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What Is The Significance Of Mary Shelley Giving The Subtitle 'The Modern Prometheus' To Her Novel Frankenstein?

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Introduction

What Is The Significance Of Mary Shelley Giving The Subtitle 'The Modern Prometheus' To Her Novel Frankenstein? When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, in 1818, she subtitled it 'The Modern Prometheus' a literary allusion to the Greek and Roman Prometheus myths. According to the Greek version of the myth, told by the Greek Aeschylus in his play 'Prometheus Bound', Prometheus was a Titan and was the friend and benefactor of all humanity. He stole fire from the heavens as a gift for the human race. This incurred the wrath of the Greek king of the gods, Zeus, who chained Prometheus to a rock, for eternity, where an eagle would come to peck out his liver, which would then re-grow within his body overnight. Humankind was also separated from the heavens as an additional punishment. Heracles eventually releases him from this 'eternal' torment. However, according to the Roman version of the story, told in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses', Prometheus was the creator of humans, modelling the first humans out of clay and water, in the same way that Christians believe that God created man (Genesis 2:7-8). The punishment for this was the creation of the first women, Pandora. According to legend she was given a box and told not to open it. Unfortunately her curiosity got the better of her and she opened it letting all of the bad things in the world, trapped inside the box, out. However one thing was left in the box; hope. These legends link to Frankenstein, and give rise to the subtitle 'The Modern Prometheus' due to the fact that Prometheus assisted mankind, but his kindness came at a price: he is punished for his actions, and humans are alienated from the heavens. ...read more.

Middle

In addition to this the phrase "lifeless thing" links to the clay that Prometheus used to create humans, and the fact that the monster is referred to as a "thing" suggests even at this early stage that Frankenstein is creating something which isn't human. This suggests that it is unmoral for him to be creating the monster. Also the word "lifeless" suggests that the monster, as it never gains a soul, is never truly alive. Likewise the word 'animate' links into this idea as 'animate' comes from the Latin word anima meaning soul. Animate also comes from the Latin verb animare, which means 'to give life to'. Both of these roots link directly into Frankenstein. Throughout Frankenstein Mary Shelley uses pathetic fallacy, but this done particularly well in chapter 5. For instance she uses the words "dismal" and "wet" to describe the morning after the animation of the monster. This reflects the way that Frankenstein is feeling; miserable, depressed, terrified and despondent. She also uses pathetic fallacy in volume 2 chapter 2 when she says 'The rain poured down ... thick mists'. This is a hint at what happens later in the chapter when Frankenstein meets the monster. Shelley uses an important literary technique: the story-within-a-story-within-a-story (Chinese box structure/ cyclical structure/ framing narrative). Walton tells the whole story of Frankenstein and the monster as related to him by Frankenstein, with the addition of his own meeting with the monster after Frankenstein's death within the context of his Arctic exploration. Within Frankenstein's account is the monster's own tale of events after he fled from Frankenstein: how he watched the De Lacey's and came to understand human speech, emotion, and history. ...read more.

Conclusion

When Frankenstein meets the monster their roles become reversed, with Frankenstein saying things like "or rather stay, that I may trample you to dust!" while the monster says, "I expected this reception". This makes Frankenstein appear like the uncivilised monster, while the monster is cool, calm and rational. This backs up Shelley's criticism of the Romantics, as Frankenstein would be a Romantic hero because he embraces many of the Romantics ideals. Frankenstein is still 'modern' for us today, centuries after it was written. For instance Frankenstein attempts to create the 'perfect human' who is superior to all others but fails, in the same way that Adolf Hitler tried to create the perfect human race (Aryans - blond hair with blue eyes) and also failed. There are still stories, poems and plays being written in the Prometheus archetype. These include Carl Georg's 'Prometheus und Epimetheus', Robert Bridges 'Prometheus, the Fire-Giver' and Tom Paulin's 'Seize the Fire', a modern day equivalent of Prometheus Bound. Shelley giving Frankenstein the subtitle 'The Modern Prometheus' helps to elevate the story to a higher level. For instance it helps to create multiple meanings within the text and produce a more meaningful read. The subtitle also helps to increase the readers understanding of the text as they are able to relate what is happening to Prometheus. Frankenstein is still relevant today and there are many messages that we should take out of it. 1, 2 Encarta(r) World English Dictionary (c) & (P) 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. What Is The Significance Of Mary Shelley Giving The Subtitle 'The Modern Prometheus' To Her Novel Frankenstein Luke Lobo - 2 - 14/06/08 Luke Lobo Saturday, 14 June 2008 - 1 - ...read more.

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