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English111/J05

WR#8 Response to Shelly

November 2, 2004

                                          

                                                Prometheus Unleashed

 

   Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature allows”

(Shelly274).

 

    The year 1816 might be considered the dawn of the industrial revolution, and it was during that year Mary Shelly began writing The Modern Prometheus, which later evolved into the work we know as Frankenstein.  Was Shelly writing only a scary “ghost story” as Frankenstein is generally viewed, or was she trying to tell us something far deeper?

 

    The textile industry began in the mid 1700’s, and the factory system was invented for the textile industry. By 1816 this industry was in full swing, and there were riots and protests in Britain between 1811 and 1816 when the “Luddites” protested low pay and unemployment by storming factories and destroying machinery. In 1802 Richard Trevethick produced the first steam powered locomotive. In 1821 Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic rotation and by the 1830’s had invented the electric motor. For the first time in history the agricultural way of life was being surpassed by industrialization.

 

    Industrialization is a monster brought to life from inanimate matter by the hands of men. Scarcely a soul can escape this monster, for everywhere one turns it is there. Even in the relative security of ones own home, tucked away in some small rural corner of the world, the monster finds them. The television, the radio, the computer, the telephone – or even if these are not to be found in a household, the silverware, dishes, toiletries, and even the very clothes we wear are all products born of the industrial monster.

 

    What does the monster we have created do to the land and the inhabitants of the earth as it stalks relentlessly, its’ iron jaws ever expanding seemingly in an effort to consume its creator? Before it mountains and forests fall, the waters become stained and poisoned, the air tainted with noxious fumes. The creatures of the earth, both human and animal are pushed, crushed, exploited, and are offered the choice either to conform to the will of the monster or die.

   A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your tastes for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed  (Shelly276).

   

      In 1945 a giant iron monster weighing 9,000 pounds fell from the skies and spilled fire over an entire city. Over 75,000 people lost their lives immediately and many more died later. Perhaps for the first time in history people realized that they had given life to a monster that could annihilate the entire world and reduce it to a cinder. This acquirement of knowledge brought “Frankenstein” to life in a way Mary Shelly might have never imagined.

 

     The monster unleashed in 1945 may be better compared to Prometheus, who according to Greek legend stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mankind. This was no singular unit comprised of spare body parts and infused with electricity. This monster was given life by the manipulation of the very building blocks of life itself, the ordered structure of the universe, the splitting of the atom; the fire stolen from the gods themselves. This monster was no animated dead flesh stalking the night seeking its creator, but rather the fire kindling Prometheus unbound, whose only intent was to destroy its creator.

 

     We live with the results of Viktor Frankenstein’s experiment, and it lives amongst us. The monster has threatened our existence for nearly 60 years, and will continue to haunt us unless those who create such monsters realize the horror they unleash and decide to terminate the experiment.