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From Myth To Fable: Frankenstein By Mary Shelley

1202 words - 5 pages

By giving “Frankenstein” the subtitle “The Modern Prometheus”, Mary Shelley made a connection between a central character of her 19th century novel and a titan from Greek mythology. Prometheus was employed by the Olympian gods in the process of creating men, and is known for stealing the element of fire from them for the benefit of mankind (Hunt). The myth about him appeared in many legends and fables prior to its reincarnation in the story about Victor Frankenstein, a science student who created a being by reviving dead matter using electricity (Atsma). “Frankenstein” is a modern image of the ancient myth. At the same time, it is a “Gothic”, Romantic novel, with an affinity to traditional fables visible in its content and structure.
The chief contrast between the novel and the myth is the absence of gods. Victor does “not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition” (Shelley 51) since in his story human abilities replaced supernatural powers. Prometheus was punished by the gods; Frankenstein – by the product of his scientific endeavors. Electricity was his modern version of the stolen fire. In addition to science, other utterly human powers played significant roles in the novel, emphasizing its modern character. In the spirit of Romanticism, Shelley depicted the evils of her contemporary society. Due to his “miserable deformity” (114), the creature met with human prejudice and aggression, of both individuals and crowds. From his experiences with people, even with the De Lacey family that he admired, he learned that man was “at once so powerful, so virtuous…yet so vicious and base” (119). However, unlike other characters, he had managed to escape another man-made evil: the law. Justine, Safie, her father, and eventually even Victor were all subjected to “Kafkaesque” accusations of a juridical system which preferred “that ten innocent should suffer, than that one guilty should escape” (86).
Evidently, the novel was influenced by an “Age of Wonder” filled with scientific discoveries (Kirsch). It began and ended at the North Pole, “a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (Shelley 16). In a Romantic manner, landscapes of wilderness created throughout the novel a pathetic fallacy of the characters’ emotions, reflecting solitude in lakes, sorrow in mighty storms, and joy in the beauty of Mont Blanc. However, the woods, lakes, and mountains where the story took place were not a modern discovery. Similar environments often constituted the settings of traditional folktales, the dangerous woods representing a dangerous world.
Habitually recounted by oral transmission, fables tend to be short and concentrate on one story, whereas the novel is printed, and is broader in its scope. Fables are told in third-person, revealing an omniscient perspective; the novel is written in the form of monologues, having first-person narration (Leveen). Nevertheless, the structure of the novel is reminiscent of the...

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