This study examines Mary Shelley’s vision on modern politics, community, and the individual in her SF novel The Last Man. This novel focuses on the trope of the orphan to show how the individual, the modern agency of politics, and modern politics are constituted. Characters are presented as orphans, embodying the independent, vulnerable, and isolated state of the modern political being, and they make social bonds based on fraternity, sympathy and friendship, building the foundation of the modern community of the nation-state. At some point, orphans become the children of the State, and they start to conquer the East in the name of father/empire/civilization.
Plague throws these children of the State back to the original state of orphans again making everyone alone, destitute, and vulnerable with its ruthless principle of equalization. Plague also distorts the universality of imperialism with its more universalizing figure of a dying man. In Shelley’s thorough examination of modern politics, equal democracy is inevitably built on the figure of death; human society is built on paradoxes of exclusion/inclusion; and the modern agency of the individual is either Nietzsche’s übermensch or the monster in Frankenstein.
Shelley’s ambiguity towards the modern world in the post-revolutionary era is reflected in the paradoxical role of the orphan in the novel.