Prometheus and Frankenstein: The Destructive Desire for Knowledge

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

The desire to gain more knowledge has been a core piece of humans’ character since the beginning of our time. Even in the time of dinosaurs, humans desired to learn more of their surroundings and their predators, which ultimately allowed them to survive. However, while this desire for knowledge has allowed our human race to thrive and live in prosperity, it has also brought us much pain and suffering. While we discover new cures and procedures for diseases, we still suffer knowing that there are those diseases. We gather in world conferences and unite to battle global poverty, but the issue is that we still know there are millions of people living in poverty all throughout the world.

In greek mythology, Prometheus, a titan, gave humans knowledge and desire to pursuit it, but that unfortunately came with a price. In Frankenstein, which was originally titled A Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley alludes, rather weaves, the Prometheus myth into the crux of the story through three key points — the idea that knowledge comes with a price, the story of Pandora from a feminist perspective, and the symbol of lightning.In the Prometheus myth, it is well known that the “Pandora Box” is a a major part of the story.

After Prometheus created mankind and gifted them with fire, Zeus sent Pandora down to the world in a box that would tingle at Prometheus’s curiosity until he opened it. Unbeknownst to Prometheus, opening the box would bring out disease, poverty, misery, death, and sadness to all of humankind. This idea of the thirst and pursuit of knowledge and its unanticipated results, is something Mary Shelley delves into in her novel, Frankenstein. Shelley depicts Victor as a man who ultimately learns the danger of blindly pursuing knowledge, which he expresses to Robert Walton: “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge” (Shelly 39, Chapter 4). In the Prometheus myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought warmth to humankind, but ultimately disregarded any possible sufferings that might come about as a result of his actions. Similarly, Victor, is unable to bring benefit to humankind since his approach, infusing life into an inanimate creature, had many unexpected consequences.

This is a clear integration of the Prometheus myth in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.Moving forward, I personally found it intriguing that Shelley decided to use the Prometheus myth because of the legend of the “Pandora Box”. In the myth, Pandora is ultimately portrayed as a woman who ultimately brought ruin to all of mankind. In Frankenstein, there are no female characters that have any sense of independence, or character for that matter. In Victor’s perspective, all the females in his life need protecting and are all binded to their homes. When Elizabeth longed to visit Victor in Ingolstadt, while there was actually nothing stopping her, she wrote to Victor in a letter that she “regretted being unable” to go to Ingolstadt. The key word here is “unable”, because Elizabeth was completely able of traveling to visit Victor, but rather automatically assumed she was incapable of doing so, ultimately the result of a society that deemed women incapable.

I believe that Shelley integrated the Prometheus myth, along with the “Pandora Box” component to protest and make a point against the idea that if women are simply troublesome humans, they shouldn’t be given much voice inside of her novel. In fact, it can even be argued that had Victor communicated with Elizabeth about the monster, she could have been saved and kept Victor from any more of the overwhelming grief he experienced. However, VIctor assumed Elizabeth would be terrified of the monster, and wanting to protect her, rather assume she could not handle the grotesque nature of the monster, he told her to go back into their room, where she ultimately met her end.

In the Prometheus myth, Prometheus steals Zeus’s lightning from him, and essentially uses it to ignite humans’ burning desire to gain more knowledge, which is evident throughout Frankenstein. Victor’s journey towards knowledge and his curiosity is sparked by lightning he sees as a child, much like the lightning that Prometheus used to create that desire within us humans. In Frankenstein, lightning also symbolizes painful insight into events that the characters were previously unaware of. Victor realizes the monstrous nature of the being he created when a flash of lightning illuminates its horrid face. When his brother dies, “a flash of lightning illuminated the object”, which Victor realizes to be the monster he created, allowing him to realize that “He was the murderer” (“He” being the monster) (Shelly 63; Chapter 7). The flash of lightning, happens in an instant, much like how Victor realized instantly, that he was the creator of a monster that had ultimately killed his innocent younger brother. Lastly, this lightning also symbolizes the role of a creator – Victor reveals that he will “infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing….” (Shelley 43; Chapter 5).

Both Victor and Prometheus assume this position, and both are completely unaware of the great suffering and harm that will result because of their actions — and it all happens in an instant, just like a flash of lightning.Shelley incorporates the Prometheus myth masterfully into her work Frankenstein, as can be seen throughout the many similarities between both works. Victor and Prometheus both create their “beings” with lightning stolen from God, they both are ultimately responsible to ensure the wellbeing of their creations (which Victor fails to do), and they realize the severe consequences of their actions much too late. While Prometheus is chained to a rock and gets his liver eaten every day, Victor died a miserable death, and his creation, which simply needed love, acknowledgement, and the guidance of its sole creator goes to die by itself in complete isolation.


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