A theme central to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the man’s lifetime pursuit for which they have a basic idea and instinct of, but without fully realizing or understanding how or why they’re searching for it in the first place. To further illustrate and give this idea greater understanding, below is a quote from the philosopher Plato, taken from The Symposium:
“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”
This is merely a shortened, summary version of the text, which involves a story concerning the creation of man and the roles of the Gods and Titans involved. But just as Mary Shelly ties in Greek mythology with the subtitle, The Modern Prometheus, I believe this idea to be relevant to the aforementioned theme of this work.
Although this story from Greek myth was more so involving the emotion of love, specifically the desire for a lifelong partner, this can also be seen as the drive of man’s ideas, thoughts, projects and pursuits, as evidenced throughout modern history, whether it be Isaac Newton’s curiosity towards the development of physics, or Nikolai Tesla’s realization of an applicable use of energy that affects us to this day. From the start of the novel, we are thrusts into Captain Walton’s ideas regarding his lifelong passion and meaning in life, especially with the journey he is about to undertake, as evidenced by the quote, “…and I feel my heart grow with enthusiasm which elates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose.” Some men give ideas like his merely passing thought and move on with their life. But it is the want and desire that turns an idea, no matter how incredulous it may appear, past the thinking stage and into the doing stage.
This clearly represents the beginning of Victor Frankenstein, and the framework of how he delves into making his creation literally come to life. By merely mentioning his ideas of pursuit (“It was the secrets of earth and heaven that I desired to learn…”), we begin the ride of witnessing the transformation of his dream into its untimely nightmare. I like to think that as we continue reading this, more and more traces to classical Greek mythology and thought will become apparent.