The Myth of Prometheus in Frankenstein
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a modern day version of the legend of Prometheus. Prometheus created men out of clay and taught them the "arts of civilisation" (Webster's World Encyclopedia CD-ROM 1999). Zeus, the chief god of the Titans, wanted to destroy Prometheus' creation but Prometheus stole fire from heaven to help mankind. Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock where an eagle would feed on his liver during the day and each night the liver would grow back. Prometheus was able to bargain for his release because he knew a secret which concerned Zeus' future. Heracles shot the eagle and so Prometheus gained release. Victor Frankenstein is Shelley's modern Prometheus in that he, too, created man. The themes that relate to the myth of Prometheus in the novel are Frankenstein's torment, the monster's education, and the absolute determination of the individual spirit and how this determination can rival that of God. Shelley uses these themes to show that the human spirit is capable of many things - of noble pursuits that rival God himself, but also of the darkest of actions that draw comparisons with the acts of Satan.
Victor Frankenstein is in the first part of the book described as a very noble person, with human curiosities while not common to most people are nevertheless normal. Our sympathy is entirely with him. His desire for knowledge and his eagerness to achieve high goals and to bring the human race further in its effort to erase the pains and sufferings of mortality only make him seem more admirable. He seems to devote his whole life to the benefit of humanity. The sea captain, Walton, sums up this impression when he says " How can I see so noble a creature destroyed...? He is so gentle, yet so wise; his mind is so cultivated..." (Shelley, p.14). Even in Chapter 3 when he is talking to his professors about Paracelsus and his studies of the alchemists (pp. 35 - 39) only lend credence that his ambitions are in no way self motivated. By the next chapter he is completely consumed by his ambition. He no longer sees the beauties of nature and turns his back on the goodness and purity of life, which is symbolised by nature (and is, like the theme of the individual, an important theme in Romanticism), "My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement" (p. 44) and " The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit... my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature" (p. 45).
Frankenstein is characterised as the modern Prometheus in the subtitle of his novel but Prometheus brought fire and light (civilisation) to his creation and in doing so, turned his back against the gods. He suffered for his sacrifice by being chained to a rock and had his liver eaten by an eagle. For Prometheus and his creation fire was a blessing and enabled humanity to develop and break free of the gods. Like Prometheus,...