Jean-Jacques Rousseau


Emile, sometimes known as On Education, was written by Jean-Jacque Rousseau in 1762. It was the first complete philosophy of education in the Western tradition, as well as the first Bildungsroman. [3] He believed this writing to be the most important of all his writings. Written in the same year as the Social Contract, Emile is also a philosophical treaty on the nature of man. He wrote mainly about relationships in society. As stated in the Social Contract, Rousseau said that man is naturally good, but society is corrupt. In Emile, he discusses his idea of education, which would enable man to live within this corrupt society. In this semi-fictitious work, the story of Emile and his tutor help show how one should educate this ideal citizen. The story is set in the country because Rousseau believed that is where humans are more naturally suited, where they will not learn bad habits. The main purpose of Emile and the aim Rousseau's educational ideals is to learn how to live, which is accomplished by following a guardian who can point the way to good living. It shows the ideals of healthy living, in which the boy must learn how to follow his social instincts and stay protected from the vices of the urban setting.

There are five sections of Emile. The first three describe the growth of a child, Emile. The first is to the age of 12, when Rousseau says that complex thinking is not possible and children live like animals. The second, which is from 12 to 16, is when he feels as if reason starts to develop. The first, from the age of sixteen onwards, is when the child develops into an adult. These three sections definitely influenced Mary Shelley while writing Frankenstein, because both Victor and the creature often follow Rousseau's book.

"From the first moment of life, men ought to begin learning to deserve to live; and, as at the instant of birth we partake of the rights of citizenship, that instant ought to be the beginning of the exercise of our duty. If there are laws for the age of maturity, there ought to be laws for infancy, teaching obedience to others: and as the reason of each man is not left to be the sole arbiter of his duties, government ought the less indiscriminately to abandon to the intelligence and prejudices of fathers the education of their children, as that education is of still greater importance to the State than to the fathers: for, according to the course of nature, the death of the father often deprives him of the final fruits of education; but his country sooner or later perceives its effects. Families dissolve but the State remains." (Rousseau) This quote shows the instincts that man has from birth. Rousseau feels as if man is taught obedience through others, mostly a parent. He feels that education is more important for the state, in order to teach obedience.

Through Emile, it is obvious that Rousseau also thought that women were subordinate to men. The education proposed for Emile's love interest, is very different than Emile's. Sophie, the woman in the story, is only destined to marry and be educated by her husband. Sophie is educated to be governed while Emile is educated to be self-governing. [3] He felt that men and women should be educated differently because their natures are different. Women to Rousseau were weak, while men were strong and dominant. Sophie's education is focused on the arts of pleasing, religion, and the training of reason. [5]

Frankenstein & Emile

Some of Mary Shelley's ideas are similar to some of the "books" in Emile, while many are completely different. Mary Shelley used Rousseau's ideas to create the creature in Frankenstein and also with Victor's childhood. She mirrored his ideas about the natural state of man. The creature had no father figure to educate him, and therefore did not grow up to be the ideal man that Rosseau speaks of in Emile. [4] Victor had a normal upbringing, therefore followed many of Rousseau's ideals. Shelley compared an contrasted Rousseau's ideals within her novel. Emile is divided into five "books", many of which are used in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The education and upbringing of both the creature and Victor are shown within these five books.

Book 1- Infancy (Birth to two years)
Rousseau outlines how to raise a child in the first book. He states how children should be raised to conform to society. He feels as if man should be "denatured", in which natural instincts are suppressed. Many of Rousseau's ideas in this book are taken from other educational reformers. He restates Locke's idea of "hardening children's bodies against the intemperance of season, climates, elements; against hunger, thirst, fatigue." He believed that the child learns the difference between power and liberty during this time [5] The responses made by adults reinforce the difference between want and need. The child learns how to be independent and self-sufficiency. The focus is on allowing the child to be what he is — to nurse, to explore with the body, to be free of conflicting messages from adults. "We are born weak, we need strength; we are born lacking everything, we need aid; we are born stupid, we need judgment. All that we lack at birth and that we need when we are grown is given by education." [6] (Rousseau Book 1) He is showing through this quote the need to be educated by someone. It is necessary to be taught the things essential to survive and prosper in society.

