Almost two centuries have passed since the first publication of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Today, the monster created by Victor Frankenstein is a well-recognized character, and the gothic story of Frankenstein has inspired numerous big-screen adaptations.
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However, the passage of time did not dim the brilliance of Shelley’s novel; rather, the progression of technology showed that the conflict between science and nature or man and God is just as overt and debatable as it was two hundred years ago.
The story of Frankenstein is presented through different points of view. The story is mainly narrated by Robert Walton, who tells the story of Victor Frankenstein in his letters to his sister. These letters are used as a framing device or, in other words, set up a story within a story. In his letters, Walton tells his sister about the expedition he was a part of, which took place in the Arctic Ocean.
The story begins in the Arctic Circle with the description of Walton’s encounter with Victor Frankenstein, who lost sight of a monster he chased for miles. This fact immediately creates an information gap that builds anticipation for the rest of the story. The desolate background of the northern ice is one of the Gothic elements of the story.
Victor Frankenstein tells his story to Walton to warn humanity not to make the same mistakes. The presentation of the story through Walton’s letters adds validity to it. By the end of the story, the narration shifts between Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature he created. The shifting point of view allows the author to present the story from different angles and lets the reader get the sense of a bigger picture made up of the different narrations.
The point of view of the Creature, for example, allows the reader to understand the suffering he went through, and the way his experience is not too far from a human one. This highlights the author’s disagreement with the way people treat those who are different in appearance, poor, or undedicated.
The main character of Frankenstein, a young scientist, named Victor, was always interested in exploring the mystery of human existence through science. Since he was a child, he was interested in scientific explanations of natural phenomena. At the university, Victor excels in his studies and soon comes up with an ambiguous method of making dead matter alive.
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Eventually, his experiments led to the creation of a living and conscious creature made out of dead body parts. It is here the reason why the full name of the novel is Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus becomes apparent. In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the deity who created mankind from clay and gave mankind fire.
Like Prometheus, Victor had created a living creature out of non-living matter and had to suffer the consequences of his accomplishment. The allegory is clear: both characters take the role of the Creator in their attempt to conquer nature and improve humanity, and both of them are suffering as a result. The creature, created by Victor Frankenstein, is a horrific sight and makes him disgusted to the point he dismisses him.
The Creature is, however, capable of thinking, feeling, and learning, and he is much like a human, albeit vastly different in appearance. He thinks of himself as a tragic figure, abandoned by his creator, with no place in the world.
Victor’s ruthless pursuit of knowledge led to a dangerous discovery of the secret of life, but this discovery brought nothing but suffering. The Creature is suffering in his loneliness, dismissed and feared by humanity. Victor is suffering because of guilt and eventually loses the dearest to him because of his discovery.
Throughout the novel, Shelly compares Victor’s rationalist vision of knowledge to light: “What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?” (Shelley 3). In Prometheus, the deity presented humanity with the knowledge of fire, and Victor gave humanity the “eternal light,” the key to the secret of life.
However, when the light is too powerful it becomes dangerous, and Victor’s discovery consumes him just like fire. Shelley describes the true nature of fire through the way the Creature learns about it: although fire creates a light, it is also hot if you get too close.
Just like knowledge, fire can bring light destruction. Knowledge is power, and Victor, lonely since his childhood, was pursuing knowledge to gain power over others. His thirst for knowledge drives him to the point where he becomes a superhuman at the expense of his conscience, scavenging graves to create a living creature.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was written at the time when technology and science only began advancing. This story is an expression of fears and uncertainty felt by people of that time. It also explores the concept of a man in the role of God. With the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation, the author implies that a human should not possess the power of God.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 2016.