Natalie Huffels 16/04/07
MYTH, HERO AND VILLAIN
Some times the feelings one has towards an idea could be so ambivalent and radically contradictory that explainingthem literally would be ironic and confusing; that is why some times it is easier to use simple and understandable stories as an allegory to the greater meanings one wishes to describe. In her novel, Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus, Mary Shelly uses the classical myth of Prometheus as a metaphor for the romantic mind’s concerns about the reckless use of knowledge and human’s search forcontrol over nature. However, at the same time it is a satirical depiction of the “Byronic hero” and the “romantic’s obsession” with the passionate rule breaker.
There are two basic versions of this myth which are both applicable to this novel, having different interpretations. The first is the Myth of “Prometheus pyrphoros” found in the poem Prometheus bound by the Greek Aeschylus. WherePrometheus is the titan who steels the fire from the gods and gives it to man kind finding himself punished by Zeus by being chained to a rock and having a vulture eating his liver at sunset for the rest of eternity (Raggio). The second version is the Myth of “Prometheus plasticator” which is mostly found in Roman myths, where with the fire he had stolen from the gods, Prometheus animates the man of clayhe had created (Raggio). The fire stolen from the gods could be represented as the gaining of knowledge, which in the novel is depicted as something negative when it is not used with caution and with full consciousness of its dangers, being an allegory of Prometheus punishment and portraying the uneasiness felt by romantic thinkers towards the careless “extort of knowledge from nature”(Cunningham, Jardine). Throughout the novel Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with the understanding of natural philosophy and he himself describes this urge as the leading to his ultimate destruction: “learn from me if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he whoaspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (Shelly, 53).
Guided by his obsession Victor excludes himself from the world and becomes an insensible machine-like being. His research leads him to unfold the god-like power of giving life to death matter, an idea that wasn’t unheard of in the early 19th century thanks to the advances in electricity: “perhaps a corpse would be reanimated;galvanism had given token of such things” (Joseph, VII). In this case it would be Victor the titan who steals the fire from the gods; the fire being the “divine spark of life”, or as it is implied in the novel, electricity, giving him the capacity of controlling mortality, the capacity of prolonging life beyond the borders of natural laws. In the Novel Victor doesn’t reveal his secret power to humankind; however, he creates a wretched creature which will become his vulture persecutor and a potential danger to humanity. This is again an allegory of the romantics approach to science; romantic thinkers believed that knowledge was only attainable by those who truly respected and appreciated nature, “science must not bring about any split between nature and man.” (Cunningham, Jardine). By breakingthis natural laws humans separate themselves from their natural state, which would become their doom, or in this case a monster that would only destroy that which one cherishes the most.
Despite of theses different representations of Victor as the reckless scientist playing with the natural order and endangering human kind in the novel another parallel between Victor and Prometheus is...