The Myth of Prometheus in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley created a prototypical character in her well-known novel, Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus, which seems to be a completely new character based on mythological hero, Prometheus. Through her novel, Shelley not only created original character but also influenced the 19th century gothic literature.

In this essay, we will analyze the personality of Shelley’s characters and original mythological character, Prometheus. The descriptive analysis of both characters; Frankenstein and Prometheus, we find direct correlation between these two characters. Shelley gave a life to a protagonist through dark and gloomy features of the Gothic novel.

Gothic Novel Introduction

Gothic fiction arose in England in the late 18th century, as a part of literary movement, Romanticism. Gothic novel featured a new genre, such as haunted castles, dungeons, supernatural elements, and horrifying events.

The subgenre, Gothic horror derived from Gothic novel which focused on the themes of morality, philosophy, and religion. Gothic horror is also characterized by anti-heroes, anti-villains, and alluring villains.

In Frankenstein, we witness a drastic change in the prototype of villain. The antagonist in the novel is not a handsome and intelligent man, even he is not considered a man. The villain is a monster, a creature made of human flesh by the protagonist of the story, Victor Frankenstein.

The story also features some of the romantic elements, like a classical character, Prometheus. Romanticists were against imitation and creation of stories based on already existing. Surprisingly, Mary Shelley based her novel in an ancient myth.

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Both periods; British 19th century and ancient Greek world but are linked through the character who believes himself more intelligent than God and his intelligence turns him into a monster. The repetition of action highlights the same errors were performed in different time periods.

As mentioned by Walker, the idea of adding a subtitle in which the name of the Greek titan appears serves as a call for the readers to pay attention to the similarities between the myth and the novel. In this way, Victor Frankenstein would be the original Prometheus and monster who is nameless and represents mankind.

The Myth of Prometheus in Frankenstein

The myth of Prometheus was put in writing by the Greek poet, Hesiod in the Theogony in 8th century BC. Following the myth, Prometheus was the son of the titan Iapetus who revolted against the authority of Zeus, not in the hope of gaining power, but to bring benefits to the human race. Prometheus gives humans the victory by winning a dispute between the deities and humans. In response, Zeus takes away the gift of fire from which Prometheus would steal later in the myth. That’s the reason of eternal punishment for both Prometheus and humans. Whereas Prometheus would be chained to a pillar so he could not escape.

Prometheus is presented “as the bearer of fire and as creator of man, and in both cases the Titan is the benefactor of man, his creation.” Mary Shelley would assign these features to Frankenstein too as the doctor creates the monster in physical terms, gives it life with the word described as “spark.” Victor Frankenstein is an intelligent man whose eloquence is “forcible and touching”, similar to Prometheus.

Both characters confront higher beings, Zeus and God, for creating something beautiful as they think.
Prometheus has no regrets about helping the humans or having created them. He considers them a creation who deserves to be loved and taught, contrary to what happens with the monster in Shelley’s novel. The doctor repents of having created it and tries to abandon it. Frankenstein detests the monster to such an extent that he wishes to kill it. This hate is what makes the monster cruel and ruthless:

“There was none among the myriads of men that existed who would pity or assist me; and should I feel kindness towards my enemies? No; from that moment I declared everlasting war against the species, more than all, against him who had formed me and sent me forth to this insupportable misery.”

This statement leads to the original myth. Prometheus was proud of his creation and the titan did not feel regrets for having created them. Compared to that, Victor Frankenstein, the creature is nothing more than a scientific experiment, that did not expect to develop feelings, was just a scientific result. For Walker, this aspect of Frankenstein “would explain his less than paternal emotions that he feels towards it.” This can be true that if Frankenstein had accepted the monster, it may would not have been ruthless.

Frankenstein, like Prometheus, does not to go unpunished for the creation of monster. Mary Shelley makes several references to the myth like, doctor’s personality, rebelling against the moral values, the creation of monster that gives it life. At the end of the novel, the doctor expresses to be “haunted by a curse that shut up every avenue to enjoyment.” He also wonders “of what materials was I made that I could thus resist so many shocks, which, like the turning of the wheel, continually renewed the torture?”
Here the separation from the Prometheus character is implied, not from the Greek myth. The motive of their protection is for Zeus anger, according to Aeschylus. Frankenstein here, seems like the anger of Zeus.

Another characteristic which separates the doctor from Prometheus is his limited capacity to analyze the situation and observe the possible consequences. Frankenstein acts impulsively, without thinking about the results of his actions.

The connections between both characters entail the aspect of Mary Shelley when she wrote the novel. She presented a typical gothic novel with gothic villain, based on archetypal personality of a classical mythology. The result is a flawed hero with worse consequences until his death.


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