Between “Eternal Light” and “Darkness and Distance” as Main Symbols in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

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BETWEEN “ETERNAL LIGHT” AND “DARKNESS AND DISTANCE” AS MAIN SYMBOLS IN MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN, OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS

by Nikolay Valeriev Nikolov

Captain Walton is sailing to the “region of beauty and delight,” which is how he imagines the North Pole. He endeavours to “those undiscovered solitudes” and exclaims: “What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?” He is trying something uncommon for ordinary people on the one hand, and something possible from logical point of view on the other. Another “wayfarer” is Victor Frankenstein, who is striving for “eternal light,” but in another aspect. He is the “Modern Prometheus,” longing to “pour a torrent of light into our dark world,” while creating a human being – a deed, which is intrinsic to God (26). His creation is the third participant in the “journey” to “eternal light.” He is unnamed, or more often called the creature, the monster, the wretch, or the one with “unearthly ugliness” (55). Victor’s creation also dreams for “eternal light” in the meaning of pure love or happiness, but he is compelled to follow the contrary direction – to “darkness and distance” (134). The three meet each other at the “land of mist and snow,” where their “journey” ends, where the border between possible and common lies, between dream and reality, between genius and mankind, between God and mankind, between “a country of eternal light” and “darkness and distance.”

The character, accountable for the novel’s drama, is Victor Frankenstein, a student in humanities. “A possible interpretation of the name Victor derives from the poem Paradise Lost by John Milton, a great influence on Shelley (a quotation from Paradise Lost is on the opening page of Frankenstein and Shelley even allows the monster himself to read it). Milton frequently refers to God as ‘the Victor’ in Paradise Lost, and Shelley sees Victor as playing God by creating life” (Wikipedia). As a god Victor is determined to endow mankind: “Yet my heart overflowed with kindness, and the love of virtue. I had begun life with benevolent intentions, and thirsted for the moment when I should put them in practice, and make myself useful to my fellow-beings” (50). Moreover, as Prometheus, he gives the world “a spark of being” (28). Furnishing the world with such extreme power Frankenstein should take the responsibility of creator and help his gift be useful not destructive. However he mishandles it. When he is fifteen, he witnesses “a most violent and terrible thunderstorm,” which “utterly destroys” an “old and beautiful oak” (18). This event could be interpreted as an allusion to how pestilential this “spark of being” could be. As Miglena Nikolchina contends, the “serious ailment” is “in the man alone, undertaking the ‘godlike’ function to be a creator, but in many respects immature for it” (57).

The concrete reason for the creature being “spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on” is his physical ugliness (133). Why Frankenstein’s creation is ugly? According to Cvetan Stoyanov, “Ugliness is in fact alienation, drifting away from the vital principle – organic could not be ugly, transgressing and killing it is ugly” (206). Something, often cited in connection to Shelley’s work is a sentence in which the perfect artist is described as a morally perfect man, as a “second creator, faultless Prometheus under the sky of Jupiter” (Shaftsbury 207). In this respect Miglena Nikolchina considers Frankenstein as an untalented artist, because he is not “morally perfect” and shows this as a reason for the monster’s ugliness. She claims that the Frankenstein’s morality is not one of a creator, but one of an ordinary man. “Frankenstein has not even fancied that love – namely love and only love his creation wants – is the first characteristic of creator.” “Ugliness turns out the sign, left behind by the creator who infuses life, but does not manage to come to love it and thus calls forth death, for it is not...
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