Mary Shelley and Frankenstein: The Origin of a Myth

Author: Sherry Helms

How mutable are our feelings, and how strange is that clinging love we have of life even in the excess of misery!”, as spelled out by Mary Shelly in her wide spread classic Gothic fiction Frankenstein. Romanticized? Enlightened? Then comes more from Mary Shelley’s brain child Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.

How much ‘myths’ do interest you? Are you familiar with the myth of Prometheus? Mary Shelley deals with historical myths in a modern style.

Victor Frankenstein, the scientist and the protagonist is presented in the form of mythic Prometheus, who rebels against the traditions, creates life and shapes his own destiny. Prometheus’ ‘fire and light’ takes the form of electricity in this modern world. Shelley does not condemn the act of Victor’s creation but his act of desertion of his own creation that actually gave birth to the ‘monster’. Frankenstein fails in his act of creation and is called “The Modern Prometheus”.

There are two other major myths in the novel. One is Adam from Bible. Victor resembles Adam as he falls from God’s grace after he eats the forbidden fruit from Tree of Knowledge. Another is Satan, from Paradise Lost. After the monster grew to adulthood, he realized he is not Adam, rather Satan, because of his feelings of hatred and despair for the human society.

Romanticism is portrayed in a completely different manner from the traditional one. The novel revolves around the moral and mental struggles of Victor Frankenstein, the protagonist. He has to sacrifice his own family and own love to fulfill his ambitions. Get along with the romantic sides of the characters.

Why are humans biased against some certain sections of society? They really need to go through the process of Enlightenment to learn how to include everyone to form an equal and healthy society. This is when Shelley thinks the idea of Enlightenment is necessary in every society, to perfect the humanity. Society and its evils are actual parents of the dangers for humanity.

Shelley’s loss of a baby also had a crucial influence on the novel. That is why she calls it a “birth myth” where she comes in term with the death of her mother and also her failure as a mother. In this context Anne K Mellor, the feminist scholar, suggests, “… [Frankenstein] is profoundly concerned with natural as opposed to unnatural modes of production and reproduction”. Victor’s act of creation is portrayed as a sin to female principles. The monster, child of male ego, becomes the destroyer of natural female principles.

Written at the beginning stage of Industrial Revolution, Shelley here points out how improper use of science and technology can cause danger for the society. The artificially created Monster is seen as a probable result of recent scientific developments like test-tube babies and robots. The Monster may also be interpreted as symbol of modern technology. This is why Frankenstein is called the pioneer of science – fiction.

Hope you did not miss the point that Frankenstein is a novel that no book lover can miss reading. If you have not been still into it, then just go for the ride. Mary Shelley has given you open permission to interpret the book in your own way.

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