Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was written by Mary Shelley, the novel’s subtitle is named “Or, the Modern Prometheus.” The subtitle suggests the first great scientist of Greek mythology who teaches medicine and science, takes fire from Zeus and gives it to humanity, or constructs a human being from clay. Prometheus was said to be the wisest of all the Titans. He stole fire from the Gods of Mount Olympus. For doing that, he was harshly punished by having an eagle pluck out his liver every night.
Shelley used the tale of Prometheus as a sense of significance resulting from seeking enlightenment and power. Victor was her modern incarnation of Prometheus and he was fascinated by the power of lightning as well. Victor was captivated by this power, but from this power is when he suffers from torture. After creating the monster, Victor is disgusted with what he has done, and his torture reflects that of Prometheus’.
The book exaggerates the conflict between the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and nineteenth-century Romanticism. Shelley directed the Enlightenment idolization of reason and mechanistic forces by attacking the idea that man was an expected and genuinely controllable machine. She pledges this with a line from a poem Mutability that denies her father’s systematic determinism and disagreement with free will- “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow; Nought may endure but mutability!”
Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, stands on current ethical arguments about cloning and the accountability of a scientist for his discoveries. Frankenstein creates a human being, and as a result, he and his family are damaged by it. The consequences of his actions do not come from his brilliant science but more so from the emotional response of him and others who all responded undesirably to the creature’s scary appearance. The underlying message of the novel is that the making of a human being by unnatural means is a dangerous undertaking; apprehensive of dangers from human emotions and feelings.
The novel has a profound influence on the societal perception of science, scientists, and knowledge. Captain Walton’s mission for the North Pole becomes a cautionary tale and symbol of the dangers of endless science. Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus serves as a warning against the scientific transformation and its potential for destroying humanity. The monster in the novel is harmless in nature in the beginning, but Victor’s neglect is what drives him to murder. Knowledge and science itself are not dangerous but it becomes dangerous from the abuse of society and people.
I can see where people would think Frankenstein is a caution against science. Frankenstein says “Unhappy man! Do you share my madness? Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught?” He refers to his pursuit of knowledge, we can see his loathing of that pursuit and madness. Frankenstein then compares himself to Walton saying, “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.” This is saying his pursuit of knowledge eventually caused him harm, and therefore we can associate scientific discovery with danger and agony.
Frankenstein shows his moral character by observing the family’s affirmative interactions. He sees them suffering from poverty and therefore decides to cut wood for the family and stop stealing their food. “I thought (foolish wretch!) that it might be in my power to restore happiness to these deserving people.” By doing this, he shows he can be compassionate and generous. If he was innately evil and dangerous, he wouldn’t have done those things or even thought of it. He also says “These were the reflections of my hours of despondency and solitude; but when I contemplated the virtues of the cottagers, their amiable and benevolent dispositions, I persuaded myself that when they should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues they would compassionate me and overlook my personal deformity.” This demonstrates how far from the evil he is. He “admires” the cottagers and shows positive reactions.
The creature shows admiration and positive characteristics but experiences loneliness and rejection. He deals with mistreatment and corruption. Danger starts to become known, but the danger does not come from science, it comes from a corruption of knowledge by human society The creature does murder in an evil way, but I think it was the responsibility of society to prevent that evil from happening and try to stop it before it happens.
Over the course of the novel, Frankenstein’s moral character develops. He accepts the responsibility of the creature and sees the chance to free himself and society of the creature for good; preventing further destruction. He realizes he must destroy his creation but fails so he tells Walton “The task of his destruction was mine, but I have failed. When actuated by selfish and vicious motives, I asked you to undertake my unfinished work; and I renew this request now when I am only induced by treason and virtue.” Shelley portrays science in many ways; I don’t think she portrays science itself as being evil, but it becomes evil from the actions of the creator. If Frankenstein accepted his responsibilities and accepted his creature, he most likely would have been better than bad. Scientists and human society need to take responsibility for their creations and findings. We as humans can do very powerful things with knowledge and science. The creature asks, “Was man, indeed at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?” All in all, science and knowledge can be corrupted but can also be very beneficial.