Mary Shelley uses comparing and contrasting ideas through both Victor and the creature based on the first book. The creature does not follow Rousseau's ideals, and actually contrasts what he says. The creature must learn for himself the "intemperance" that Rousseau is talking about because he does not have any adults to learn from. "It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original era of my being: all the events of that period appear confused and indistinct. A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses." (Shelley 84) The creature did not know how to use his senses, and was unsure what to do about climates, elements, hunger, thirst and fatigue. The creature is not learning how to conform to society because he has no one to teach him. "No distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused." (Shelley 85) The creature was feeling light, hunger, thirst, and darkness, but he could not distinguish between them. He had to learn for himself. Shelley uses these ideas to show how the creature is not conforming to ideals of the society. His "birth" is unconventional, and he therefore is not educated like the rest of society.

On the other hand, Victor follows the ideas set forth in book one. His parents were distinguished in their society. "My mother's tender caresses and my father's smile of benevolent pleasure while regarding me are my first recollections." (Shelley 19) His parents cared for him and they taught him the how to become self-sufficient. He had a normal childhood, one that followed Rousseau's ideals. His parents fulfilled their parental duties. Victor is a "norm" of society. Shelley is showing how great a childhood he had.

Book 2- The Age of Nature (Two to Twelve)
Rousseau develops new ways of educating during the second book. The purpose of this stage is to develop physical quality, particularly the senses. [5] The child is able to learn through his experiences. He learns the natural consequences when his actions are not supported by nature. He learns to not want unnecessary things. These are the initial interactions of the child with the world.

Mary Shelley uses the ideals in the second book through the creature. "I found a fire which had been left by some wandering beggars, and was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain. How strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!" (Shelley 86) The creature is developing physical qualities and learning about his senses. In this example, he is learning about the sense of touch. When he touches the fire, he does not know that it will produce a negative effect because no one has taught him. He has to teach himself through his experiences in nature. He is able to interact with nature, which enables him to learn. He had to learn how to find his own food, find shelter and how to survive all on his own. The creature is able to learn about consequences and negative effects.

On the other hand, Shelley did not have Victor go through this step of Rousseau's educational ideals. He was more interested in reading books and learning through these books than interacting with nature and the world. He was able to learn about nature through his books, where he was able to unveil the "face of Nature." He had a thirst for knowledge, instead of physically developing.


Book 3- Pre-adolescence (12-15)
In book 3, Rousseau begins to describe Emile as a "noble savage." His urge for activity takes a mental form. The only book that he is allowed to read is Robinson Crusoe. This helps provide the model of a self-sufficient man that Rousseau feels that every man should become. The book does not allow him to want what he does not need. He therefore does not need the approval of others. Rousseau thought that the need of others’ approval was a corrupting influence.

The creature goes through this "Pre-adolescence" period. His urge to learn turns into a mental form. He has a desire to learn the language that the De Lacey's are speaking. "I perceived that the words they spoke sometimes produced pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers. This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired to become acquainted with it." (Shelley 93) Shelley is showing the need to be a norm within society. The creature wants to be able to understand the De Lacey's, so he has to teach himself. Because he does not have an adult to help educate him like a normal human being would have, he must use books and his senses to learn for himself. As he progresses, he is able to learn not just about subjects like history, but also about emotions and feelings. Through the use of Rousseau's ideals, the creature is becoming more civilized. He has not been corrupted yet, and Shelley is showing his innocence. He is trying to become more like a human being, so he can fit in. That is what many people in society strive for.

Victor also goes through this same "Pre-adolescence" period. He has the desire to learn more and go off to college. Shortly after arriving at the University of Ingolstadt, he had found a mentor and began working on the creature. He wanted to be able to learn more about the principle of life. "I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter." (Shelley 37) He does not seek the approval of anyone, and actually does not tell anyone about his creation. Even though this follows Rousseau's educational steps, Victor ends up being corrupted by his creation. He realized that he created a monster and if people found out, he would be an outcast of society. He ends up becoming a different person because of this thirst for knowledge.

Mary Shelley

Book 4- Puberty (15-20)
By book four Emile is now a teenager and able to feel and understand more complex emotions. He is now "able to deal with the dangerous emotions of adolescence and with moral issues and religion." [5] It also "describes how to attend to moral development." [5] In Shelley's Frankenstein this is the section where he is learning "how mind of youth expand and gain knowledge." (Shelley 108) The monster is beginning to realize that he had been deserted and denied what most humans are born into. It is impossible for the monster to be sheltered from all of this at an early age as similar to most children. Children do not immediately learn all the harsh realities of society. Rousseau says that he "can only find one good way of preserving a child's innocence, that is have all those who surround him respect and love it." [6] Therefore, there is no way the monster will have his innocence for long because no one around him respects or loves. Rousseau then goes on to say, "Complete ignorance with regard to certain matters is perhaps the best thing for children; but let them learn very early those things that are impossible to hide from the forever." [6] The monster never experiences complete ignorance with regard to any matters, with the exception of the beginning of his existence. The monster even realizes that he had missed out on this part of childhood when he says, 'but where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses; or which if they had, all my past life was now a blot, a blind vacancy in which i distinguished nothing." (Shelley 108)

