Our author, Mary Shelley, and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft—best known for publishing one of the first feminist treatises, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman—lived during a period of incredible political transformation and thought, as some of Europe’s most powerful monarchies gave way to more democratic forms of government. While revolutionaries and soldiers clashed on the hills of Massachusetts, and in the streets of Paris, the ideologies of philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke clashed on paper, as each attempted to describe an ideal form of government and ultimately the fundamental nature of mankind. For Hobbes, humans are born selfish and their capacity for evil is innate, whereas Locke and Wollstonecraft believed the evils of humankind were the result of socialization.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein provides an opportunity to examine these conflicting claims about human nature, as Dr. Frankenstein’s creation was raised by society; and through this novel, Shelly argues that evil and the desire for revenge are learned, not innate traits. This is exemplified when Dr. Frankenstein and his creation argue in the Swiss Alps, and the creature exclaims, “I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind” (Shelley p.242). The creature goes on to explain how his kind gestures were repaid with beatings and gunshot wounds by the people he tried to serve. Thus, while Shelley does not mention government in any way, her thoughts on human nature seem to argue for a more democratic society in which all humans, and even Dr. Frankenstein’s creation have basic rights and are treated equally.