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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Transcript of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Mary Shelley entitled her book, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, it is for this simple reason that I decided to explore the Ancient Greek myth of Prometheus
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
The Modern Prometheus
Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog
Caspar David Friedrich's The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog captures the introspective and philosophical nature of the Romantic Era, with the lone man standing defiantly atop the world and at the same time questioning his place within it. This essential question of who we are, and what makes us human connects in a very special way to the story of Frankenstein. The creature that Victor Frankenstein created was ugly and it asks what makes us so special that we have the right to decide what is ugly, monstrous, abnormal, Dionysian . The wanderer in Friedrich’s painting asks a similar question, it asks us where we belong, in this world of high peaks, beautiful mountains, rivers and oceans are we truly any better than any of this. The answer that Frankenstein gives is that we are all a part of the earth and nature, no one man is better than that which sustains him, and that to commit unnatural acts is to commit them against oneself. Victor sought to conquer nature by cheating death, just as the wanderer must have set out to conquer it by making his mark atop the mountains. The true comparison lies in that after both of them completed their goals, they realized that nature is so much larger, and so much more powerful than they could have possibly imagined. As Victor saw his creature come to life and realized he could not even come close to the perfection of form that nature produces, the wanderer stands atop his mountain just to find a thousand other peaks of a thousand other mountains he must climb to even come close to beating nature.
The significance of this image is that we must truly all enjoy the time we have on this earth, within the natural world. We must enjoy it because so many have wasted their hours of life attempting to live longer and attempting to be higher than everyone else. When you are higher than everyone, you have nobody to share your victory with, when you live the longest you must see everyone you love die. The true message is to accept nature, and to not let ambition blind you to the point you cannot see the people you are hurting to achieve your goal.
The Day of The Triffids
The day of the Triffids by John Wyndham can be connected to Frankenstein through the theme of what happens when you rebel against your master. The Triffids from the story are a plant that was man made, alien, or something else, but wherever they came from they were cultivated and allowed to thrive by man. The people knew that the Triffids could kill humans, that they could communicate with one another and even that they could walk around on their own, but man continued it’s pursuit of their precious oils with complete disregard for the possible consequences of cultivating such a superior beast. Victor Frankenstein also cultivated a being that was far superior to himself and the result in both cases is that the created would rebel against its creator. In Frankenstein the creature makes it his goal to destroy Frankenstein who created him and in the Day of the Triffids, the Triffids sought to conquer the earth for themselves. In both cases the creatures succeeded because the creator designed them to be superior without thinking about what might happen to themselves.
The significance of this story is that today we see man creating things that could so easily defeat us in a single rebellion, I talk of course of the machines. The modern day Triffids are the computer controlled robots, they are faster, smarter, and very soon will be able to think for themselves. The moral of this story is that we must not go too far, we must not create that which can destroy us, because who’s to say that it won’t.
The Rime of The Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of The Ancient Mariner can be connected to Frankenstein through the essential question of how far can you push the boundaries before being punished. The ancient mariner kills an albatross, a sacred bird which to kill is an unnatural and unforgivable crime, the mariner is thus cursed to pay for his crimes for the remainder of his life. It is a divine protection that was placed upon the albatross and the mariner thus profaned and broke the laws of god by killing it. Just as life can only be god given and was profaned when Victor Frankenstein gave life to a creature himself. It was believed that the albatross brought the wind and without wind the sailors had no way to get back to port, food, water and thus were cursed to death by starvation and thirst.
The significance of this is also cautionary but instead of the fact that consequences were to come for unnatural acts, the message is that you must carry your hellish burden until the end of time. When the mariner said “instead of the cross the albatross about my neck was hung” his warning is that his actions made in haste would weigh him down forever.
Mary Shelley lived during, was influenced by, and herself influenced the Romantic Era. This was a time of rebellion against the dirt and grime of the city. An era obsessed with the natural world, and our place in it.
The Romantic Era
In our modern world of machines, computers, and advanced science, we still learn from the mistakes of the past, and from the lessons in texts such as Frankenstein.
The Contemporary Era
An era dominated by myths and legends, heroes and villains, and most importantly, philosophy. The people of the Classical Era attempted to make sense of their world, and to share their knowledge, they created tales and myths.
The Classical Era
The Myth of Prometheus
The Prometheus Myth is connected to Frankenstein first and foremost by a shared theme, that defying the laws of nature laid down by the gods has dire consequences. Prometheus’s fallacy was delivering the divine element of fire to the humans who were supposed to live in the darkness as fire was reserved for the gods. Victor Frankenstein’s fallacy was to create life through unnatural means, without a mother, without a conception, and this is against nature because the ability to breath life into a being, to bestow animation, was reserved for god and god alone. The divine right of life giving was profaned by Victor and he suffered greatly for his crimes against nature. The question of what is divine and what belongs to man also connects these texts in much the same way as the theme mentioned above.
The fire that Prometheus brought to man was a divine right, never intended for the humans below and breaking this godly rule led to Prometheus’s torture and gruesome death. When Victor created life he was actually intent on creating a way for man to live forever which is in of itself profaning the right of the gods to claim and judge the souls of the dead, for this he suffered immensely. Both of these can also be connected to John Wyndham’s Day of The Triffids from more modern times. The Triffids which the people cultivated in great numbers eventually turned against the humans that raised them and fed them, because the Triffids were not a natural plant, they were alien, foreign, man-made or manufactured but still unnatural, the meteor shower came. The meteor shower blinding the people of the earth came as a divine judgment of man’s tampering with nature and so the Triffids rose up and took over the earth.
The significance of this text is that even today we can recognize it as a cautionary tale, to never defy the decree of gods and to never act without considering the consequences of such actions. It was the hubris of Prometheus, Frankenstein, and man in general that led them blindly down a path of unnatural and rebellious actions. This path eventually would lead to the destruction of the offenders and still stands as an example of what happens when you rebel against the gods.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1797-1851) also known as Mary Shelley was a brilliant woman with radical ideas and a radical story to tell. She began her novel: Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus when she was just 18 years old in 1816-1817 and it stands as a testament to her ideas that I create this project regarding it in 2013.
The story of Frankenstein is that of an ambitious scientist who decided to take nature into his own hands and create a being from pieces of the recently deceased. His creation would later come to haunt him for his whole life and kill him at the end of it.
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Make Sure Your Sound Is On
The Times They Are A Changing
The Times They are a Changing by Bob Dylan is a song that connects to Frankenstein through the way that it highlights the need for change so we don’t kill ourselves as a result of our ambitions. In the song, Bob Dylan says that we all have to learn how to adapt to the world and to think about the future because “you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone”. He says that we cannot continue doing things the way we have done, that is blind ambition and ends justifies the means politics. Similarly in Frankenstein, the big warning is to know when to stop, to realize when the advances we are making will begin to hurt us. The creature is a result of crossing that line from advancing science to cheating nature. When Bob Dylan describes the situation of lying to yourself about the world around you it touches on an important part of the romantic movement, man being his own worst enemy. That people need to adapt to the world they create, that they can never go back to the way it was is very important in Frankenstein. When Victor attempts to make everything alright by marrying Elizabeth, he in fact condemns her to death at the hands of the creature because he could not simply accept that he has to be responsible for the creature he unleashed upon earth.
The significance of this song is that it tells people there is no longer a choice, we must change our ways or die. Mankind has had a great impact on the earth and as the planet changes we must “start swimming or sink like a stone”.