Shall each man find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone?
Discuss the idea(s) developed by the text creator in your chosen text about the significance of idealism and truth in an individual’s life. (June 2009)
It is easy for an individual to become immersed in his own idealism. While there is nothing wrong with being ambitious when it comes to attaining a goal, sometimes becoming too preoccupied with an ideal can be futile. Sometimes the truth of an individual’s reality prevents him from meeting his own ideals. Ideals pertain to what an individual desires — a wish to acquire what is missing in his current reality. However, the fact that these ideals are absent from an individual’s life in the first place suggest that perhaps these ideals are unrealistic and therefore lack truth. This is often proven when an individual has already tried to integrate his ideals into his reality, only to fail in the midst of doing so. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley considers the discrepancies between idealism and truth and how these contradictions can negatively impact an individual. In her novel, Shelly shows how the contrast between an individual’s own ideals and the truth of his reality can prove these ideals to be unattainable; this can, in turn, embitter even the purest individuals, which can then lead to the destruction of his morals. This idea is explored through the monster’s wish to obtain companionship and love and how this is not possible because he lives in a society where he is continuously shunned by others due to his appearance. Thus, this ideal proves to be incompatible with the reality in which he lives. When the monster realizes his ideal is impractical, the truth of his reality enrages him and causes him to give into malice and revenge, despite the purity he possesses when he is first created.
Initially, an individual may not be aware of the futility of his aspirations, often because he has immersed himself in a false hope. When an ideal is first conceived in the mind of an individual, it is possible for him to become so intoxicated by his own desires that he is not able to balance his passion with his reason. In fact, it is the lack of this reason that prevents him from seeing the truth that his ideals may not have a place in his reality. Similarly, the monster remains optimistic even after being abandoned by his master, thinking it is still possible for him to procure human companionship. This is why he fails to realize he lives in a society in which he is detested by mankind. The monster’s inability to see that his ideals are not congruent with the truth of his reality is apparent when he states, “Sometimes I allowed my thoughts, unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared fancy lovable and amiable creatures sympathizing with my feelings and cheering my gloom.”(93) At this point, the monster is blind to the discrepancies existing between his ideals and the undeniable truth that those ideals cannot be obtained. Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear the one thing the monster wants is for someone to sympathize with him and love him unconditionally, something not even his creator was willing to do. The monster lives in a society where, because of his gruesome appearance, he is assumed to be violent and is therefore shunned. From this, it can be concluded that, to even dream of attaining human companionship, is foolish on the monster’s part. Likewise, when an individual indulges in his own idealism, this indulgence can then cause him to become ignorant to the harsh truth of his reality — one where his ideals cannot exist. In the monster’s case, he only realizes the frivolity of his aspirations after multiple instances of rejection. The pain of this discovery then pushes the monster to lash out in response to the heartbreak he feels when he is deprived of his ideal. These actions contrast the kind-natured spirit he was born with. Hence, this proves the rejection of an ideal can push even the purest individual to act disgracefully in response to the cruelty he has faced in his own life.
It is likely an individual will become enraged when he realizes his ideals are not compatible with his reality — that they cannot become a truth. When this occurs, the passion the individual once dedicated to his own ideals may manifest itself in new ways; when the individual can no longer invest his energy into his idealism, he may then choose to find a new outlet through which he can express his anger. An individual, in turn, may let his rage corrupt him, causing him to give into his own darkness. Thus, discovering such truths can cause an individual who once possessed an innate goodness to act upon hatred, which can force him to act immorally. This is why the monster, for instance, sets fire to De Lacey’s cottage. This contradicts the fact that the monster himself is born innocent. However, the exposure to the truth of his reality corrupts him, forcing him to commit the crimes he does not only to get back at those who have hurt him but to also express his distaste for all of humanity and its inability to accept him. Upon first coming across the family, the monster cannot help but grow to love and admire them. As his admirations gradually flourish, the monster creates for himself an ideal, one where he plans to win the acceptance and affection of the family by sharing his story with them. He fantasizes about this ideal, explaining “I formed in my imagination a thousand pictures of presenting myself to him, and their reception of me…by my gentle manner and conciliating words, I should first win their favour and afterwards their love.”(81) This ideal, however, is simply an illusion opposed to a truth, for when he finally reveals himself to the family, they turn out to be horrified by his existence. The truth of the monster’s reality not only ruins the monster’s ideal image of the family but his ideal for humans in general because he finally realizes the true extent of mankind’s cruelty, something he had originally been oblivious to. Enraged by this truth, the monster decides to deprive the family of happiness the same way he was deprived of happiness. This reinforces the fact that the failure of one’s ideals can be demoralizing; the optimism once associated an individual’s idealism is replaced with the resentment that is associated with the inability to attain a dream. This resentment is often an incitement for vengeful behaviour, and it is not subjective to those who already have an inclination for evil. It can, on the contrary, corrupt someone who has a tendency for goodness, thus weakening his morals. The destruction of one’s character also proves the undeniable power idealism can hold over an individual. It can either bring about the success of an individual if his ideal is able to be realized or, like in the monster’s case, his own downfall if those ideals cannot align with the truth of his reality.
While Ideals have the power to soothe an individual’s miseries by providing him with hope, they can also be the cause of that individual’s misery when his hope proves to be false. This occurs when an individual finally acknowledges there is a contrast between his ideal reality and the truth of the reality in which he lives. This truth is capable of hardening an individual, which can then lead to his own moral deterioration; it may evoke feelings of betrayal within an individual, and he may begin to view the world as an unjust place. In response to these feelings, an individual may retaliate against the people that treated him unfairly in the first place. To demonstrate this, one may consider Frankenstein’s refusal to create “a female for me [the monster] with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being.”(104) Ideally, the monster would have been able to roam the earth with a companion of the same species as he. The monster even says that the fulfilment of this ideal would content him because he would finally have someone to relieve his pangs of loneliness. Ultimately, however, Frankenstein destroys the cadaver that would have been the monster’s companion. Since he does this right in front of the monster, the monster’s ideal is literally destroyed before his eyes and is replaced with the brutal realization that he will never be loved by anyone. This ideal is the last hope the monster had at eliminating loneliness from his life, so when Frankenstein destroys it, the monster finally breaks and murders Henry and Elizabeth in retaliation. Moreover, it took the monster multiple instances of rejection to finally understand his ideal of obtaining friendship was nothing more than an instance of his own self-deception, opposed to a realistic truth. This reinforces the power idealism has over an individual. Further, when one becomes too engrossed in his own ideals, he may become oblivious to the fact that those ideals cannot exist within the truth of his reality. However, when he finally does realize this, the revelation can be agonizing.
The monster’s ideals initially inspire hope within him, however, the realization that his idealism contrast his reality is a catalyst for the monster’s moral downfall. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, heartbroken over the loss of his dreams, the monster resorts to violence and revenge. This in itself reflects the destruction of his character, considering the monster is born with an inclination for goodness. The truth of his physical reality, however, exposes him to injustices that harden him; he is never granted the happiness he desires because he lives in a society that views him as a beast unworthy of love and acceptance. Sometimes, as in the monster’s case, an individual’s passion for his ideals can prevent him from fully grasping the truth of his reality — perhaps one where these ideals can never be realized. This makes the impact of finally acknowledging the truth greater than it would be had the individual not been ignorant to his circumstances. Learning the truth can, in turn, be so devastating that it pushes an individual to act upon his hatred, which can then cause him to compromise his own morals.