2.4 Writing portfolio – John Locke

“Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.” John Locke was an English philosopher whose ideas had an influence during the enlightenment period. Mary Shelley was an English novelist who is best known for her book Frankenstein. Locke’s theory was that the mind started off like a blank sheet of paper and that it would develop and learn through exposure to objects and beings. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this theory is evident through the development of the monster from after his creation.

John Locke’s theory of the human understanding essay was published in 1689 during the age of reason and the early age of enlightenment. A theory he came up with is that we are all born with minds that are a blank slate, he called this Tabula Rasa. Locke believed that everything we know and feel is derived from experience. The ideas we receive are from sensations in the outside world and internal reflections on the process of our own understanding. He believed we learn from experience and observation and that our mind is vulnerable to the ideas people put into them well we are young.

We are introduced to the monster in chapter 16 when he becomes the new narrator, he is talking about his new experiences that he is beginning to learn from. In the beginning, he is discussing his memories talking about the sensations he is beginning to feel in his newly created body, this can relate to Locke’s theory of Tabula rasa because he is beginning to feel new experiences and learning from them. He says  ” I began to distinguish my sensations from each other. I gradually saw plainly the clear stream that supplied me with drink and the trees that shaded me with their foliage. I was delighted when I first discovered that a pleasant sound, which saluted my ears”   In this passage, the monster has been staying in the woods for a while now and is starting to learn his feelings and thoughts. He says that he began to distinguish his senses from one another much like a child would when they are experiencing new things for the first time and distinguishing what he likes and dislikes. The monster also has a kind tone at the beginning of this chapter because this is a time of positive learning for him, he is experiencing new things and understanding how his mind and body work much like a newborn baby. Locke’s theory of Tabula Rasa is all about the mind being a blank slate and learning through external experiences, Shelley has illustrated Locke’s theory through the monster in this passage by portraying him like a young child experiencing new sensations for the first time and showing his thoughts as he is learning in the text.

“No man’s Knowledge here can go beyond his experience” Locke discusses how a man’s knowledge cannot go beyond his experience. In the novel Frankenstein  Victor referred to his creation as the monster because of the actions he took and his appearance,  the monster was never really a monster but the way humans treated him was the reason he chose to act violently towards them. The monster addresses this when he discusses how the humans have treated him because of his appearance “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living thing” When the monster is saying that all men hate the wretched, he is referring to himself. The definition of wretched is an unfortunate state in which the monster was perceived as by the humans because of all his scars sewn together was nothing like the humans had ever seen before. The monster didn’t understand if the hate the humans showed towards him was needed and wished they didn’t judge him because it made him miserable, he even refers to himself as the most miserable beyond the living he is addressing the fact that really he was dead and shouldn’t be alive through the use of the word beyond. The monster also discusses how he was not a murderer when he was created but the actions of humans towards him is what formed him to become the monster he was always perceived as. He says ” I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity; but am I not alone, miserably alone? You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow creatures, who owe me nothing? They spurn and hate me.” In this quote, the monster addresses the fact that he was benevolent which means he acted kind and meant well, his soul glowed was a metaphor he used to explain that he had so much love and humanity it caused him to feel as if his soul was glowing. Love is a strong feeling of affection generally used and felt towards someone in a positive way in the case of the monster he is referring to the fact that when he was created he had nothing but love towards the humans and everything new he was experiencing. Humanity is the traits that determine the qualities of a person, for example, humans are meant to be kind and compassionate and if someone committed murder like the monster did it is perceived inhumane. The monster then addresses the fact that he is alone, loneliness is not a nice feeling when all you are searching for is companionship from people and can cause a person to spiral in this case the loneliness affected the monster to feel bad about himself and his appearance. Abhor is the word the monster used when he confronted Victor about his hate towards him and the fact that if the man who created him with good intentions and love towards his work could feel the way he did how could any other human feel good towards him. In Locke’s human understanding essay he talks about the mind being blank with no ideas or principles already inscribed in it, so for the case of the monster who was created a new person with a new mind and body, his mind would’ve been a blank slate with potential for either good or bad. All the monster had seen was hate and fear towards him, all he had known was rejection which led to jealousy because he saw everyone being kind to each other which made him  unhappy about himself and his life and to fulfil it he would take his revenge on Frankenstein and lived up to the label all the humans had given him, a monster.

Even though Mary Shelley and John Locke lived almost 200 years apart it is evident through the development of the monster that she had an understanding of his ideas. John Lockes theory Tabula rasa is that when one is born their mind is a blank slate and they learn through experiences and sensations. The monster began a kind ‘man’ appreciating the nature he was living in and starting to feel sensations, however as he begins to venture into society he is rejected by humankind which turns him into a hateful creature. It changes the monster from a kind loving creature to a monster, which he had been referred to as so many times. I think Shelley showed areas of Locke’s theory from his essay of human understanding of the monster throughout the novel but these show the contrast of how the monster had changed and developed as the novel continued.


  1. Hey Clover,

    Watch the length of your quotes. Remember, in the task it states they need to be appropriate in length.

    Consider the organisation of your essay. If your reader is going to be reading about how John Locke’s theory applies to Frankenstein, what do they need to have an understanding of before they begin reading your analysis?

    Mrs. P


  2. Hey Clover,

    During our last two periods of this assessment I want you to consider the following:

    – Read your work out loud to yourself. You have mechanical errors in this piece and reading it out loud will help you to find and fix them.

    – Ensure all of your ideas are fully developed. In places, there is a wee bit more room for expansion.

    – Remember to think about the deliberate use of syntax, word choice, figurative language to develop your ideas.

    – Complete the final paragraph and add a conclusion.

    Mrs. P


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