What exactly is the tale of Prometheus and how does it impact the reading of the novel? (Include quotes if applicable.)

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shelley uses the title of "the modern Prometheus" was designed to be a modern interpretation of the creation myth.  Prometheus was the Greek Titan who created man and also taught him the use of fire and how to trick the gods.  When Zeus punishes humanity for their deception, he condemns Prometheus, who accepts his punishment with an honorable sense of responsibility.  This particular example of creation shows a love, respect, responsibility, and care from the creator to the created.  Shelley wants to invert this in her depiction of the relationship between creator and created in Frankenstein.  The same elements of wanting to create something (what she will call a "hideous progeny") are present in both the ancient and modern versions of Prometheus.  Instilling the creature with abnormal size and strength is akin to Prometheus giving fire and the ability to trick to gods to mankind.  However, in the ancient story, the creator does not abandon the created- both suffer together.  In the modern version, Victor is horrified with his creation and he abandons it entirely, and then claims to not have any responsibility for it or its actions.  This modern Prometheus shows the lack of connection between a creator and what is created.  In some respects, the paternally loyal vision of the ancient world has been supplanted by a modern version where siblings abandon one another and parents abandon children, with frightening regularity.  The modern version of creation is, thus, one steeped in a tragic condition.

It has been suggested that Victor does take responsibility throughout the novel for the monster's actions.  While this is valid, it should be noted that part of Shelley's need to use Prometheus as a creation myth is to underscore that Victor still does not live up to his responsibilities as a creator in relation to his creation.  While he does take it upon himself to destroy the monster, his initial response to it is to flee from its "hideous" state.  Victor does not feature any conceivable notion of communication or connection with his creation.  Notice in the Prometheus myth that Prometheus has an emotional bond or connection to his connection.  He nurtures man, supports him, and helps him establish his own sense of identity.  When man is punished, Prometheus does not evade punishment.  Shelley is raising a valid point when she depicts Victor as not having initial connections to his creation.  He may take it upon himself to hunt down the monster in order to prevent further bloodshed, but there is little in the way of emotional connection or nurturing that Victor demonstrates towards the monster.  Even when the monster demands companionship and another person with whom to share his life, something that Victor should have offered himself to the monster after having created it, Victor decides that he cannot, in supposed good faith, create a companion.  At a moment where the monster offers his humanity for the world to see, Victor repudiates it.  Again, it should be noted that Victor does accept responsibility for seeking to end the monster's life.  However, unlike Prometheus, who is an active and nurturing agent of caring for his creation, Victor is a creator who lacks this, evidence of "the Modern Prometheus."

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