Essay on Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein narrates a story about a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, and his creation of a monster set apart from all worldly creatures. Frankenstein’s creation parallels Milton’s Paradise Lost and God’s creation of life; Victor Frankenstein is symbolic of God and the monster is symbolic of Satan. The parallel emphasizes the moral limitations of mankind through Victor Frankenstein and the disjunction and correlation with Paradise Lost. Shelly links the two stories together through Victor’s creation of the monster and his “fall” from humanity, intertwining an intricate web of allusions through her characters’ insatiable desires for knowledge.
Although Frankenstein begins his studies innocently, his quest for forbidden knowledge makes him, too, experience a fall from grace. When Frankenstein oversteps the boundaries of appropriate science and refuses to name his son as his own, he becomes the cruel master of someone he sees as satanic. At the same time, his Creature sees Frankenstein the way Satan sees God: a tyrant rightly deserving destruction. As Satan cannot distinguish between justice and revenge, so Frankenstein’s monster feels that he has no choice but to exact vengeance on an unjust creator.
It is Satan and the monster who initially invoke the reader’s compassion, as the monster seems of a benevolent nature as he watched the ‘beloved’ De Lacy family and took ‘pleasure’ in aiding their labors. He also shows altruistic behavior in saving a drowning girl, and lighting a fire to warm his creator, making him possibly more sympathetic than Frankenstein, who forgot his family in his aspirations to ‘become greater than his nature will allow.’ The monster states, after reading Paradise Lost and other literature he has found after eating the metaphorical apple, that ‘sorrow only increased with knowledge’, as he became aware from the De Lacey’s, of such things as love and acceptance that he came to long for. His good intent could also be interpreted on his hearing Saphie play music that he found ‘so entrancingly beautiful that they at once drew tears of sorrow and of delight from my eyes.’ Satan’s ruin also came from his pursuit of knowledge, leading both ‘men’ to their exile from the people they seek acceptance from. As the monster lives in a hut, we are reminded that he doesn’t only live outside physically, but emotionally as he is a mere voyeur of family life while watching the De Lacys, and this social exclusion is to blame for his murderous behavior, again relating to Satan who was excluded by his creator. We could again relate this to Satan who is looking for the earth and is also ‘racked with deep despair,’ as are Shelley’s characters. In Frankenstein, the monster is forced into evil by man’s unkindness toward him. It is different in Paradise Lost, Satan is ruined by his rejection to worship God.
The monster had no choice but to become evil, where Satan did. In the end, however, they are both deemed, horrible creatures. Frankenstein also resembles God, as he created his own version of Adam, and the monster that he constantly refers to as ‘fiend’ and ‘devil’ reminds him; ‘You, my creator, abhor me..’ his plea resounds through the humanity of every reader who has ever felt alone or incomplete, but these feelings, however, are to be changed as the monster commits heinous crimes against the humanity he once ‘longed for,’ and on his final rejection he cries; ‘oh, earth…the mildness of my nature had fled, and all within me was turned to bitterness and gall.’ This is when the role of God is transferred from Frankenstein and to the monster who will now decide his fate.
Mary Shelley intertwines an intricate web of allusions through her characters’ insatiable desires for knowledge. Both the actions of Frankenstein, as well as his creature allude to John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost. Shelley influences the characterization of Victor and the Creature so that these characters represent Satan’s, as well as their own, challenge to figures of religious authority. Victor’s dabbling in affairs reserved for God alone and seeking a forbidden knowledge creates the moral downfall of both characters. Furthermore, Shelley’s allusions illuminate the ambiguity with which Milton represents Satan’s opposition to God’s power.
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