Mary Shelley's Frankenstein tells the story of a man's desire to control life itself. Victor Frankenstein's main goal is his own glory and power. He desires like Prometheus before him to take something that is reserved for the god's and make it of use to men. Victor is unable to control this new found power and it eventually destroys him. Shelley tells this story of knowledge and science by introducing the romantic temperament of Victor and the gothic themes of the creation of the creature and the horrors it unleashes.
As Shelley subtitled Frankenstein "The Modern Prometheus" the relation of the Greek titan to Victor Frankenstein is prominent. Prometheus stole fire from the gods of Mount Olympus to give it to people. For this theft he was punished by Zeus by being bound for all time, never to die even though he endured murderous torture everyday. Victor similarly stole a power that was reserved for the gods, the power to give life. However, while Prometheus' actions are arguably altruistic, Victor's actions are selfish. Victor is only concerned with his own power and glory. Victor, having studied alchemy and being recently introduced to modern science perceives how to give life to dead flesh. This new man will be strong, free of disease, beautiful and perhaps immortal.
In trying to create this new life Victor goes against the basic laws of nature that life cannot be created from lifelessness. Victor does not believe that this law is unbreakable and in succeeding in creating life he appears to be right. Having created new life Victor looks upon his creation. However, usurping the power of god does not make one god. Victor is unable to feel compassion for his newly created creature as he views him as horribly ugly. Victor twice rejects the creature, unable to look at the monstrosity he made and it eventually flees.
Victor believes the creature has left for good, but as he comes to find out the creature's existence will haunt him till his death. Victor, like Prometheus, is punished for trying to acquire the power of the gods. Victor's punishment is the destruction of his family. As the creature takes the life of first his brother and eventually his wife. Alone in the world Victor dies before he is able to kill his monstrous creation.
During the time of the enlightenment it was generally believed that science was the answer to making men great. Shelley shows us a cautionary tale of science run amuck. However, Shelley does agree with enlightenment's philosophy of immutable laws of nature that should not be broken as she demonstrates when Victor creates the monster. Victor approaches this problem using a romantic view of the laws and properties of natural science. Victor believes that he can control and changes the laws by using natural forces against each other, such as electricity and chemistry to animate dead flesh. However according to Kant's definition Victor is the picture of enlightenment, using his knowledge the way he wants to, without the assistance of anyone else.
Death and morbidity surround Victor both during and after his creations birth, showing the gothic picture that Shelley paints all too well. As Victor says, "The dissecting room and the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion" (Frankenstein, pg. 29). We see here and especially in the tragedies that come to follow Victor the dark and disturbing world that Shelley has portrayed.
Shelley's portrait of Victor is of a man that seeks power only to have it lead to his doom. She uses principles of science being explored in her day along with images of a decaying un-dead monster to tell a cautionary tale of knowledge and science gone mad.
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