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To what degree are the characters in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein responsible for their...

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melak | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted February 11, 2009 at 9:30 AM via web

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To what degree are the characters in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein responsible for their own fate?

HSC english question on Frankenstein by MARY SHELLEY.

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bank4320 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted February 11, 2009 at 10:06 AM (Answer #1)

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To answer this question, it is worth taking a step back and considering the subtitle of the novel: "The Modern Prometheus". For those unfamiliar with the older Prometheus, he was the titan who--according to Greek mythology--gave humanity power over nature by giving to them fire.  In the context of Frankenstein, this modern Prometheus is Victor.  He, like the earlier titan, seeks to overcome human limitations through re-animating inanimate matter. (Significantly, he abandons his family and friends in the process, and, as the summary points out, flees from his creation when he does eventually animate it.)  Because his creation leads to both his ruin and the deaths of those closest to him, he is, like Prometheus, a tragic figure: he aspires to deification, but cannot bear the responsibility that this status entails.  For this reason, his character is his fate. The case of the monster is much more problematic. He has all of the emotions and mental capabilities of a human, but is still rejected by society.  As he says at one point: "I had feelings of affections, and they are requited by detestation and scorn. Man, you may hate; but beware!" (1001; Norton Anthology). In other words, the more free the monster is to realize his humanity, the more he is fated to exclusion. Of course, there is nothing in the narrative that implies this outcome was inevitable; if he had not been disowned by Victor his fate would have been quite different. Their fates are complementary.

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