Narrative as a Tool for Thinking about Technology

 

Assignment 1

Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Birthmark" as well as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are about over-reaching scientists -- scientists who play "God." Do you feel it is necessary to limit what scientists ought to be allowed to do (think of genetic engineering, for instance), and why or why not? Does Hawthorne think scientists should be limited? Does Shelley? Why, or why not, according to their texts? Do their texts warn us about something, the way that the storyteller's story warned him about killer cats? If so, what?

 

Assignment 2

In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the monster is rejected by everyone and so hides away in a shed where he watches the Delaceys. His situation is almost like the passive viewer of a movie who sees the lives of others but cannot participate in them. By watching, he learns language, and then also to read and write. How do these technologies -- movies, language, writing -- affect his feelings? Do they make him more violent, and, if so, why?

 

Assignment 3

In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Walton is trying to find the northwest passage -- it would revolutionize world trade, and make him very famous and rich. Upon first talking with Walton about Walton's pursuits, Victor Frankenstein exclaims, "Unhappy man! Do you share my madness?" Examine his motives carefully as he describes them in his first letter to his sister Margaret (pp. 2-3 Signet edition), and compare them to Victor's motives as he describes them, especially in Chapter 4 (pp. 35-41 Signet). What is the author trying to tell us about their motives? Do similar motives drive our technology magnates such as Bill Gates?

 

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