The Modern Prometheus When Mary Shelley “Frankenstein” rose to fame, literary critics sparked fierce debates concerning whether the main character, Victor Frankenstein, was influenced by the Greek myth of Prometheus. While Victor and Prometheus both created their own version of humans, their methods and overall affection for their creation is startling different. Some critics argue that Victor is in fact the modern Prometheus because of the ways Victor went about creating the monster with his use of science.
Other critics support this theory with the circumstances under which Mary wrote it, here she was heavily influenced by the Romantic philosophies of Lord Byron and her husband, Percy Shelley, and she even subtitled the novel as “The Modern Prometheus”. When viewing all of the evidence, many critics can agree that Mary was heavily influenced by the myth of Prometheus when writing Frankenstein. When Mary first wrote “Frankenstein”, she was heavily influenced by the people and environment around her to include elements of Romanticism in her novel.
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When Mary first wrote “Frankenstein”, she originally wrote it for a short story competition between her and other authors. This competition was held by Lord Byron, who was a renowned Romantic author of the time who also wrote “Promethean poems” (Rider). At only nineteen years of age, Mary was a young and inexperienced author who most likely drew her ideas from “her father, William Godwyn, and those of her lover, Percy Bysshe Shelley’ Games). Her father was famous novelist and political philosopher that help shaped Marys opinions and writing style that helped her to incorporate the ideas of her father into her own works.
Her husband, Percy, also was a well renowned author who released his own novel, Prometheus Unbound, shortly after Mary ompleted Frankenstein. This title reflects the subtitle of Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus, and helps to illustrate the major influence the Prometheus myth had on many of these authors. When Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein”, she very clearly linked her main character, Victor Frankenstein, to the heroic figure of Greek myth, Prometheus.
Prometheus “contended with the gods, stole fire from them to give to humans, and was punished by Zeus by being chained on Mount Caucasus to have vultures eat his liver” (Diane). Prometheus helped to shape all living animals on Earth and gave them any of their distinctive traits. When Mary was giving the determining qualities of Victor, she didn’t seem to be influenced by any of the traits of Prometheus. This is where many critics argue that Victor is not in fact The Modern Prometheus because he doesn’t share any of the qualities That Prometheus exemplifies with his treatment of his creation.
Prometheus risks his life for the humans by standing up to Zeus and stealing “fire from the gods” dames) to give it to the humans. Victor on the other hand leaves his creation to survive on his own and discover that “fire gave light as well as heat” (Chap. 11). The monster had to learn from the humans and “discover the motives which influenced their actions” (Chap. 12) in order to lean about the world he pessimistic perception of science and the dangers it could bring. Mary was a Romantic writer who rejected many of the scientific ideas of the Enlightenment and the dangers it could bring.
Even though Victor doesn’t share many qualities with Prometheus, it is still clear that he is The Modern Prometheus with his use of science to create a living creature, similarly to how Prometheus molded humans “out of clay’ (Caldwell). Victor exemplified this modern persona of science by delving deep nto the studies of natural philosophy and vowing to “unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (Chap. 3). Similarly to Prometheus, Victor was originally very excited and motivated to create his own living creature.
But, when Victor finishes his creation, he is immediately repulsed by his creation and shuns it. This turns out horribly for Victor later in the novel when the monster creates great personal grief for Victor by killing his loved ones and leaving his wife on the bed, “lifeless and inanimate” (Chap. 23). Prometheus also suffered greatly from his creation because he eceived the gods and stole fire from then. While Prometheus suffered from trying to help his creation, Victor suffered because he didn’t show any compassion towards his creation.
Even though Prometheus and Victor are very differently morally, Victor can still be considered the Modern Prometheus for creating a living creature using science and suffering greatly from his creation. Marys Romantic view as a writer helped to create one of the greatest examples of writing for the Romantic period. By linking her main character to an ancient fgure of Greek mythology, Mary tried to show the dangers of science and tried to influence ther people into redeeming some Romantic qualities and turning back to nature to find peace during times of great change.
Linking Victor to the popular myth of Prometheus helped to establish a common link among her readers and helped them to understand Victor’s motives and actions. Even though the two figures are startling different in their treatment of their creations, they both similarly created a human- like being and suffered greatly for their actions. Works Cited Caldwell, Tracy M. “Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein Or The Modern Prometheus.. ” Literary Contexts In Novels: Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ (2006): 1-8. Literary Reference Center. Web. 4 Nov. 2013. Frankenstein. ” Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 180-202. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 31 Oct. 2013. James, Frank A. J. L. , and J. V. Field. “Frankenstein And The Spark Of Being. ” History Today 44. 9 (n. d. ): 47. Literary Reference Center. Web. 4 Nov. 2013. Rider, Janine. “Frankenstein. ” Magill’S Guide To Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature (1996): 1-2. Literary Reference Center. Web. 4 Nov. 2013. Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Maurice Hindle. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. London: Penguin,