The two following main themes are in my opinion the novel’s principal interest: on the one hand, the so-called ‘myth of the modern Prometheus,’ with Victor being pictured as the one who steals the fire form the Gods; and on the other hand, the problem of science, of scientific knowledge: can science find solutions to all human problems? Is it only a matter of time, or are there clear borders that cannot be trespassed? I will discuss both themes, pointing out what still makes them popular today and explaining how they relate to Frankenstein.
First, let’s talk about Prometheus. Prometheus is so closely related to Victor that it’s even the subtitle of the novel: The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus stole fire from the Gods to give it to humanity; he was cursed by Zeus and made to endure an eternal torture. As far as Victor is concerned, his own glory was basically a goal for him. With his mother’s death and his strong feeling that this death was unjust, Victor finds a way to achieve his goal, namely: create a new species which would ignore illness and disease, which would be strong and beautiful. He even talks about getting rid of death entirely. With his experiments he finally manages to bestow life to a dead creature: he has taken over God-like powers.
By trying to create life artificially and to destroy death itself, Victor rises against natural laws, which have been ruling the world for millions of years. He thinks that these laws are not immutable—and indeed he seems to be right, as he successfully creates the monster. But even if he does manage to reach a God-like level or to acquire God-like powers, he doesn’t have any God-like knowledge or experience or responsibility. When he sees his monster—I should say, ‘his creation,’ as there mustn’t be a negative connotation in the word—he is afraid, tries to run away and to forget him. He will never try to care for him not to love him, nor will he feel a strong responsibility towards what we can call his son.
Victor, like Prometheus, has tried to acquire God-like ‘possessions,’ and like him, he will be punished. The creation of his monster means the destruction of himself, while he gets more and more isolated and lonely. He wanted to rise so high because of his ambition that he got burnt and fell without any hope of rising again. From that point of view, Victor can be compared to Icarus.
And there is here a point which makes the novel popular even today: there is something universal in Victor’s attempt to reach this God-like level. It is a way of describing the human condition before God, before Mother Nature’s immutable laws, before the unknown. It is a common theme, which has been discussed again and again since the birth of humanity: think of the Babel Tower, for example. Man’s ambition, man’s desire for glory pushes him beyond the ‘human borders;’ and he dramatically fails in trying to rise.
This still a widely discussed topic nowadays; now that there seems to