Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus

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Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus
"…that man's desire to understand and control the world around him is conditioned by his inability to understand and control himself." (Shelley vii). History is replete with examples of self-appointed saviors of man who have felt that it was their duty to improve the pathetic day-to-day existence of mankind. These men believe themselves to be heroic, even visionary and that they alone truly know best what will serve the best interest of mankind. Their mission seems so grand and even essential, that ordinary laws and rules, even moral principles no longer apply to them. The consequences or the end result seem irrelevant, and their actions, justified by insisting "it was done to make life better" become an end in and of themselves. Two of the best examples in literature of this phenomenon can be found in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and in the several myths of the Ancient Greek's legendary Prometheus. Although there are plenty of characters throughout history that fit the description of these less than virtuous traits, Mary Shelley's purpose for writing the novel was to try to make sense of what she could not fully understand herself. "This attempt to rationalize the supernatural is vital to Mary Shelley's purpose, which is to show that evil has no autonomous existence of its own, independent of the human life upon which it preys, but that it is of human origin, a distortion of the human nature."(Shelley vii). There are several interpretations of the name Frankenstein. To many in American culture, the name has come to symbolize the creation of life in a laboratory, rather than by God or natural evolution. Frankenstein has also come to be a metaphor for when science goes too far, such as controversial procedures/experiments that push the envelope on human morality and what is scientific innovation for the good of mankind versus playing God. A modern example of a controversial field currently funded with millions of dollars is stem cell research. It can be argued to be either an example of a scientific advancement with the potential to improve the quality of life for countless people, or simply an unethical, immoral attempt to create artificial life in a lab setting. One thing is certain, that stem cell research is here to stay, and its researchers will continue to work on new ways to use this new technology in their own self-interest, most likely for the highest profit, despite the consequences of the outcome. In order to understand to the fullest extent, the thought process behind the creation of one the best pieces of literature of the Gothic Period, we have to delve into the mind behind the masterpiece. It started in Switzerland in the early 19th Century, when a young Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was traveling through the European countryside with two of her closest friends who also happened to be famous writers. While in Switzerland for the summer, the trio stayed at the landmark known as Mont Blanc. Mary referred this place as "the most desolate place in the world."(Means). Already, she had witnessed what she would later describe as a perfect setting to an important scene in a concept she was interested in making a novel about, and upon Mary's return to England that same year, she began to outline the novel. The main focus of the Frankenstein novel was on the concepts of creation/destruction, isolation, deprivation, and fear, which were attributed to Shelley's fascination with the emotional impact of terror and the possibilities of science fiction. Although it may be hard to believe, Mary's novel was passed off several times as a mediocre piece of literature, before it was finally published under an anonymous author in November of 1817. Frankenstein was later reprinted in early 1818 and a formal introduction, in which Mary talked about her support for Godwinian politics was added as well. On the one hand, there were the pessimists who happened to be the conservative...
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