The Myth Of Prometheus Frankenstein English Literature Essay
Mary Shelley …. 30th August 1797 …a British novelist, short story writer and dramatist … . best known … widely acclaimed Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.
… alternative title for Frankenstein “The Modern Prometheus” … I am going to concentrate on in my presentation … how the Mary Shelley has used different literary devices and language to portray the concepts … in the myth of Prometheus in Frankenstein. In order to …, I shall analyse the characters and themes of Frankenstein as well as other aspects, highlight how they compare to the myth and finally, attempt to understand why Mary Shelley used the myth of Prometheus in such a way.
… analysing the myth of Prometheus, I discovered … approximately 25 authors who wrote about the myth between 8th Century BC and 4th century BC alone, … hard to distinguish the true story, as all of these authors may have altered the myth in some way.
… earliest author of whom there is evidence of was Hesiod, and in his epic poem, Theogony, the Prometheus myth … This was written in the late 8th Century BC. Even though the different authors’ interpretations of Prometheus differ, … many similarities. It is these similarities that I will analyse in detail and compare to Frankenstein.
…. about the mythical entity Prometheus, he was the Titan God of forethought who was responsible for the moulding …. Prometheus was allocated this task by Zeus.
…. Prometheus became increasingly doting towards humans. Zeus … tried to prevent men from having certain power, … fire. However, Prometheus cared … and stole fire from Zeus’ lightening and gave it to the humans disguised in a fennel stalk. Prometheus … help man in a number of other ways for which he was punished for.
… punishments was Zeus’ creation of the first woman, Pandora whom he gave her as a bride to Prometheus’ brother, Epimetheus, … box which Zeus instructed Epimetheus never to open. Nevertheless, …, Pandora opened the box and unleashed all the evils known to the human race including disease, famine and natural disasters.
Therefore, this … a vital entity in the creation and development of mankind, Prometheus inadvertently caused great destruction. This concept … Frankenstein where Victor creates the creature however rejects it, … disruption in its life. Prometheus … punished for his actions by Zeus … chained to Mount Caucasus and an eagle continually ate out his liver which would grow back each day.
I am now going to look at … used the characterization of individuals in Frankenstein to symbolise ideas or represent characters in the myth of Prometheus. … first comparison and … obvious use of the myth is that the characteristics of the one of the … Victor Frankenstein … Prometheus in the myth who is obviously the main protagonist.
For instance, they are both very intelligent. Victor … wisdom … one of the greatest minds at Inglostadt. … more intelligent than most of his peers and had a prosperous future ahead of him. Professor Waldman, … Victor’s professors, stated that “he has outstript us all”, demonstrating … brainpower even surpassed that of those who taught him. Corresponding to this, Prometheus was one of the cleverest and brightest minds in the heavens. Even though he was less powerful, Prometheus was able to outwit Zeus on many occasions and proved that he had great knowledge and insight.
… example of his wit is where he fooled Zeus through mankind’s sacrificial rituals. … luscious meat of an ox inside the lining of its stomach and the bones inside rich fat from the ox.
He then asked Zeus to choose between the two sacrificial packages and undoubtedly Zeus chose the seemingly rich fat, however, was horrified to find the inedible bones inside the fat, leaving humans with the mineral rich meat. This idea taken from the myth demonstrates the aptitude of Prometheus, enabling Frankenstein to be seen as a direct representation of him.
Allied with this idea of Victor and Prometheus both being fundamentally the “creators” in the two stories; I envisage Frankenstein’s creation to signify mankind in the Prometheus story.
Even though the primitive mankind in the Prometheus myth was not hate-filled or vengeful like the creation, it represents an unwanted creation in the eyes of its creator, as Zeus, who instructed the creation of humans, grew to despise them.
In Frankenstein, despite the fact that Victor always dreamed of bringing new life into the world, he was horrified by what he saw as his creation opened its eyes. The contrast of his previous excitement to his shock and disgust can be seen when observing the following quotes:
The first quotation is: “the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places.”
The use of personification and language in this extract demonstrates how Victor worked perilously through the night and day to gather the required materials to create his being. Therefore highlighting the devotion and enthusiasm he felt for his experiment. Contrasting to this, upon the awakening of his creation, Victor states:
“unable to endure the aspect of the being, I rushed out of the room….”
After he “saw the dull yellow eye of the creature”“
This use of visual imagery emphasises how the creation disgusted him and shows the hatred he felt when he first laid eyes upon it. Victor cannot bare the sight of his creation and rejects the being he had always wanted to bring into the world. This concept of rejection by one’s creator is echoed in the myth of Prometheus where, despite the fact that he ordered their creation, Zeus does not want the human race to survive and refuses to permit them any aspect which would provide them with any kind of power.
This neglect demonstrated in the myth corresponds precisely to the desertion of the creature by Frankenstein. This aspect further displays how Shelley has related and intertwined the ideas of the myth into her novel, enabling her to provide the apt subtitle: “The Modern Prometheus.”
