Category: A Book You Haven’t Read Since High School
Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus – Mary Shelley (273)
Favorite Line: “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”
Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley is a perfect example of why everyone should re-read the books they were forced to read in high school.
I first read this book as a junior in high school and I absolutely hated it. I thought it was completely boring and I struggled to finish it, let alone find any redeeming qualities about it, and that really bothered me. I usually don’t mind finding a book I dislike—there are millions of books out there, and there are thousands of very bad books out there, but I really wanted to like this one.
For starters, Frankenstein was a classic and I love classics more than any other genre and so it didn’t sit well with me that I had to force myself to read another page. Also, this book is the king of Gothic novels, and it set the premise for new movies, books, and play adaptations for over a century.
Ever since reading it in high school I was determined to re-read it and hopefully like it this time like it. Well, it took me years to do it but I finally got the motivation to do so (thanks to a book club) and I am so incredibly happy I did.
I think the biggest difference between me reading this book in high school and reading it now is my interest in philosophical and moral issues has increased. Before, I assume, I wanted an interesting plot and nothing more, but now I look for books that go deeper than the surface plot and lead to discussions of morality and truth—and this book definitely supplies the content for those discussions.
The book circles mostly around the issue of the humanness of the monster and whether or not Dr. Frankenstein should make another monster as a companion for the first one.
To summarize these main plots, Dr. Frankenstein, horrified by what he has created, starts his mission to destroy the creature when he finds out the creature is destroying everything that is precious to the doctor. The two met in the mountains after months of not seeing each other and the monster tells his story of what happened after his was created.
The monster tells of his loneliness, his agony, and his despair, but also of his longing for love, his gentle spirit, his desire for good, and his studies. During the monster’s speech Dr. Frankenstein becomes sympathetic toward the monster and almost willingly agrees to create a companion for him, but then his heart is hardened to the idea and the monster vows to destroy Dr. Frankenstein’s happiness until he agrees to make the creature.
“Hateful day when I received life!’ I exclaimed in agony. ‘Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.”
The story continues on in this measure—a moral game of Ping-Pong in the doctor’s mind, debating if he should give in to the monster’s request in order to stop bloodshed, or if he should try to kill his creation, even if that means giving his own life in the act.
This dilemma not only consumes the mind of the doctor but also the mind of the reader as it is probable that the reader will change their opinion several times throughout the novel, causing this discussion to become more intense with each chapter. This is what makes Shelley’s novel one of the greats—it not only shares the story with the audience, but it invites the audience to be apart of the jury set to condemn either the monster or the creator.
This book is known throughout the world as Frankenstein but not as commonly as it’s full title: Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus. In my book club we briefly discussed the meaning behind this second title, and who in the story is the modern Prometheus—the doctor or the monster. While we didn’t exactly come to a conclusion, I believe Shelley intended the answer to be twofold and to represent both the protagonist and the antagonist.
The story of Prometheus is that he rebelled against the wishes of Zeus and created mankind. Furthermore he disobeyed him again by giving the gift of fire to man. Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock where his liver was eaten by an eagle, then every night his liver would grow back and he would endure the punishment day after day without ceasing.
Dr. Frankenstein is similar to a Prometheus because he defied the rules of society and created life. He took it upon himself to become creator of a man using stolen parts and therefore rebelled against the natural order of things. His creation haunted him the rest of his life without ceasing, and like Prometheus, he had the burden of never being without the reminder of what he did.
The monster, however, is also similar to Prometheus. He was created not by love but by curiosity, and the result of this was his hideous appearance and grotesque form. Like Prometheus, he lived daily with the reminder that he was cursed and wherever he went he would be met with hateful eyes.
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
This book is fantastic. It went from being my least favorite classic novel to one of my most beloved. Although written about 200 years ago, it still manages to discuss issues that remain relevant today—the test of a true classic.
Before ending I would like to help clarify things that happen in the movie adaptations that do not happen in the book. I really hope someone makes a true Frankenstein movie that follows the book, however, since there are so many knockoffs that have drastically changed the story, I don’t know if it will ever happen.
- Frankenstein is not the monster. Frankenstein is the scientist who creates the monster. The monster is aptly named “the monster.”
- Frankenstein did not scream, “it’s alive” during a lightning storm. The moment the monster comes alive is much more anti-climatic than expected. Upon receiving life, the monster opens his eyes and Dr. Frankenstein becomes so alarmed over the creature that he runs out of the room and hides for hours afterward.
- Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s clumsy, hunchbacked assistant, does not exist in the book. The only person who would come close to being Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant would be his best friend Henry Clerval, but even that would be a stretch as Henry never participated in the creation of the monster, nor did he ever know the monster was created.
- The monster is not the blubbering idiot most of the movies portray him to be. Yes, he is giant and insanely strong, but he actually became quite literate and logical at an abnormally fast rate, as seen in this example of a speech by the monster appealing to Frankenstein to show him mercy.
“Be calm! I entreat you to hear me before you give vent to your hatred on my devoted head. Have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery? Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”
- The monster is not evil because it has the mind of a murderer, or because it was tortured by Dr. Frankenstein, but he became “evil” out of revenge for being created and then abandoned by the doctor and, furthermore, as a consequence for the doctor for not making him a companion.
Those are five major differences, but I’m sure there are plenty more as there are numerous movie adaptations that fail to do the book justice.
I put my favorite quote at the beginning of this post and I will leave you with my second favorite quote, which reminds us all to have courage.
“Oh! Be men, or be more than men. Be steady to your purposes and firm as a rock. This ice is not made of such stuff as your hearts may be; it is mutable and cannot withstand you if you say that it shall not. Do not return to your families with the stigma of disgrace marked on your brows. Return as heroes who have fought and conquered, and who know not what it is to turn their backs on the foe.”
Mary Shelley was an England native who lived from the late 1700’s to the mid 1800’s. She was married to poet and philosopher Percy Shelley. Over her life she wrote novels, short stories, travel articles, dramas, and essays.