becomes evil, of course, because humans reject him so violently and so unjustly," putting the blame on the society around the monster (The Monster's Human Nature). This would flow with an inexcusable inadequate nurturing method for the monster's emotional and mental development.

Why would Mary Shelley spend so much of the heart of this novel delving into philosophical politics of the development of a child based on nature or nurture? One reason, may be her own history of not having a mother figure to nurture her. In addition, she may have felt that she missed something by not having that motherly connection, just as the monster does not have a mother or loving parent at all in the novel. Furthermore, Shelley suggests that an inadequate education (nurturing) will cause deficiencies and bad behavioral traits. For example, the monster was left to learn on his own and through confused and enclosed lenses. If he had a "proper" education and stronger, loving role models, he may have lived a positive life without doing harm to anyone.

Even as Mary Shelley shows the monster as having examples of nature and nurture in his development, Gould argues that, "...Hollywood opted for nature alone to explain the monster's evil deeds...," (The Monster's Human Nature). In other words, the adaptations are losing some of the significant points that Shelley is trying to make regarding balanced integration of both nature and nurture for successful development of mankind (The Monster's Human Nature). In order for the films to be more profitable, Hollywood may continue to make more adaptations without the nurturing philosophies Shelley is critiqueing.

Every adaptation is different and viewing the flicks as their own work allows for the deviations from the text to be successful in their own forms. By filmmakers, play writers, authors, etc. making adaptations based on their own interpretations of Frankenstein, the story lives on in mainstream culture from generation to generation. Some of these adaptations add unique elements that even stick such as the addition of the lab assistant, therefore more adaptations are a good form of publicity.

References/Suggestions for Further Reading Edit

Edition:, Discovering Psychology: Updated. "05 The Developing Child." Discovering Psychology: Updated Edition: 05 The Developing Child (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. <>.

Englbrecht, Claudia. "Nature v. Nurture." Seminars on Science | American Museum of Natural History. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. <>.

Gould, Stephen Jay. "The Monster's Human Nature." Natural History 103.7 (1994): 14. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.

By: Megan Rozzana

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