Frankenstein is not seen as a good "parent" throughout the novel. He deserts his creation the second he lays eyes on him. This is what Shelley had intended, therefore from when Rousseau states that a good parent should "make it their interest to be good; make them feel the value of goodness and they will love it. It is not enough to show this effect in the distant future; show it now, in relation to the present." [6] Shelley decides to make her character act in the opposite manner. When the monster requests the female monster he says to Frankenstein that they "may not part until you have promised to comply with my requisition." (Shelley 126) Here, the monster wants instant gratification, or in the present. Frankenstein accepts the offer at first but later changes his mind taking away an important part of parenting.

Book 5- Adulthood (20 and on)
This section is devoted to wife and companion of Emile. I focuses on the stage in life considered "Adulthood" from the approximate age of 20. [5] The older and more mature Emile seems to seek companionship. Rousseau and Shelley have similar ideas in that once reaching a certain age it is imperative that a being is not alone. In a direct quote from Emile, Rousseau says "Man should not be alone. Emile is now a man we have promised him a companion; we must give her to him." [6] This is similar to the opinion of the monster in Frankenstein. As he becomes more aware of his surroundings and understands human interaction he comes to the conclusion that no being should suffer from severe loneliness. He is completely alone in the world because humans are constantly in fear of his appearance. He becomes aware of this from a mixture of things such as his attempt at interacting with the family of cottagers as well as seeing his reflection and realizing that he does not look that same as the humans around him. The monster refuses to accept this and demands a female monster to be made to accompany him. The monster tells his creator that he "must create a female." (Shelley 129) He comes to this realization as he matures, which is similar to Emile (he is now a "man"). Frankenstein promises the monster a companion similar to the promise made to Emile.

The next question that is to be faced in Frankenstein is whether or not to keep his promise to the monster. Rousseau takes the idea of having a women to please a man and supports it. She is there to make him happy and to support him. He states "once this principle is established it follows that women is specifically made to please man." [6] Frankenstein's only reason for creating this women would be to please the monster, according to Rousseau, this gives him a valid reason. The monster states that "the love of another will destroy the cause of my crimes." (Shelley 131) In other words, the monster's anger and vengeance will be gone (it will make him happier).

Next, Frankenstein has second thoughts. He worries about many things that could go wrong as he is creating the monster. Before he had made the original monster he had not thought anything over and believed that only good could come out of his experiment. This perspective resulted in severe disaster. There was no guarantee that a second monster would not do the same, or worse. Specifically, Frankenstein's thoughts consisted of doubt. He was not sure that the female would even get along with the male. He thinks to himself "they might even hate each other." (Shelley 147) Although Frankenstein's intent would be to please the monster, a women that did not like him may make him "exasperated by the fresh provocation of being deserted by one of his own species." (Shelley 147) Here, the two pieces of literature are similar. Shelley may have gotten the idea of Frankenstein's second thoughts of being a provoking women instead of a pleasing one from Rousseau's statement "If woman is made to please and to be subjected, she ought to make herself pleasing to man instead of provoking him." [6]

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[1] Doyle, Michele Erina. "Jean-Jacques Rousseau on nature, wholeness and education." InFed. 14 Nov 2007 <http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-rous.htm>.
[3] "Emile: or, On Education" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2006. 27 Nov 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emile:_Or%2C_On_Education>.
[2] Groag Bell, Susan. "Jean–Jacques Rousseau, Emile (1762)." Exploring the French Revolution. 14 Nov 2007 <http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/470/>.
[4] Holcombe, A.O.. "Old roots of a theory of synesthesia in Rousseau's Emile and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Psych. 14 Nov 2007 <http://www.psych.usyd.edu.au/staff/alexh/research/history/Frankenstein.html>.
[5] "Rousseau- Key Ideas." Evergreen Academic. 29 Nov 2007< http://academic.evergreen.edu/curricular/mit2005/Fall/rousseau.htm>.
[6] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile.