Desire and Revenge in Frankenstein and Prometheus
In the wide spectrum of humanistic characteristics, that of desire is one of the most prominent. It is an emotion that is challenging to resist, as it tends to control many aspects of life because of the strength it possesses. In the realm of non-human emotions, however, similar feelings emerge; whether a mortal being or not, lack of contentment always leads to further wants to fill the gap. In the Gothic and science fiction novel of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley explores the desire for self-satisfaction and revenge when the monster wants Victor to create a new female monster, but when Victor’s family and his friends start becoming victims of murder, he wants revenge on the creature he had so diligently made. Frankenstein’s alternative title is The Modern Prometheus. In the famous Greek legend of Prometheus, the god wants to help the mortals by stealing fire from Zeus, succeeds, and Zeus, to avenge his pride, creates Pandora, a human woman to bring causes of ruin. Through a shared link of sheer aspiration, Victor, Prometheus, Zeus, the monster, and Pandora convey common desires despite physical differences, and the determination to achieve personal ambition. Showing that human enlightenment is desirous and destruction can ensue when limits are overreached.
To quench his thirst for knowledge, Victor disregards his father’s requests to ignore the works of Cornelius Agrippa when his father had said, “do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash” (Shelley 46). Instead, he goes out to pursue more contents of Agrippa, ignorant to the fact that this scientist’s theories had been disproven. After spending many sleepless nights dedicated to his studies, Victor claims, “I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life…I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter” (Shelley 57). Victor’s ambitious personality leads him to go ahead on his own to create some type of creature. He would soon see the creature as hideous, causing conflict among several characters in the novel. As Harriet Hustis states in her evaluation of Frankenstein, Victor “flees his creation in “breathless horror and disgust, apparently because it does not overtly embody the sublimity of his creative intentions” (Hustis). This shows his naïve reaction to an unexpected turn of events that emerged from his own actions to achieve a far-set goal.
Similarly, the monster that he creates also has a specific desire as well. Ever since Victor had abandoned him because of his countenance and out of fear, the monster had run away and started to experience the judgments of society. He was targeted particularly because he had major physical differences, what humans may have called defects, and starts to feel lonely and excluded since no one will accept him or be his friend. When he meets Victor, he recalls all he had been through and explains, “I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me. My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects” (Shelley 128). He also states, “Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy and I shall again be virtuous” (Shelley 129). The monster’s desire for a companion seems more reasonable especially because he has no one else to lean on and must be completely independent in a world that rejects him. As intelligent as Victor may seem, he makes the unwise decision of declining the creature’s request because he thinks two monsters will bring double destruction and soon the monster’s killing rampage starts out of his anger. By murdering William, which caused Justine’s execution, and killing Clerval and Elizabeth, which brought his Victor’s father’s untimely death, Victor’s family is torn apart not only by the monster’s wishes but his own, to maintain his inner pride and not be dragged down by his creation. Victor is filled with hatred after being informed of the deaths and says, “When I reflected on his crimes and malice, my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation…I wished to see him again…and avenge the deaths of William and Justine” (Shelley 87). Although he knows the deeply rooted cause of all the troubles, Victor refuses to acknowledge that he himself is the dilemma and continues on his quest to seek the monster and obtain some form of justice.
In the Greek myth of Prometheus, which explains how man and woman were created, there are many cases where desire and revenge are present, as well. To exemplify the connections between a Greek legend and science fiction, Hustis states, “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is responsible for a creative transformation worthy of her prototypical mad scientist, Victor Frankenstein: she reconfigures, recontextualizes, and thus modernizes the myth of Prometheus by means of a ‘tiresome, unlucky ghost story’ (Hustis). Unlike Victor’s intentions, Prometheus, one of the gods in Greek mythology, wanted to help the humans, and becomes a benefactor for mortals. He stole a gift exclusive to the gods, fire, to give “intelligence and technology to man” (Spatz). This exemplifies his benevolent desires for others, especially those who were of lower ranking. In turn, Zeus wants revenge on Prometheus for going against his will, and making something that was private and treasured, public and lowering the value of an object he regarded as his own. He is also enraged that Prometheus will not say who will dethrone him, which is knowledge he had claimed to have. Zeus’ punishment is two-fold as he wants to make both mankind and Prometheus suffer. However, the latter had seen his own human mortals defeated by stronger beasts of the wild and was willing to aid them in any way he could. As Hustis states, “Prometheus understands that revulsion in the face of hideousness can only be overcome by an indulgence in benevolent pity, and he accepts the fact that such “daring” may come at a considerable price” (Hustis). Prometheus was known to have been chained to a rock where a culture would eat his immortal flesh each day. This reflects the will to self-sacrifice despite the consequences because the mortals were indeed beings that would come and go while the gods would last forever. The most significant example of revenge in the ancient legend is the creation of woman. Zeus sends the first female, Pandora, down to earth as a beautiful being whom men cannot resist, and she has a box with her. Disregarding the specific instructions given not to open the box, she does so anyway and out spills disease, crime, and all the evils in the world that will plague humankind. Illustrating the effects of desire, one can be successfully benevolent, yet simultaneously bring ruin.
There are similarities between both Prometheus and Frankenstein connected by emotions of desire and revenge. With the many versions of the creation story, a common theme holds true-human enlightenment is desirous and destruction can ensue when limits are overreached. The desire to help people is also prominent in the two stories. As Virginia Brackett stated in her commentary, “[Prometheus] was a popular immortal, an immoral trickster who came to be seen as a champion of the proletariat, the common man” (Brackett). Because of his aid, humans were able to live prosperously with fire in their possession whilst before they had no source of light, nor an ultimate weapon to defend themselves with. The monster that Victor creates is also a kindhearted creature and while relating his experience with the DeLaceys, tells Victor, “The more I saw of them, the greater by desire to claim their protection and kindness; my heart yearned to be known and loved by these amiable creatures: to see their sweet looks directed towards me with affection, was the utmost limit of my ambition” (Shelley 118). Although the human family with whom the monster resides does not know he exists or that he is learning from them, he appreciates their presence and wants to help them in any way he can. For example, he tells Victor, “During the night, I often used his tools…and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days” (Shelley 102). This would allow the family to spend more time tending to more urgent needs making their lives easier.
It is clearly represented that knowledge brings conflict as John Thorburn states, “Prometheus’ knowledge is nothing compared to that of Zeus. Prometheus’ knowledge caused him to be in conflict with Zeus” (Thorburn). Prometheus knowing which one of his children would dethrone Zeus infuriated Zeus which led to dispute between the two. Victor Frankenstein also explores the phenomenon of bring a human back to life. Crocker comments that “Having made this wonderful discovery, he hastened to put it in practice” (Crocker). This would eventually cause his own downfall because a minor miscalculation created an ugly monster who had been intended to be beautiful.
On the other hand, desire and revenge exemplify differences between the two stories as well. When Prometheus is disobedient to Zeus, he is aware that there will be consequences and still he is willing to help the humans as revealing the information Zeus wanted will force the latter to give fire back to the people. In the end, Hercules also sacrifices his life to free Prometheus from imprisonment which illustrates his selflessness. When Victor finally confesses to his experiment to his father, he states, “A thousand times would I have shed my own blood, drop by drop, to have saved their lives; but I could not, my father, indeed I could not sacrifice the whole human race” (Shelley 160). Although he does not have to make the ultimate decision of dying, Victor refuses to admit what the underlying causes of the queer deaths were because he is fearful of his own reputation and life. Victor is the opposite of Hercules in that he wishes to preserve his own dignity while allowing tragic events to happen despite the monster’s warnings. Physical appearances may not seem to matter or be viewed as insignificant, but those characteristics do affect the plot and thus the resolution as well. One of the main reasons the monster began to kill innocent people is out of his anger toward society because of how he looks. As he explains his life so far, he tells Victor, “God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, and more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.” (Shelley 117). The creature claims that he is hideous and even the devil has followers who love and adore him which fills him with jealousy since he does not experience affection from anyone.
In contrast, Pandora is made with much beauty, outstanding that of the goddesses above and lives a comfortable life until she opens the forbidden box of evils. The distinction between the intentions behind wanting to create, and the intentions behind desiring revenge are distinguished using Victor and Zeus. When Victor makes the human which turned out to be a monster, he had positive forethought in that he was hoping to achieve something that had never been done before. Indeed he is a brilliant student and is able to figure out the secret to animating human remains once again. Yet Zeus makes Pandora with a negative design- to punish Prometheus who loves man, for bringing back the fire that had been purposely taken away.
While Frankenstein and Prometheus may have been written in two very different time periods, they both reflect the significance of human emotions of desire. Through the use of these feelings, Shelley and Aeschylus illustrate the actions and consequences that ensue when the mortal and immortal realms are entered and there are attractive objects or goals to achieve. Shelley effectively utilizes desire and revenge as active tools, presenting situations generated by emotions from the human realm, inspiring the actions of Victor, Prometheus, and Zeus.
Brackett, Virginia. “Prometheus in the works of Mary Shelley.” Critical Companion to Mary Shelley: A Literary Reference to Her Life and Work, Critical Companion. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2012. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 7 Jan. 2016 Crocker, John Wilson. “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.” Quarterly Review (January 1818): 379–385. Quoted as “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” in Bloom, Harold, ed. Mary Shelley, Bloom’s Classic Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2008. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web.7 Jan. 2016\ Hustis, Harriet. “Responsible Creativity and the “Modernity” of Mary Shelley’s Prometheus.” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 43, no. 4 (Autumn 2003): 845–858. Quoted as “Responsible Creativity and the “Modernity” of Mary Shelley’s Prometheus” in Bloom, Harold, ed. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, New Edition, Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2009. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 8 Jan. 2016 Spatz, Lois. “Prometheus Bound: Interpretation by Analogy.” Aeschylus. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982. 138-163. Twayne’s World Authors Series 675. Web. 9 Jan. 2016. Thorburn, John E., Jr. “Prometheus Bound.” Facts On File Companion to Classical Drama. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 9 Jan. 2016 Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Ed. Johanna M. Smith. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.
Crocker, John Wilson. “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.” Quarterly Review (January 1818): 379–385. Quoted as “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” in Bloom, Harold, ed. Mary Shelley, Bloom’s Classic Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2008. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web.7 Jan. 2016\
Hustis, Harriet. “Responsible Creativity and the “Modernity” of Mary Shelley’s Prometheus.” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 43, no. 4 (Autumn 2003): 845–858. Quoted as “Responsible Creativity and the “Modernity” of Mary Shelley’s Prometheus” in Bloom, Harold, ed. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, New Edition, Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishing, 2009. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 8 Jan. 2016
Spatz, Lois. “Prometheus Bound: Interpretation by Analogy.” Aeschylus. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982. 138-163. Twayne’s World Authors Series 675. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.
Thorburn, John E., Jr. “Prometheus Bound.” Facts On File Companion to Classical Drama. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 9 Jan. 2016
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Ed. Johanna M. Smith. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.