This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Prosperity or Ruin

“From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, "I am man.", our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself. Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens. We shall mock the earthquake. We shall command the thunders, and penetrate into the very womb of impervious nature herself.”

Dr .Frankenstein
(From Mel Brooks “Young Frankenstein”)

Marry Shelley's Frankenstein can often be read as an advanced warning against the rising fears of the industrial revolution. The novels' sub-title, The Modern Prometheus, references the popular Greek myth based on the Titan, and draws many parallels related to Victor. Both characters portray an unquenchable thirst for the unknown and in a sense create man. Prometheus is best known for giving the gift of fire to mankind. For this and other deeds, Prometheus was punished by Zeus, and sent to Mount Caucasus, where, for 30,000 years he was to have his liver eaten out daily by an eagle (Ethon). Prometheus was eventually rescued by Hercules, and invited to return to Olympus, although he would always be reminded of his past by being forced to wear the boulder to which he was chained. The use of this sub-title is an important catalyst for the presentation of the underlying themes present in Frankenstein. Much like Prometheus, Victor is punished for his creation (gift) to mankind in the same way. By creating the “hideous progeny” ,Victor is forced into self inflicted slavery and is destined to live his nightmare day after day. Victor is also offered redemption for his mistake, but is not morally justified in his ordered task. Even though Victor is given a second chance, he realizes that he will always carry with him the horror he has inflicted on the people he loved.

When Frankenstein was being composed, the industrial revolution was quickly emerging. This new era sparked many concerns within society. Not only did it pose a direct threat to moral justifications, it was also seen as a direct threat to society in general (i.e. Economics, social stratification, labor laws, housing problems). The immense structural change a society must face when confronted with this type of mass scale change is immensely taxing on an individuals life. The people who were most effected by these changes were people who could scarcely deal with such a tumultuous shift in society. Several of the main problems were the horrid child labor laws, the unsanitary living conditions, and the inevitable ludditism carried out by demoralized groups of specialized laborers.

The future of science was also an unknown destination and succeeded in producing ideas of doubt and misplaced fears. These accusations directed at science are apparent throughout the text. Despite the good intended by science, it is important to note the ease in which Shelley presents situations that can quickly get out of hand and cause chaos. The over reaching of man was sure to bring periods of anguish and fear to a society emerging from feudalism. The idea of industrialization is present in many of Victor's quotes, “So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein
-more, far more, will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.” The latter is perhaps the best juxtaposition between Victors goals and the goals for the industrial revolution. By examining the text closely, we can begin to see and feel the anguish Shelley wishes to present.

The Romantic Movement was also becoming increasingly popular during shelley's life. There are several recurring themes throughout the novel that support the romantic movement. Both Henry Clerval and the “creature” are presented as romantic characters (the creature is presented in this way before his transition to Gothic). The use of romanticism in the novel provides a staunch contrast to the industrial revolution. The use of nature in correlation to the character's feelings (the way in which the role of nature changes to fit the situation; both good and bad) strives to pass on the strengths and virtues that were thought to undermine and stall the rising of industrialization. The romantic movement strived to express the importance of nature in both language and art, this was used as an opposition to the advanced uprising of machines and the sorrows they brought along.


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