Frankenstein is at its core a representation of the duality of scientific progress. Mary Shelley’s warning that the pursuit of knowledge loses it’s honor and becomes dangerous when pushed to the extreme manifests itself through the symbolism of fire. The ability of fire to provide warmth from a distance and the converse effect of burning when one gets too close appears multiple times in the book, and even relates to the alternative title of the book, The Modern Prometheus.

Shelley’s intention could not be more clear than in the scene when the Creature discovers fire. He has not been alive more than a few hours and he naively thinks that touching the fire will not burn him. He is comfortable with the fire because it provides him with light and heat, but that comfort turns into wariness as soon as he experiences pain. Shelley associates the light and heat with knowledge that illuminates mysteries of the universe and helps humanity understand themselves and their surroundings. However, she conveys that touching the fire will cause pain and destruction, just as seeking to control science can lead to greed for power or an abandonment of social responsibility, such as Victor exhibits.

The ancient Greek mythological tale of Prometheus tells of fire as a cause of human life. Shelley incorporates this alternate meaning into the book and her message through the process of bringing the creature to life. The bolt of lightning represents a force outside of human control, and this is what truly brings the monster to life. This detail not only signifies that only the natural world is solely capable of creating life, despite the illusions of Victor and other scientists of the time, but also reflects the historical background of the time.  The real-world practices of animal electricity tended to attribute life towards lightning, which Shelley utilizes in the story and also closely relates to fire.

Shelley’s choice of symbolism and figurative language serve to explain the potential science offers society and community, while also warning of the adverse effects that occur when humanity attempts to control it.