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Promethian And Faustian Presences In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

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Promethian and Faustian Presences in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

A myth may be defined, however loosely, as an answer to an otherwise unanswerable question, in some cases due to the incomprehensibility of such an answer. It cannot be denied that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) poses a number of such unfathomable questions, largely concerning that which separates men from gods, and the point at which supposedly beneficial ambition becomes mindless and destructive obsession. The best alternative for an answer to these unanswerable questions comes in the form of resolutions in the myth of Faustus and the myth of Prometheus. Allusions to these myths are blatantly obvious in the actions, reactions, and reflections of the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein. More specifically, Shelley's fluid incorporation of the myths of Faustus and Prometheus can be seen in Victor's reckless pursuit of powers not meant for mortal hands, and the violent retribution he received from such ambition, which eventually led to his inevitable downfall.

The myth of Faustus, written by Christopher Marlowe (1590); tells the story of Dr. Johann Faustus, who makes a pact with the devil Mephistophilis in order to gain ultimate knowledge under the condition that he surrender his being to the devil after twenty-five years. Faustus, of course, ignores the responsibility gained with such power, and abuses his gift for the entire twenty-five years until he loses his soul to Mephistophilis. The irony within this myth is

that despite his vast knowledge, Faustus never realized the error of his ways, nor did he repent for what he had done. Almost instantly, similarities between Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Faustus are clear: both of them became blinded and guided by their own ambitions. At one point, Frankenstein even admits both his recklessness and his stupidity concerning his plight, which is intentionally similar to that of Faustus': "...I ardently desired the acquisition of knowledge... now my desires we complied with, and it would, indeed, have been folly to repent" (Shelley 41). In such a statement, the resemblance between the indefatigable and ignorant minds of Frankenstein and Faustus are clearly visible. In addition to their inclinations and attitudes, similarities also arise in Faustus' and Dr. Frankenstein's predicaments. To elaborate, Frankenstein, like Faustus, finds himself cursed by the object of his ambition, which he confesses to Robert Walton during his story: "...I was cursed by some devil, and carried about with me my eternal Hell." (Shelley 179-180) It can be inferred the Frankenstein's use of the word "devil" is directly related to the fact that Dr. Faustus was actually cursed by a devil.

Similarly, the myth of Faustus also relates to the repercussions which Victor Frankenstein receives as punishment for his shortsighted ambitiousness. For example, both Victor and Faustus eventually found their misery delivered to them by the product of greed, lust, and arrogance; the emotions which symbolically formed the Frankenstein monster, and the emotions for which Mephistophilis stood for. Another such similarity is that both Victor and Faustus could not have avoided their fates unless they had completely and utterly abandoned their objectives (in which case, neither of the representative pieces of literature would have been very interesting). In both works, there is strong evidence that nature, or some other intangible entity, is vehemently opposed to the idea of man indulging himself to the degree which Faustus and Frankenstein so negligibly do. Respectively, such justice comes in the form of the twenty-

five year time limit imposed on Faustus' abilities, and the Frankenstein creature's hatred for man (and his creator, in particular). Frankenstein himself even reflects on his knowledge concerning the inevitability of nature's retribution: "Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction" (Shelley 37). However, the actual punishment given to Faustus and Frankenstein differs in some respects; as Faustus simply met his fiery end in the depths of Hell, while Frankenstein endured the psychological pain from the deaths of all his family before he himself actually died, thus reflecting an "evolution" in the themes of literary time periods, as they delve deeper and deeper into the human psyche, just as Frankenstein delves farther and farther past the boundaries of mortals.

In addition to the myth of Faustus, Shelley also chose to incorporate the Greek myth of Prometheus into her work for its obvious likenesses. In the myth of Prometheus, Prometheus is an immortal who creates man from clay, then steals fire



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