Nature vs Nurture in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein

While Mary Shelly believes in Nurture more than nature, the debate on nature vs Nurture has been going for ages now. Nature primarily means predetermined characteristics and traits that one is born with.  Nurture means the traits and characteristics that are acquired over time and are influenced by a person’s surroundings (Gould 2015).  Shelly takes a keen interest in trying to prove whether one is born naturally evil, or if they become evil with time and exposure to the different environments they grow in the cause of their lives. She uses the creature and Frankenstein to prove this because the two are of different natures. Even if their genotype might be the same, the creature is good at first and eventually becomes evil, while Frankenstein becomes so for lack of good nurturing.

 Additionally, the creature does not start wicked; instead, Shelley uses the creature’s unfavorable contacts with society to help him acquire his nefarious tendencies. Shelley’s character shifts between compassion and malice in his interactions with the other characters. The creature’s natural sensory reactions to his surroundings, which illustrate the nature hypothesis, are also shown. Later, as he learns to speak and read, we read his observations and views in words. Furthermore, the monster’s knowledge gained from the three novels he reads during his time with the DeLacey family leads him to believe that people are indeed nasty to one another.

Frankenstein being born into a wealthy family, there are certain traits that he is born with that are unique to him alone. Naturally, a person born into a wealthy family has an already set path, which is expected to lead to success, whether he likes it or not or whether he works for it or not. Frankenstein is also born with inborn curiosity and his creations depict a great sense of his desire for power. This is demonstrated by how he believes that his creations would bless him as their creator and source and that the creatures will owe their being to him (Shelly51).

 However, Frankenstein abandons his creature soon after creation, saying that the beauty in that dream has faded. He leaves without teaching the creature even the slightest thing and lesson about life. This action forces the creature to have to learn things on their own which creates a whole new feeling and convictions in him (Shelly 118). It is by the action of Frankenstein of not being able to nurture his creation that plants a seed of evil in it. This is then cultivated by the poor treatment that the creature gets from the people around. The creature is motivated by his most fundamental survival desires. Although he lacks speech and a means of expression as a result of this natural approach to his growth, he finds satisfaction in simple goods that assist him to meet his requirements. For example, when the creature discovers fire, he gains comfort, light, and nicer food, all of which give him pleasure.

Shelly further proves how nurture presides over nature by how the creatures start learning from the DeLacey Family. From observing the DeLacey family, the creature starts to learn about cultures, civilization, speech, reading, and homemaking. The fostering approach of his evolution includes gaining insights and knowledge. For the creature, these new cultural values and ideals open up a whole new world of possibilities. He learns sentiments/emotions and the brutality of humans from the literature he reads. He goes on to highlight his inherent goodness by assisting the family with their side yard and other chores surrounding their property. The creature’s kindnesses, however, seem insufficient to compensate for his abnormalities, and he is shunned by those whom he had grown to love and regard as his adoptive family.

In conclusion, Shelly has taken a lot to express why she believes that nurture presides over nature. Factors like Frankenstein leaving his creature and the creature now has to start to learn things on his show why nurture is very important. The creature starts by being nice and eventually becomes evil because of the people he is exposed to and the experiences he has to go through. The same applies to our world till the present. Most traits that people possess are mostly influenced by society (Englbrecht 2015). People become good if they are surrounded by goodness and become otherwise if all they get to see is evil. 

Work cited

Englbrecht, Claudia. “Nature v. Nurture.” Seminars on Science | American Museum of Natural History. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015. <>.

Gould, Stephen Jay. “The Monster’s Human Nature.” Natural History 103.7 (1994): 14. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print