Comparing two works of science fiction, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes, a number of statements about humanity and its meaning emerge. It is the aim and function of science fiction, then, to both exacerbate and alleviate these fears, while at the same time exploring the most essential philosophical questions that are both universal and timeless: These works of science fiction by Mary Shelley and Daniel Keyes in “Flowers for Algernon” and “Frankenstein” pose essential questions such as, what is human life?, What distinguishes humanity from other living beings?, and a question that is perhaps the most perplexing and challenging, What is the meaning of our existence? An examination of two works, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Daniel Keyes “Flowers for Algernon”, helps substantiate the claim that science fiction helps the reader confront these important questions by considering issues such as the manufacture of human life and the attempts to master a supposedly perfect human form.

“Flowers for Algernon” and “Frankenstein” by Keyes and Shelley invoke many themes that run throughout the wide canon of science fiction. Science fiction is a genre that explores concerns that are “frequently those of modernity,” examining the consequences of our “techno-rational world” (Smith 177). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, while written almost 200 years ago, still has a thematic freshness that mirrors contemporary philosophical dilemmas about the nature of human life, not in terms of how it examines questions about what it means to be human, to posses humanity and true life, but also more specific inquiries such as what the role is, if any, of man and his tendency to play god and redefine humanity.  Specifically, the protagonist and narrator of Frankenstein is a young man named Victor, who is an avid student of science. As Victor introduces himself to the reader, he explained in one of the important quotes from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, “The natural phenomena that take place every day…did not escape my examinations” (Shelley 925), and “The world was to me a secret, which I desired to discover…” (Shelley 923).

While in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Victor is initially interested in understanding not necessarily questions about humanity and the nature of life itself, but rather the functions of nature and of mechanical inventions. Throughout Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Victor feels a certain dissatisfaction with “the ignorance of the early philosophers” (Shelley 925), and so he embarks upon a secret task to unlock some of the mysteries that they had not answered for him. As Victor becomes involved in the study of chemistry, in particular, he finds himself questioning “[From] whence…did the principle of life proceed?” (Shelley 931), and concludes that the only way to answer the question would be to shun the “corwadice or carelessness [that so often] restrain our inquiries” on such subjects (Shelley 931). His curiosity and fearlessness, and some would say his hubris, lead him to fabricate the Creature, one of the most recognizable characters of all literature. While it is never the outright aim of Victor to create such a creature and redefine what it means to be human, the several questions he poses to himself throughout the novel all seek to explore this issue. As a rational man of science, however, his initial speculations on what it might mean to question the “principle of life” never lead him to the foresight that this, by the end, will be one of the most perplexing and engaging issues.

The result of Victor’s inquiries and activities, however, does not satisfy this most pressing of questions about being human, having life and expressing one’s humanity and; indeed, it creates a cluster of complex questions, the consequences of which Victor must grapple with for the remainder of the novel. The disquieting effect, though, is not limited to Victor. Furthermore, like other works of science fiction, this genre incorporates the reader and forces him or her to evaluate these questions against the personal backdrop of ethical or even religious belief. Although Victor realizes that he was misguided in attempting to create a human life, the reader is left with his or her own questions to confront and answer. Indeed, Shelley, in the Preface to Frankenstein, writes, almost in answer to this thesis statement for Frankenstein, that the impetus for writing the novel came from her desire to engage—but not necessarily answer—the issue of “delineating…human passions” by “preserv[ing] the truth of the elementary principles of human nature” (Shelley 907). Shelley is aware that the conclusion of her tale will raise difficult questions about the “moral tendencies [that] exist in the sentiments or characters” (Shelley 907), but she seems to believe that the reader will be mature and courageous enough to sit with those questions and seek answers through the events of the novel.