Frankenstein, Prometheus, and the Modern Man
A while ago I was recruited to guest blog on this site, about whatever it was I chose.
After working every day of the week since school’s let out and various other distractions
I’ve finally found the time, not only to read a book, but to write a literary essay on what I’ve read.
This piece compares the legends of Frankenstein and Prometheus, to a subtle theme
I found that can be connected to the struggle of the modern man and his longing for
success in his career
When it was first published, the novel Frankenstein was given the second title- “The Modern Prometheus.” I believe the concepts shared in both the story of Prometheus and Mary Shelley’s epic retelling give great insights to how modern men, including men in the time period Frankenstein was written, deal with their ambitions and decisions based on their desires. They show man’s downfall after lustful hard work and the distant dreams of success in various forms that can drive men to the torture of perpetual madness.
I’ve found Prometheus does not strive for success exactly in the same way Victor Frankenstein does, though the tale of ambition and paying for his decision in martyrdom is still present. Prometheus is actually the first recorded tale of martyrdom.
As the story goes he suffered from being bound to a large rock while a giant eagle ripped out and ate his liver every day, only for it to grow back afterwards and repeat the process, just because he delivered fire to the humans which Zeus had originally hidden from man. In the same way Frankenstein animated his creature, Prometheus breathed live with his flames to the humans, defying the Gods and ending up paying for his personal ambitions with a very twisted form of torture.
Frankenstein’s story is a similar case. Since he was young he had dreams of success in the fields of science, studying old authors, scientists and their methods and devoting his free time during his college career to animating a corpse. After being disgusted with his creation’s hideousness, he neglected it, though in the same way Prometheus’ deed was permanent, Victor’s deed was also done.
The creature had the tools he needed to progress himself and ended up learning language, literature, the ups and downs of life at the time, and thoughts on a much deeper level. He even considers himself Frankenstein’s “Adam” of his labors. The parallels continue and continue, as in the story of Prometheus, Zeus eventually finds himself having to send down Pandora, the first woman for the men of Earth with their new-found tool of fire. The creature in Frankenstein eventually demands a woman companion and declares he will go in peace, but the parallels break as Victor denies him.
Regardless, this novel is a story of a man’s pride and ambitions for personal success getting the best of him as it sweeps out of control turning into his ultimate misery and remaining constant throughout his life. Not only does Victor die chasing after his creation, but his loved ones die as well, not to mention he travels to the ends of the world to find and kill his monster.
Even Walton finds himself in a similar situation, as another integral character, as a failed writer seeking fame, now on an expedition to create something with his life. Both Walton and Frankenstein are men given opportunities and being forced to live with their choices, just as Prometheus paid an eternal price for his permanent decision to help the humans live.
Not only am I very interested in the parallels between the story of Prometheus and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but I think it gives some reflection of the molded character of man throughout the past couple hundred years, but especially now. There is a certain theme found in Shelley’s character’s mindsets of the need for fame, for achievement, and for martyrdom or some sort of epic solace to get rid of your mistakes, to finish what you’ve started.
Victor Frankenstein feels enormous pressure at a young age to make a startling scientific achievement, then after he spends years trying to clean up his mess, he decides to die searching for an end, or to destroy his creation. Walton has spent his whole life trying to be something and finds himself stuck in the ice of the North seeking anything he can get his hands on when he runs into Victor and demands he record his story through his letters.
All these men’s lives are a series of mistakes based what they perceive to be as good intentions which they attempt to learn from in their own way, but eventually pay the price for. Prometheus’s desire to bring man fire was out of good intentions and he ended up making a mistake for himself that created a whole new world for the people he helped, but was rewarded in agony.
I believe these characters display how man will risk his life for his wants, especially these days for wealth and a name, but can very easily end up in hell. Just take the concept of the American Dream and how that has played out for so many people, and continues to do. People put their family and personal stability on the line to be looked upon as successful or righteous. If you lack a name and recognition, you are looked at in a poor light. It comes a lot with having some sort of overbearing pride, which might be something Shelley is getting at.
Victor has this pride in himself and his abilities that lead him to neglect his creation and create more problems. Frankenstein craftily displays the discontents of man that force them to pursue something higher, that may only lead to more discontent. But don’t get me wrong, I believe the people grouped into this generalization I am using to analyze Shelley’s motives with do have good intentions in chasing their wild dreams.
I believe everybody including the characters in these stories will have the mindset that their passion is in good nature or at least in the right. And when their dreams are befuddled, they only have three options- die a failure, a martyr, or overcome their woes.
Thank you for reading,
-Adam J. Galanski