How does the symbol of fire (or possibly light too) function throughout "Frankenstein"? Quotes are great too!If you can help trace it also... such as when the monster makes the fire for himself in...

How does the symbol of fire (or possibly light too) function throughout "Frankenstein"? Quotes are great too!

If you can help trace it also... such as when the monster makes the fire for himself in the woods, burns down the cottage, and then at the end where he wants to be torn to flames (last paragraphs he mentions fire).

and what does this come to teach us/ show...


thanks you

Expert Answers
droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fire, as a force both destructive and compelling, permeates Frankenstein. Early in the novel, we see the young Victor ruminate upon a tree trunk he once saw swallowed up by fire: the incident has stayed with him, and he comments, "I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed." It is this incident, the new understanding of fire's complete mastery of everything it touches, that sets him to work really investigating what is possible in science. It is as if seeing the full extent of fire's power lights a desire in him to achieve an equal power for himself. This is not the only instance of fire being equated to Victor's lust for learning, or as he later calls it, "the fire that consumes your own heart."

The Creature might be said, then, to be a product of Victor's fire: like a forger, Victor has created him in the fires of his own learning; like Prometheus, Victor has taken fire from God and created life with it. It is not surprising, then, to find an echo of Victor's own fascination with fire in the Creature's own account. Seeing a fire which others have left, the Creature is "overcome with delight" at how warm it is, given how cold he feels. However, when he puts his hand into the fire, seeking more warmth, he experiences its destructive force and is shocked at how the same source "should produce such opposite effects." Here the Creature makes explicit the fact that fire can both create and destroy; it lures with its warmth, to the extent that the Creature is very anxious not to let the fire go out, but it can also cause pain and suffering. In this section, however, the Creature is innocent in his discovery of fire, like early man: he learns "fire" as one of his first words. By contrast, Victor-as-Prometheus is more cunning, taking "fire" from where he should have left it be.

Later, as the Creature's despair grows, he sets fire to the cottage, so devastated is he by the understanding that he can never be loved. Fire has come to be more destructive than productive to him. When he appeals to Victor to create him a companion, he refers to "the fire of love" in his heart, but it is evident that the feeling is painful to him. When he finally sets himself aflame, it is to cure one fire with another: the "burning miseries" of his existence, a fire that should never have been lit, will be quenched by the exultant agony of the "torturing flames" which will lead him finally to rest. The purity of "natural" fire, the Creature seems to feel, has the power to destroy the effects of Victor's unnaturally taken, metaphorical fire that created him.

Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the beginning, Robert Walton speaks, "What could not be expected in a country of eternal light?" As the book begins and ends in the Arctic (land of eternal light), the light symbolzies knowledge into the dark and hidden things, especially in science. Victor is shining a light on these esoteric areas, bringing into the light the hidden mysteries of alchemy.

Light can also symbolize life. Victor is bringing life from death, attempting to banish dark and death permanently from the human experience.

Fire is also symbolic of knowledge. The subtitle, "A Modern Prometheus" refers to the myth of Prometheus, the Titan god who gave fire to man. With this gift, man is able to create civilization. In other words, with fire man becomes a creator, much as Victor becomes as he creates his creature.

Yet, as Walton's "land of eternal light" can also be the "land of eternal night," light is replaced by darkness, and fire can destroy. Prometheus paid the ultimate price for giving man fire, and Victor also must give up his life and peace.

The dual nature of fire especially is significant to Frankenstein. Victor had intended (like Promtheus) to benefit mankind by banishing the darkness and cold of death. Yet instead, he brought about his own death, as Prometheus was chained to the mountain to be eaten eternally by eagles. As Prometheus has stolen fire from the gods, Victor has stolen a power that is not given to man.

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