What book is subtitled "The Modern Prometheus?"

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The book is Frankenstein The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley. Frankenstein was not the name of the monster but the name of the man who created it. Prometheus in Greek mythology was a demigod who gave man the gift of fire and was horribly punished by Zeus for doing so. Frankenstein uses a sort of fire, i.e., electricity from lightning, to bring his creature to life. He is punished by the monster himself. You can find a great deal of information about this classic novel in eNotes by searching under the word "Frankenstein."

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The novel commonly known as Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is also subtitled "The Modern Prometheus."

The mention of Prometheus refers to the Classical Titan of that name. According to the myth, Prometheus is responsible for creating the first living being, man, out of clay. Sound familiar? It is nearly the same as the Judeo-Christian belief regarding God creating man out of dust (or clay).

The difference between the role of Prometheus versus that of God in the creation of man is that Prometheus failed to create a self-sustainable creature. In fact, he had to steal fire to keep his creation alive. The issue is that he stole fire from other gods, which granted him punishment. As with most myths, the punishment is extreme, if not morbid. Prometheus is sent away to be tied up to a tree only to have his chest torn open and his liver eaten out by birds for the rest of eternity.

Back to Frankenstein, most people erroneously think that "Frankenstein" is the name of the creature created by Victor. It is not. The creature (in some cases referred to as the daemon) has no name. We only get to have Victor's name, even though he and his creature share equal weight in the plot.

Hence, the subtitle "The Modern Prometheus" refers specifically to Victor, his "ability" to create, and the fact that his experiment came at extreme costs: he loses his little brother, Justine, his best friend, his wife, his sense of security, his sense of duty, and presumably his salvation all because of his macabre choice to create the monster. 

Much like Prometheus, Victor suffers what seems to be an eternity of pain and suffering. He feels the crippling guilt of seeing the creature kill the people he loves, and he cannot do anything about it. He suffers defeat by the creature, who demands that Victor provide companionship for him. The creature chases Victor who, in turn, loses his health and nearly loses his mind all because of his creation.

Victor is no different from Prometheus: Prometheus is a failed god just as Victor is a failed Creator. As with any other tragic figure bound for misery, he will suffer until the very end.

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