Prompt: The significance of Idealism and Truth in an Individual’s Life
It is widely considered human nature to dream of great achievement for oneself. Often, these dreams remain as ideals for the aforementioned individual, as the truths that society places on the individual deny the fulfilment of the aspirations of the individual. Individuals who become obsessed with the acquisition of their ideals choose to ignore truth in order to chase their aspirations. This blind pursuit of idealism is portrayed in Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein;Or, the Modern Prometheus, through the fall of Victor Frankenstein’s idealistic pursuits to the reality of science and nature. Victor’s idealism lies in the mastery of life and death, an obsession which drives Victor to abandon truth in his loving identity and pursue his ideal; however, his cold, crazed pursuit results in him being oblivious to his loss of identity and truth, ultimately resulting in a final fall into insanity by the hands of his own creation. Through Victor’s blind pursuit of his ideals and his battle with truth and reality, Mary Shelley presents the idea that an individual’s ideals exist to provide the individual with purpose, while truth is meant to deny the acquisition of those ideals, thereby maintaining purpose; when an individual disregards reality in order to achieve their ideals, they are gradually stripped of their identity due to the absence of truth.
Victor’s ideals lie in his progress in the study of life and death, and so his purpose becomes tied to that study; the inability of humans to control life and death is what maintains that purpose, and acts as truth. There was always an impossibility in Victor’s acquisition of his ideals, as such would go against the nature of life and death. Victor’s refusal to acknowledge this impossibility is what blinded him to reality, and with his advancements in science, Victor lost pieces of his humanity. Failure to regard societal truths often leads to detachment from society. Alienation from society results in a loss of one’s self, which for Victor would be his self-alienation from his family. Victor’s loss of touch with those around him is shown in his description of his time at the University of Ingolstadt, “Two years passed by in this manner, during which point I paid no visit to Geneva, but I was engaged, heart and soul in the pursuit of some discoveries which I hoped to make.” (Shelley 29). For an individual, their family is often a defining portion of their identity, and Victor’s loss of contact with his family led to a crumbling of a piece of his identity. An individual’s purpose clouds their identity when that purpose is allowed to roam free without the restraint of reality: Victor allowed his desire for scientific discovery to overtake his identity as a son, cousin, and friend. The phrase “heart and soul” is often used to describe the essence of an individual, and the usage of such in this quote serves to demonstrate how idealism -when not kept in check by truth- can consume the mind and body of an individual. The identity of a person is directly related to their purpose: an individual’s identity directs the individual towards their purpose. The lack of restraint on idealism, however, is what allows an individual’s purpose to take precedence over their identity. Victor, in his dedication to his goals, disregarded the common truth of the inability of humans to control life and death; that same dedication resulted in Victor’s detachment from society, and from his identity. Truth must always be preserved, as truth is what anchors an individual to their purpose, preventing the loss of that purpose by denying the acquisition of idealism. Victor did not adhere to reality, and so in his acquisition of his idealism, Victor loses his very purpose, thereby causing a complete loss of self
Upon succeeding in his venture to animate his creature, Victor finds his creature to be the inverse of his highest hopes; Victor’s identity has shifted so dramatically that when he accomplishes his goal of creating life, he is gravely disappointed. Retreating from his laboratory to distance himself from his creation, Victor comes across his childhood best friend, Henry Clerval. Henry Clerval symbolizes a sort of hope for Victor’s return to his past self, before the loss of his ideals and purpose; this symbolism demonstrates the human ability to regain what is lost in oneself with the loving assistance of those around them, despite Victor being out of touch with reality. Under Clerval’s care, Victor is able to undergo a renewal of purpose, as Victor is able to recognize his past self in Clerval’s treatment of him. However, Victor will continue to be plagued by his loss of purpose on a subconscious level, for as long as he is unwilling to accept responsibility for his creation. When their idealism falls, an individual’s purpose may only be recovered if the individual is able to see the reality of their circumstances that led to the fall of their idealism. For Victor, his reality comes back to haunt him when his “fatal passion”, The Monster, murders William Frankenstein (Victor’s younger brother), and proves to be intelligent enough to frame Justine Moritz, the Frankenstein home caretaker, as the murderer. Victor’s subconscious thoughts plague him with blame and guilt; when an individual ignores reality, their subconscious thoughts are often their only source of truth. This speaks to the subconscious state of Victor, where he acknowledges his creation as his own responsibility; it is in this place where the residue of Victor’s ideals reside, as the subconscious mind of Victor is the only place where truth is present in Victor. Truth is essential to the survival of the ideals of humans, as they allow for their preservation; Victor is unable to recognize his gradual loss of his identity, shown by his refusal to admit to the existence of his creation to save the life of Justine, as a result of his lack of truth, along with an absence of his amiable identity with which those around him recognize him for. Such occurrences illustrate how an individual’s lack of idealism as a result of disregarding truth may deteriorate their sense of identity, yet leave them unable to halt the deterioration; they are helpless to watch as events unfold, similar to how Victor is helpless to allow the execution of Justine, as stopping such an event would require the existence of truth and honesty within Victor, virtues which Victor is lacking. As such, Victor is now trapped, watching as his identity fades from himself due to his fallen ideals as a result of his indulgence in idealism, similar to individuals who are forced to watch their inevitable downfall after the loss of their own ideals to truth; it can be inferred that humans have a tendency to accept the inevitability of loss after their own major loss of idealism, and their neglectful attitude toward truth. It is this human trait that leads Victor to be driven into despair by his own creation, once his creation is able to shred the of Victor’s final hope for purpose: his marriage with Elizabeth.
