Both Victor and his creation demonstrate the dangers of pursuing knowledge that is not meant to be obtained. Victor pushes scientific limits to create life and ends up losing his brother, best friend, and wife to his creation. Victor’s creation ultimately ruins his life, and his dying wish is to be able to destroy that which he worked so hard to create.
Mary Shelley was a staunch supporter of the Romantic movement. Like many Romantics, Shelley appreciated the beauty and wonder of nature and was skeptical and anxious about the shift from an agriculture-based society to a technology-based society that resulted from the Industrial Revolution.
Shelley’s anxiety and apprehension are reflected in her novel Frankenstein, which can be interpreted as a cautionary tale, warning readers about the dangers of technological advancement, science, and pursuit of dangerous knowledge.
Victor Frankenstein uses the latest technology available to him to realize his seemingly impossible dream: the creation of life through the reanimation of dead tissue. He is a quintessential mad scientist who stops at nothing to bring his vision to life. He is the embodiment of the spirit of the Industrial Revolution.
Frankenstein was also published under the title The Modern Prometheus, which is fitting, given the undeniable similarities between Prometheus and Victor. Prometheus is a Greek mythological figure best known for betraying the gods by stealing fire and gifting it to humankind. His arrogance and hubris yield dire consequences. As punishment for overstepping and defying the gods, Zeus sentences Prometheus to never-ending torture in the form of an eagle eating his liver, only for his liver to grow back again and the cycle to repeat for eternity.
Victor is strikingly similar to Prometheus. He is as arrogant as he is intelligent. He assumes a godlike role in his attempt to create life and give humans the ability to be immortal. Both Prometheus and Victor take it upon themselves to endow humanity with abilities that are reserved for the gods; both face dire consequences for their actions.
Victor is so concerned with creating life that he gives little thought to what will happen after he accomplishes this goal. He is terrified by his creation and abandons it. Given that the creature is new to life and in need of guidance, Victor’s abandonment of his creation is akin to a parent abandoning a baby.
The creature is forced to learn how to navigate life on his own. He is intelligent and tries to learn all he can about mankind, but the more he learns, the more disappointed and hurt he is. One of the best examples of this is the scene in which the creature is attracted to the warmth and glow of fire. Not knowing any better, he sticks his hand in the fire and is burned. He is traumatized by having been hurt by something he perceived to be inviting and comforting. He is also hurt by humans. Due to his frightening appearance, the creature is not welcomed into society. He is feared, hated, shunned, and a social outcast.
The creature is lonely and forsaken and becomes enraged at his creator for abandoning him and leaving him to wander the cruel world by himself. He demands that Victor make a female companion for him. When Victor refuses, the creature is infuriated and wreaks havoc. He kills several people, including Henry (Victor’s closest friend) and Elizabeth (Victor’s wife).
The creature also faces negative consequences in his pursuit of human knowledge. He is burned literally and figuratively and quickly learns how cruel, lonely, and unforgiving the human world can be.
Through her crafting of both Victor and the creature, Shelley warns her audience of the dangers of scientific advancement and attainment of forbidden knowledge.