ParagraphsIntroductionMoral monsters serve moral purposes



Moral monsters serve moral purposes in literature; they highlight the dark imperfections of our society; the evil and monstrosity that remains in our world. The notable texts, Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1592), Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1802) explore how individuals within their contexts commit Faustian bargains in exchange for greater power. While Conrad illustrates the brutalities of colonialism in the Congo as a result of failed proselytization, Marlowe, within his Renaissance context explores the conflict between Catholic Providentialism and Renaissance Humanism, as these concerns subvert the minds of intellectuals in their journey for greater knowledge and power.

Moreover, Mary Shelley’s text offers an insight into her concerns of the Enlightenment Era exploring how the excessive use of science and technology can provoke dangers to society. It is these texts that powerfully encapsulates the paradigms of moral monstrosity through the influences of their contextual values.

Dr Faustus

The Faustian bargain of the soul for limitless power and its potential to undermine one’s capacity to reason underpins Faustus’s status as a moral monster.

Through the rise of Renaissance humanism and the decline of Catholic Providentialism, Faustus embodies the Renaissance man through his insatiable ambition for greater knowledge and power. This stems from Dr Faustus’s sense of unfulfilment of medieval knowledge, evident in the hypophora, ‘Why Faustus hast thou not attained that end?’, exemplifying Faustus’s free-thought and his desire for greater power that becomes the tragic element of the play. Furthermore, when Faustus sacrifices his ‘divinity’ for greater knowledge evident in the soliloquy, ‘Divinity is the basest of the three/Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile/Tis magic, magic that hath ravished me.

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’ (106-110) the repetition of ‘magic’ foregrounds Faustus’ misguidance into sorcery and thereby his moral groundings as he trades his soul for magical powers. Furthermore, Dr Faustus functions as an allegorical play that portrays the consequences of rejecting Christianity. Through Faustus’s perception of the Seven Deadly Sins in Act 3 evident when he states, ‘O, how this sign doth delight my soul!’ where the use of ecophonesis highlights his abandonment of Christianity and neglect of sin. It is Faustus’s foolish defiance of Christianity that provokes his anagnorisis at the end where ‘the devil draws in [his] tears’ reinforces Faustus’s inability to ‘look up to heaven’ and therefore his fate is sealed bringing light through Catholic Providentialist ideals catalysing Faustus’s progression into his inevitable downfall. Hence, it is the moral monstrosity of the individual where Marlowe illustrates the possibilities for humanity as well as transgression of reason.


With the arrival of the Enlightenment Era, the discourse surrounding an individual’s desire for greater knowledge and power came in the form of scientific and technological advancements. Through her text, Shelley subverts the Enlightenment ideologies through the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, acknowledging his moral monstrosity through the destructive nature of science and technology provoking human irrationality. The contrast of Romantic and Enlightenment values from Victor’s imbuement to ‘penetrate the secrets of nature’ explores with the repetition where Victor’s Enlightenment view of nature as something materialistic challenges the Romantic view of viewing nature with a ‘serious and satisfied spirit’. Furthermore, it is Shelley’s Romantic fear of industrialisation that is represented through Victor’s transgression of science and the limits of nature through the creation of the infamous monster, Frankenstein. Evident in the evocative imagery by Victor having calls upon Frankenstein as a ‘miserable daemon’, where Frankenstein ultimately becomes an allegory for how science is over-valued and the monster itself symbolises the misuse of science and technology without the consideration of societal implications. It is this that results in Victor’s downfall as he loses control of the monster, where the repercussion of Enlightenment thinking where he becomes ‘possessed by a maddening rage’, reflecting the consequences of remorse from transgression of technology inevitably presents. Through the moral monstrosity of Victor, Shelley represents the Romantic sentiments of the Enlightenment Era and her resentful attitude towards science and technology.

Heart of Darkness

It is the post-colonial context as well as imperialistic ideals of greed and power that subvert Kurtz’s mind into corruption and exploitation of resources. In the heart of colonialism and order, white people like Kurtz viewed themselves as refined and educated while black people were seen as savages and unintelligent. These distinctions proved to inform the European projects of colonisation especially that from the Congo, as they used the basis of civilisation to justify their exploitations. Kurtz’s initial intentions to civilise the natives evident in the sketch where Marlow observes a ‘small sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman, draped and blindfolded carrying a light torch’ uses symbolism of torch and blindfold as Kurtz’s desires of liberty and justice and the integrity in civilisation. However, it is the ‘greed’ for ivory where Kurtz’s turns a blind eye to these prospects, and it is his transition into evil where he states, ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’ Kurtz’s forceful exclamations exemplifies his apotheosis as a god, views the natives as tools for collecting ivory and as a result strays further from the values of Imperialism. As a result of these ideals, Kurtz descends into madness through Marlowe’s portrayal of Kurtz as ‘hollow at the core’ combined with Kurtz’s dying words, ‘the horror, the horror!’ where the use of repetition outlines Kurtz’s judgement upon mankind and imperialism that ultimately displays his tragic downfall as a moral monster. Therefore, through Kurtz’s moral monstrosity from his greed and power that stemmed from British Imperialism, Marlowe explores the consequences of trespassing their contextual values for greater power.

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