Frankenstein Notes

“I hate to be that guy, but technically Frankenstein is the name of my creator, and I’m Frankenstein’s monster.”

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts”         —Mark: 7-21

            Frankenstein’s subtitle is “A Modern Prometheus” which alludes to the Greek myth cycle of Prometheus, and to Percy Shelley’s (Mary’s husband) verse play (lyrical drama) Prometheus Unbound.  His play is based on the eponymous play that was part of a lost cycle of plays written by Aeschylus, of which only Prometheus Bound still exists. (Note: "Kratos" is equivalent to "Power" which is a concept personified in this play.)
Prometheus, if you recall, was the Titan who created humans, imperfectly, but in the image of the gods, and brought fire, and other creative godly powers to them in defiance of the Olympian deities, mainly Zeus.  In the Greek creation myth-cycle, there is a succession, as the younger generation takes power from and replaces the older generation.  So too, it would seem, that humans would one day replace the Olympian gods in power, and this is what Zeus fears. He chains Prometheus to a rock and each day a vulture comes to eat out his liver.  For Prometheus, although his liver grows back, the torture continues each day. A human being, Heracles, is the one who will release Prometheus from his chains, and humanity is set to displace the power of the gods. (But to what end?)
Mary Shelley's amazing novel presages the most feared of modern technologies: the recreation of a monstrous human cyborg that would ultimately destroy us. However, has this idea always been with us as a fear? As human strive to achieve omnipotence, omniscience and immortality -- the powers of God (See Genesis) -- do we also ensnare ourselves in our own worst nightmare, and assure our own destruction? Mary Shelley's book is the forerunner of science fiction through the 20th and 21st centuries -- and perhaps with the onset of genetic engineering, scientific fact as well. 

Frankenstein Motifs:
  • Nature depicted as more powerful than humans, but different from a judgmental god: “Creator and Destroyer” / benignly indifferent.
  • The Creature as a manifestation of human nature
  • The Creature as an “other” or outsider – abused, violent,  in search of identity and in search of a voice.
  • Examine how the three frames: Walton’s story, Victor’s story, the Creature’s story, and even Safi and Justine's stories --  all reveal the theme of this novel in various ways. The story within a story within a story is sometimes described as a “Chinese box” plot – I prefer “babushka plot”.
  • Human nature: motivated by the desire to achieve power over nature, but not benign: vengeful, fearful, lonely.
  • Imperfect knowledge leads to creation leads to destruction/ language as a force of knowledge
  • Can we supersede nature? Can we conquer the passions within us?
2002 AP Prompt: Morally ambiguous characters—characters whose behavior discourages readers from identifying them as purely evil or purely good—are at the heart of many works of literature. Choose a novel or play in which a morally ambiguous character plays a pivotal role. Then write an essay in which you explain how the character can be viewed as morally ambiguous and why his or her moral ambiguity is significant to the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.

Frankenstein E-Book 
Independent Reading Assignment for Frankenstein

Frankenstein 1931: Little Girl
Frankenstein 1931: Manners
Frankenstein 1931: It's Alive!
Frankenstein 1931: Lynch Mob Ending
Shackleton's Fantastic Voyage
The Terror and Erebus
We Are Already Cyborgs
To Be Human Is to Be Transhuman

Articles and Thematic Connections
Wiki Article on the Northwest Passage: Note: Mary Shelley presages the worst of these adventures in her novel, which was first published in 1818. By the second publication in 1831, her insight would be proven true. 
Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi, Book review
The Singularity of Vernor Vinge
Ava in Ex Machina is Just Sci-Fi -- For Now
The Philosophy of "Her" by Spike Jonze
Scientists Seek Ban on CRISPR Technology: Check for updates on this! 
Genetic Engineering and Gattaca, by David A. Kirby

Other Works and People Referenced in Frankenstein

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, originally published in 1798 and republished with glosses in 1834.
The Victor of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith
Cornelius Agrippa
Albertus Magnus
Ruins of Empires
Paradise Lost

William Blake’s Laocoon

This engraving of Laocoon by William Blake is a rough copy of a famous Roman statue portraying the death of Laocoon and his sons after he warns the Trojans against bringing the Trojan horse into Troy. Although Laocoon is a priest of Poseidon, it is Poseidon who sends the sea serpents. The story is referenced in The Odyssey, but in the Aeneid we find the famous quote, “Beware Greeks bearing gifts.” His fate is an allegory for one who suffers for speaking the truth.

 Blake’s marginal comments, which were added later, generally condemn Age of Enlightenment neoclassical reproductions as inferior to the originals. The scattered comments, like graffiti around the figure, also condemn Enlightenment ideals of science as superior to spirituality, marking him as a man out of his century. The following is one of the inscriptions:

SCIENCE is the Tree of DEATH
ART is the Tree of LIFE

This is followed by JESUS is GOD. Blake was Christian, but opposed any form of organized religion.