Frankenstein as The Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus is complete title of Mary Shelley’s novel. It takes us back to the mythical figure Prometheus, who is said to have formed a clay image of men and women and by stealing fire from the gods animated them. So did the world of mankind came into being.

Why does Mary use this myth? It at once prompts us to see the parallel or analogy between the mythical figure and Victor, the ambitious scientist who encroaches upon the forbidden territory is severely punished. As we stated elsewhere. Victor is an ambitious scientist an over-reacher, who, in order to do good to mankind drifts into the unknown in his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. But instead of understanding the pattern of nature as well as the principle of life, he displaces God, the supreme creator, animates a dead matter he assembles and succeeds in creating a new species. The discovery shocks and horrifies him, and he runs away, completely abandoning the creature. His sin or crime gets doubled up—first his very act of creating a new being, then more heinous is his crime when he disowns the being and fails to take the responsibility that a parent owes towards his children. The monster is abandoned to wander in an alien world of which he has no knowledge; feeds himself on roots and nuts, then discovers fire, is shunned by all men he comes across, stoned and beaten up. The process of self-education actually begins when he gets a hovel close to the De Laceys— Not only does he know what love, affection and harmony  contribute to mankind, he also learns the use of language and after getting hold of books like Plutarch's Lives and Paradise Lost he seeks friendship and love, but the treatment he gets,  turns him into a real monster. Then his rage becomes fiery lava. Had he been nurtured, brought up by his creator, the things might have been different. So the modern Prometheus is a blundering scientist who shirks his responsibility for what he does.

The complete title of the novel Frankenstein is Frankenstein The Modern Prometheus. There are two versions of the myth of Prometheus; one is that he stole fire from the gods for the benefit of mankind: the other says that Prometheus was the creator who created the first human out of clay and animated it with life. In Frankenstein, the Aeschylus version seems to overlap the Ovid’s version. Prometheus is punished by Zeus, chained to a rock continuously tortured for his daring crime. Mary uses both the versions to project her concern.

The ambitious scientist dares, goes much beyond, displaces the role exclusively played by God, and, thought his act is laudable, he wishes to banish disease from the human frame, but blunders, and is punished for his crime for animating the dead matter, and more heinous than the first – disowning complete responsibility for what he did by abandoning the creature whom he gave life to. See how he gloats over his project, which rules out the role both of God and woman:

“A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve their’s.”

Doesn’t these words smack of an over-reacher — an over-intoxicated scientist who chooses to displace God? Too soon he realizes his  blundering mission – finds a creature too ugly and too hideous to his sight. Instead of yielding to the creatures signaled pleas, Vicotr rushes out of his apartment and spends all night wandering about the courtyard down below.