So the Week 4 reading assignment for my online class on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World was Mary Wollstonecraft’s Frankenstein, or The New Prometheus.
I really got cranking on the reading notes this week; I had 17 letter-size pages! (For everyone but Americans: that’s about A4 format.) While I don’t consider the book to be entertainment reading, it certainly packs a lot of ideas and symbols, so much that we take away from it different parts.
I have trouble with the notion that it falls in the science fiction genre. There is so little effort at giving any scientific explanation for the reanimation, and few other allusions to science (though many to Knowledge) that it constitutes more trappings than substance. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I think focusing on the knowledge-Man-was-not-ready-for is missing a lot of the picture.
Then again, the picture contains so many elements that it’s hard to do otherwise. Here is my 300-word essay on Frankenstein as a sly exploration of theodicy.
Is Victor Frankenstein a metaphor for an absentee God and a Creation abandoned?
Mary Shelley suffered much loss in her life; raised by an atheist father, she did not have her contemporaries’ common views and answers on why evil exists. Frankenstein is her exploration of theodicy: what if the Creator was not an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent being but rather immature and capricious? What if he has created Man just to see if he could, then immediately rejected his creature in disgust?
We know that Victor and his Creature are linked, reflections of one another. Like Prometheus made humanity from clay, Victor made the Creature from offal and spare parts; in turn, like Prometheus stole fire from the gods but also like Adam, the Creature steals knowledge from his betters since his Creator has left him to fend for himself.
Victor is an irresponsible Creator and parent, never attending to his duties towards the Creature or, for that matter, his family and friends. He is eager to convince us that he is blameless, that everything is always someone else’s fault, and never takes responsibility for what he created.
In answer, the Creature blames Victor for making him thus. In a scene that is strikingly similar to any devotee trying to confront a deity, the Creature and Creator first speak on an Olympus-like summit, then the Creature coaxes Victor to come meet with him in a temple-like mountain hut.
Like Job, the Creature bitterly reproaches his Creator his desertion and claims that loneliness is the reason for his acts: “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”
Victor makes promises, then finds reasons to break them; he puts much effort into impressing us, but we never have anything but his word (as reported by the admiring Walton) for anything that happened.
In the end, the Creature’s revenge is to live down to his Creator’s expectations.