The next comparison between characters which I am going to analyse may seem unlikely, however I feel, both individuals had the same effect in essence in their respective stories. The Frankenstein novel starts with a series of letters from Robert Walton to his sister. Walton is an English Arctic explorer who comes across the exhausted Victor Frankenstein, who is in pursuit of the creature, and while recuperating, tells his story. This aspect of the novel is essential in understanding the comparison as I feel Walton symbolises Hercules in the myth of Prometheus.
Hercules and Walton are similar not in physical characteristics or even mental characteristics. However, in the myth, Hercules freed Prometheus from his bonds in the Caucasus Mountains and killed Zeus’ eagle that ate Prometheus’ liver everyday, which was punishment for bestowing mankind with fire.
He stopped Prometheus’ suffering and Walton did the same thing for Victor. Walton allowed Victor to tell his story. That may not seem important, but for a person who had to live in secret and saw his entire family die, it can be seen as very important.
The fact that Walton listened to Victor allowed him to die more peacefully. Victor’s burden of years of torment and stress was released onto Walton and made his own death easier. Walton and Hercules both freed the two from their physical and mental problems. It is for this reason that I believe Mary Shelley modelled the character of Walton on that of Hercules in her novel.
Following on from the characters, I will convey my analysis of some of the themes in Frankenstein and how they relate to the myth of Prometheus.
Firstly, the theme of punishment for acting against natural cause or instruction is fundamental to both Frankenstein and the myth of Prometheus. In Frankenstein, Victor uses all of his knowledge to create life. He had followed the ancient arts of the natural sciences and achieved something that no mortal had done before which is bring life into things which were previously not living.
However, in my opinion, I feel that Shelley is suggesting he is acting against the natural cause of death. He took upon the role of God even though that was not his original intent. His act of playing God caused him to suffer greatly. His entire family was demolished by death through his own creation’s anger which was initiated as a result of its rejection by Victor. The frustration felt by the creature s highlighted through the killing of Victors brother. After strangling him to death, the creature states:
“I gazed on my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph…”
Shelley’s use of this dark oxymoron to describe the death of Victor’s brother William demonstrates how the creature appears to almost enjoy taking revenge on his creator and suggests that this is not his last act of vengeance against Victor.
The death of his family can be seen as his “punishment” for playing God or going against the natural order of death. Prometheus was also punished for going against an order, however his order was from Zeus (King of the Gods), as in the myth he attempted to help the human race on earth by bestowing on man the gift of fire which was strictly forbidden by Zeus. As punishment, Zeus had Prometheus chained to a peak in the Caucasus Mountains where an eagle continually ate out his regenerating liver.
He was forced to suffer for all of eternity until the arrival of Hercules. Both Frankenstein and Prometheus went against a superior order or cause and were punished for doing so. Furthermore, the fact that in Frankenstein, Victor effectively causes his own punishment and suffering implies that Mary Shelley is commenting on how views on science and even religion have changed.
By titling her novel “The Modern Prometheus” and observing the theme of punishment, Shelley appears to be suggesting that the concept of God has little relevance in the contemporary society. The contrasting factor that in Frankenstein there is no God to punish Victor suggests that God has been compromised in her “Modern” society.
Another concept in Frankenstein which can be related to the Prometheus myth was that both mankind and the creation of Victor were both brought to life through a specific instrument. Victor’s creation was brought to life through electricity. As electricity went through the creation’s body, it was brought into existence. Victor’s use of electricity as a tool in bringing to life is demonstrated through the quotation. “
“the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet”.
The use of emotive language and visual imagery used to describe the “lifeless” creature highlights Victor’s excitement as well as his use of a “spark” of electricity as a tool in giving life to his creation. In the myth of Prometheus, fire allowed mankind to develop in life and permitted them to grow, in turn aiding their survival, which Zeus did not want. In Frankenstein, fire appears to be a metaphor for the past or ancient science as it is used in the ancient myth of Prometheus.
Electricity …. demonstrate contemporary science. By using these metaphors, Shelley …highlighting some of the changes which are occurring in her modern society and … older notions have been replaced by new … compromise of God which I previously stated.
To conclude, I …utilises the myth of Prometheus in detail through the use of symbolic reference, metaphors and …conveyed through the themes and characters of Frankenstein. I… Frankenstein provides a compelling allegory of both the myth of Prometheus as well as some of Mary Shelley’s views which comment on the science and contemporary development in her society.
It is from my previous analysis of the theme of punishment in Frankenstein … infer some of Shelley’s potential reasoning behind … linked Frankenstein to the myth of Prometheus in such an explicit way. The theme of punishment … reflected from the myth to Frankenstein indicates that Mary Shelley is … how society or certain contemporary scientists perhaps should be punished when meddling with creation.
Alternatively to this… seen that Mary Shelley is implying that through interfering with creation, major negative repercussions will occur.
One of these contemporary scientists … commenting on was Luigi Galvani … experiments on “the revival of dead animal tissue” in 1791. .. .with “animal electricity” which was transferred from the brain to other organs through nerves.
This method is alarmingly ... Victor Frankenstein brings to life his “creature” and may have been … influence in why Shelley used the myth of Prometheus in her novel.
Personally, I agree with these views and believe that … applied in today’s society …animal rights activists for example, … against scientist’s work with cloning, … similarly to Victor Frankenstein are effectively playing God through creation.
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