Rape Versus Lovemaking

 The Changing Relationship Between Scientists and Nature from Frankenstein to The Beak of the Finch

by Vered Arnon  

People have long romanticised nature and seen it as a feminine force. The scientist is romanticised as a masculine force, “wooing” her (nature) and searching deep inside her to find hidden secrets. When science first began developing, not much was known at all about nature. Nature was a virgin, so to speak, and the scientist was invading her where she had never been touched before. The fear two hundred years ago, as illustrated in Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, was that the scientist would violate and rape nature. According to Weiner’s The Beak of the Finch, now science is more developed than it was two hundred years ago. Scientists do their work with respect and concern for nature instead of a selfish motive to possess or conquest her. The interaction between the scientist and nature has changed from violation to gentle, sensitive lovemaking.

In Shelley’s novel, the stark picture of the scientist as a rapist is put forth very vividly. She establishes the relationship between the scientist and nature as a sexual one. She writes, in the voice of her character Victor Frankenstein, “The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember” (Shelley, 36). He describes the experience as a sensation. The discovery of what nature hides brings him rapture. But it’s not an intellectual or dispassionate sense of rapture. It’s a patriarchal possession, as he describes further later on, “I have described myself as always having been embued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature” (Shelley, 41). Penetration is a sexual act. It’s the male sexual act, and it symbolically takes possession of the recipient. In this depiction of the scientist, he is very literally raping nature, inserting himself into her where he doesn’t belong. As Victor Frankenstein states even more brazenly, “I had gazed upon the fortifications and impediments that seemed to keep human beings from entering the citadel of nature, and rashly and ignorantly I had repined” (Shelley, 41). When he discovers the secret of the mechanisms of life, he is breaking nature’s hymen. The violence perpetrated by the monster his efforts create is the pain and destruction of both body and psyche that is wrought by rape. What he does, creating life out of death, is not in accord with nature. It is a violation of natural principles, and in Shelley’s projection, can only result in havoc and destruction. When Shelley wrote her novel, there was a very real concern that scientists, in their quest to personally possess the secrets of nature, would wreak such havoc and commit such grievous violations.

In Weiner’s The Beak of the Finch, the portrayal of the interaction between scientist and nature is positive rather than destructive. Weiner describes the gentle precision of the Grants’ work on Daphne Major with the finches. These scientists have great respect for nature, and are not trying to forcefully obtain anything that won’t naturally be yielded. In describing their actions on the island, Weiner writes, “The crater floor… is forbidden ground because it is the nesting place of blue-footed boobies” (Weiner, 13). These actions are the exact opposite of the penetration that Shelley describes. Weiner writes in great detail about how beautiful the interactions between these scientists and nature are. When Rosemary Grant takes a blood sample from a finch, Weiner portrays her actions as gentle and loving. “While she swabs, she chats…. Just a quick prick – the bird doesn’t even seem to notice” (Weiner, 15). Weiner repeatedly alludes to the scientists as “Biblical shepherds” tending for and caring for their flocks (Weiner, 75). There is much love and care in all their actions. The concept of violation is not present at all. Now, as science has advanced and scientists have moved forward without the self-interested desire of personally conquesting nature, scientists have much respect for what they study and experiment with. The relationship is still a sensual one, as Weiner describes Peter Grant’s excitement about the data he studies, “He draws a bell curve on the blackboard and then gestures, as if to lift the curve off the board into the air with his hands… coaxing the curve off the wall with his hands and wrapping it eloquently as it floats out into the air” (Weiner, 128). Peter Grant is coaxing, caressing and embracing. What is described is sensual. It is a loving and delicate act. Further, in chapter two, and continually in the text, Weiner talks about what people saw. The scientists watch and observe nature respectfully. They do so, as Weiner describes, with much awe and curiosity, like a man watching the minute movements of his lover. Weiner mentions the significance of Boag’s experiment that never occurred. Peter Boag planned to switch the eggs in some of the finches’ nests to observe the consistencies of “nature versus nurture” (Weiner, 68). The experiment would have interfered, and “penetrated” into nature, to use Shelley’s language. But Boag was unable to conduct his experiment, and in retrospect, finch watchers are glad that he didn’t (Weiner, 68). Invasive, violating action is absent from the scientists’ behaviour. They collect data and study them intellectually, as opposed to tearing apart the delicate body of nature to try to see things that are hidden. The careful, precise fieldwork together with the sensitive computer calculations are a beautiful lovemaking compared to the rape that Shelley describes in her novel.

Two hundred years ago, when scientists were just beginning to delve into the mysteries of the world, there was much fear that they would rape and plunder nature. But clearly today’s scientists have a healthy respectful relationship with nature, and uncover her secrets lovingly. The closer scientists get to finding out the ultimate mysteries, the more careful and loving they must be. Rape would irreparably damage the very secrets that scientists seek to discover. Only with gentle lovemaking have they come so close, as the Grants have with their finches, to discovering the secrets of life.

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Modern Library, USA, 1999.

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch. Vintage Books, New York, 1995.

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