The Role Of Myth In Percy Shelley's Frankenstein

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Perhaps no book is more of its age than Frankenstein. Written and published in 1816-1818, Frankenstein typifies the most important ideas of the Romantic era, among them the primacy of feelings, the dangers of intellect, dismay over the human capacity to corrupt our natural goodness, the agony of the questing, solitary hero, and the awesome power of the sublime. Its Gothic fascination with the dual nature of humans and with the figurative power of dreams anticipates the end of the nineteenth century and the discovery of the unconscious and the dream life. The story of its creation, which the author herself tells in a "Preface" to the third edition to the book (1831), is equally illuminating about its age. At nineteen, Mary Godwin was living…show more content…
Behind the novel 's indictment of the intellect stand three important myths to which Shelley alludes. She subtitles her book "A Modern Prometheus," linking Victor Frankenstein to the heroic but ultimately tragic figure of Greek myth who contended with the gods, stole fire from them to give to humans, and was punished by Zeus by being chained on Mount Caucasus to have vultures eat his liver. Her husband Percy Shelley wrote a closet drama, Prometheus Unbound, and fellow Romantic poets Byron and Coleridge were also attracted to and wrote about a figure of defiant ambition. The story of Faust, like the Prometheus myth, also involves one who would trade everything to satisfy an aggressive and acquisitive intellect. Finally, Adam 's fall from grace came of his eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. All are unhappy with the limits life places on them; all challenge those limits; all suffer great loss. Such is Victor Frankenstein 's story, one which Walton appears about to replicate on his journey to the Pole. Walton tells Frankenstein, "I would sacrifice my fortune, my existence, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man 's life or death were…show more content…
If Frankenstein is a book of its age, it also looks ahead to its century 's end when interest in the human psyche uncovered the unconscious mind. The idea of the Doppleganger, the double who shadows us, had been around since the origins of the Gothic novel in the 1760s. By the end of the nineteenth century, works such as Stevenson 's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde made the idea that we had more than one self common. Capable of both great good and evil, we had, it seemed, a "monster" always potentially within us and not always under our control. Freud 's splitting of the psyche put the monster-like id at the core of our persons. Freudian readings of Frankenstein see the monster as the outward expression of Victor 's id or his demoniacal passions. In other words, Victor and the monster are the same person. Hence, Victor must keep the monster secret. His hope to create a being "like myself" is fulfilled in the monster whose murders we must see as expressions of Victor 's own desires. Victor calls himself "the true murderer" of
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