January 19, 2009
“Nothing is so Gentle as Man in his Primitive State”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a very influential Enlightenment thinker during the 18th century in Europe. In 1754, he published the “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” in which he described how the state of natural man is one living in harmony with nature. Rousseau was a Romantic intellectual and wrote, “nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state” (50). He believed that humans were born good and society corrupted them with science, language, and government. Rousseau said that “consuming ambition, less out of real need than in order to put himself above others, inspires in all men a wicked tendency to harm one another, a secret jealousy all the more dangerous” (54). In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Monster, or the “Wretch,” begins as a confused and innocent soul entering the world, and is rudely awakened to the harshness of society around him. The Wretch gains knowledge from the outside world after his creator, Victor, abandons him, and the monster becomes acutely aware of his tragic existence when humanity shuns him. This abandonment and emotional torture from society ultimately turns the harmless Wretch into a violent creature.
From the moment Victor laid eyes on his creation, he was overcome with “breathless horror and disgust” (Shelley 43). When the Wretch wanted human contact, Victor cursed, “relieve me from the sight of your detested form” (88). The Wretch was neglected and criticized from the beginning of his life without any explanation as to why people fled from him. The Wretch came to the conclusion to stay away from humans and escaped to the forest. He found a cottage with a few people living inside whom he liked to spy on and steal food from. After some time the Wretch realized that the humans were saddened by the shortage of food and feeling guilty, he set off to gather firewood for them (100). “I had been...