31st May 2018

Jean-Jacque Rousseau

Who are they?
Jean-Jacque Rousseau was a genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of the 18Th century, mainly active in France. His political philosophy influenced the enlightenment across Europe, as well as aspects of the french revolution and the overall development of modern political and educational thought.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Jacques_Rousseau

(Not in my words) http://www.u.arizona.edu/~atinkham/Rousseau.html

jean-jacques rousseau influence on frankenstein

According to Rousseau, humans are not quite blank slates but come into the world with two key instincts: self-preservation, and compassion. There fore we “naturally” have the ability to be good and would be if civilisation was not so corrupting.

Rousseau’s Emile (1762) is one of the important books behind Frankenstein; it’s a novel in which a tutor educates a young orphan, guiding him through a sort of “ideal” education according to “Nature.” The ideal adult (and citizen of the State) thus emerges from a close association with a mentor.

In this view, education and the role of the educator is monumentally important; that innate tendency toward compassion needs to be nourished and developed. Thus it is important to think about what Frankenstein’s creature learns and from whom he learns it. Think about what’s being written on his slate: he goes from a “noble savage” to a malevolent monster only as a result of what is impressed upon him by human society. He is rejected and abandoned by his creator and thus has no educator to guide his development and shape his attitudes toward himself and others

Conversely, Frankenstein’s educators are misguided scientists who are indirectly responsible for his distorted perspective. In other words, not only is a guided education necessary, but it has to be the right kind of education, one that is tempered with benevolence, humility, and self-scrutiny.

Ironically, as Shelley elsewhere points out, Rousseau abandoned five of his children to a public welfare facility; he could philosophize beautifully about ethics, but he failed to apply those very principles to himself. In Frankenstein, then, one theme is that parents ought to devote themselves to their children and to their children’s education. Her allusion to Rousseau is also an example of the ways she simultaneously invokes and critiques the other texts and attitudes that inform her novel (e.g., Paradise Lost, the Romantic [male] vision of the poet à la Percy Shelley, etc.)

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