Once an individual has lost their idealism which they once craved to a lacking of truth to society, they suffer a loss of purpose, one that may only be healed by the invention of a newer ideal to replace the lost – a new aspiration that one may pursue, so as to forget their own earlier failures. Victor would find his saviour in the form of his idealistic life with Elizabeth, the one whom he had devoted his heart towards, as well as the one who, “till death, she [Elizabeth] was to be mine [Victor’s] only” (Shelley 18). This ideal is threatened by The Monster, who had vowed with Victor to be with him on his wedding night, a vow that was viewed as a direct threat by Victor; still, however, Victor found himself incapable of telling the truth to Elizabeth. His reason for doing so – and uncharacteristically so, as his earlier version of himself would have been much more cautious– was because Victor’s only fear of The Monster’s wrath was toward himself; he did not ever stop to think of Elizabeth. In spite of thinking of his quixotic life with Elizabeth, Victor’s idealism was drowned in his own selfishness. This inability to escape his own self-preservation dominated thoughts speak to the deplorable selfish characteristic of individuals who relentlessly pursue ideals that have been lost to them, as by regaining their ideals, they are able to regain a sense of purpose and ground their identity. Individuals who tread such paths are often led to – ironically – a loss of the very idealism their minds are absorbed in. Such is due to their refusal to acknowledge their reality, as reality is what would allow for the rebirth of their ideals. This irony emphasizes the importance in maintaining one’s ideals, and that maintenance is supported by the existence of truth; idealism provides purpose, and as such, an unnatural fulfilment of that purpose would only lead to a lack of purpose, for there would be no purpose for the individual after they achieve their perceived purpose. Victor is not entirely honest with Elizabeth, and his love for Elizabeth is more akin to his possessive nature than it is to a pact between lovers. This lack of true love symbolizes a lack of truth in the relationship of Victor and Elizabeth, and this lack of truth is able to -once again- cause a collapse of idealism when The Monster, true to his word, murders Elizabeth on the night of her wedding with Victor. Individuals who have lost purpose through a loss of idealism, are able to come to an understanding of truth, and by extension, are able to understand the reason for their downfall; yet despite this understanding, the individual who has lost their sense of purpose have also inadvertently lost their sense of identity. With a loss of identity, the individual is left wildly clinging to any sort of purpose they may pursue, in an effort to preserve the remnants of their identity; for Victor Frankenstein, this purpose was the destruction of his own creation. Victor relentlessly pursued The Monster, taking on a fierce disposition, enduring harsh climates and rough terrain, yet never faltering in his passion for pursuing The Monster. The acceptance of responsibility, and by extension, acceptance of reality, will allow an individual to regain their lost purpose; however, those who have suffered a complete loss of identity will only ever ferociously pursue their sole purpose with an unmatched intensity.
The purpose of an individual is directly intertwined with their idealistic beliefs, which are kept in check by the existence of truth in the individual’s life. For Victor, his idealism lay in his ventures to master the philosophy of life and death, yet truth bound such a philosophy to only ever be in control of an omnipotent power. Victor’s lack of truth made him oblivious to the hideousness of his creation, and so his ideals crumbled. The lack of ideals would lead to a lack of purpose in Victor, which resulted in Victor’s deteriorating identity; his only chance at redemption, his marriage to Elizabeth, was foiled by his very creation due to Victor being oblivious to the threats of The Monster. With his identity all but vanquished, Victor finds a simplistic purpose in the execution of The Monster, thereby finally accepting reality. People must always be able to find a balance between idealism and truth, as both depend upon one another in their coexistence. Often, dreamers indulge in idealism, for that is easiest. However, doing so only results in the ultimate loss of oneself, as truth holds great importance in the life. Truth ties individuals to reality. In absence of that truth, the individual’s dream becomes an ideal doomed to bring failure: hollow idealism.