Friday, 6 August 2010

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Viktor Frankenstein is a wealthy Swiss scholar who becomes obsessed with science and chemistry. He takes his studies in his own direction and eventually comes upon a method of giving life to inanimate objects. Although he knows that the creation of life in a laboratory is morally reprehensible, as a scientist, his drive to discover if his theories work and can be expanded upon pressures him into doing just that. He creates his own monster made from bits of the human body he has collected from various places. Upon finishing his creation, he is appalled by what he has done and neglects to take any further responsibility for his work. The monster is therefore forced to learn to survive on his own wholly without the help of Frankenstein, who himself falls ill with the shock of his own audacity and exhaustion from working so hard. Before it is all over though, Frankenstein will be forced to confront both the monster and the true and widespread consequences of what he has done to the monster, himself and the world.

After all these years, it’s good to read the real story about Frankenstein and clear up the inconsistencies between how it all began and what it has become. Today we refer to Frankenstein as the monster when in reality he was the creator, at least on the surface of it all. It’s arguable which really was the monster, the man or his creation. After all, what Frankenstein did was monstrous from start to finish. Not only did he take on the role of God and mess with Creation, he then proceeded to wilfully neglect his responsibilities towards his own work. He created a soul and then left it to itself with no guidance and no help which ultimately caused great harm to himself, his family and his creation. He played God and failed miserably making him the real monster of the two.

The Monster himself shows great depths of feeling and humanity. Instead of laying the land to waste in order to survive, his first thoughts were to learn about the world so he could eek out his own place in it instead of living off others. He showed desire to help and be generous with his time and effort. The reader is left with the distinct impression that the Monster was intrinsically good, or at least better than his own creator. It was his own maker who was determined to make the Monster into something evil. The only evil in him was created out of a desperate loneliness, which really only proves how human he was despite his appearance. The monster really was a Modern Prometheus. He took the blame for the evil of his creator and the lack of humanity in the world at large despite his own innocence.

Frankenstein, on the other hand, was not a good man. It’s not really possible to say outright that he was evil, but he lacked all those things he “gave” to his creation: social responsibility and compassion being the greatest of these. Had he lived up to the responsibilities he incurred with his experiments and shown compassion for the monster, the harm done would have been greatly lessoned. However, he did not and therefore showed himself to be the lesser of the two beings.

Mary Shelley intended this to be a warning about the evils of modernisation and the industrial revolution, but it became so much more. The story is teaming with lessons for humanity, all of which still apply today. There are also the more abstract themes such as conflict between father and son, good verses evil and just what it means to be human. It’s a great story and well deserved of its status as a classic. 4.5 out of 5 for this one. The loss of the half point is debateable since I felt the telling of the story was a bit convoluted, but that’s probably down to the old-fashioned style of writing. More shame on me I suppose.


Spudz said...

I find that after the original thought of who was the monster... the creator or the creation... that the real question is:

Does curiosity in human nature create evil that cannot be reversed? I think it's applicable to a lot of things going on in the world today.

Nice write-up. Mine is located here:


Laura's Reviews said...

Fantastic review! I have been meaning to read this book for years . . . maybe this will be on my classics challenge list for 2011!