Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein is one of the most well-known literary works of all time. With Hollywood adapting the idea of Frankenstein into many different films, it is easy to lose sight of the main purpose and focus of this novel. Shelley alludes to a struggle between God and His creation, humans. We, as part of mankind, are curious and intelligent creatures. Sometimes, we take this too far. Shelley’s book is an example of this. The novel invokes the idea that just because we can doesn’t mean we should. In Mary Shelley’s attempt to promote this idea in her novel, she uses various other works. This use of inter texts develops her point further. Most noticeable is Shelley’s use of John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost. But why does Shelley use this work in particular to convey her message?
In Frankenstein, the creature develops in a very complicated way. He has a human side as well as a monstrous, animalistic side. Interestingly, not only is Milton’s epic poem mentioned as a reference, but it is also used directly in the novel. The creature reads this poem, trying to find itself. Ironically, the monster confuses itself. It relates itself to both Adam and Satan. Frankenstein’s creature says, “But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam’s supplication to his creator. But where was mine” (Shelley 118). This is in reference to the creature’s likeness to Adam. The creature then makes a compelling argument about how it is very much comparable to Satan. It says, “Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition; for often, like him, when I viewed the bliss of my protectors, the bitter gall of envy rose within me” (Shelley 116-117). Milton makes Satan into a tragic character in his poem. This is how the monster feels; vengeful, but with reason. In Frankenstein, Shelley made the creature appear both humanistic and monstrous. Like Satan, he was once good but pushed himself away from everyone and everything else through various actions. The real question here again is why?
Obviously, the use of Paradise Lost provides the reader with a comparison between the creature in Frankenstein and Satan in Paradise Lost. Because Shelley uses the poem both indirectly as well as directly in her novel, the creature is forced to find himself at the same time the reader tries to figure out whether the monster is human or beast. In this way, the reader is forced to connect with the monster and put the reader more into his shoes rather than standing back and judging. From the outside, the creature is a monster, but down on the level of the characters, especially that of the monster, the creature appears to be more humanistic; intelligible, emotional, rational, and logical. On the same token, just as the creature is unsure of whether it is more like Satan or Adam, so too is the reader unsure of whether Victor’s creation is actually a monster or human. It is nearly impossible, if not entirely impossible, to separate totally.
Frankenstein reminds the reader of a similar film; Jurassic Park. The movie deals with the idea of scientists bringing dinosaurs back to life and making an entire island into an amusement park for people to see learn about the creatures. This is similar to Frankenstein because it deals with scientists bringing back to life what once was not. In other words people are playing God. In both Frankenstein and Jurassic Park, the creations of people become more than was expected and the humans lose control, thus proving that humans are imperfect beings. Victor Frankenstein’s monster is different than the dinosaurs because of its dualistic nature. It is part beast and part human. Whereas it is easy for the people to destroy creation in Jurassic Park, it’s much more complicated to exterminate something that acts human, at least part of the time. Also, in Jurassic Park, the original creator finds it hard to go against his creation. This connects the audience to him and makes us see that his decision to kill everything he has worked for is difficult. This, again, shows that a gray area exists; deciding whether a creation is a miracle or a mistake.
John Milton has a powerful passage in his poem. It is one in which Adam complains of his condition where he says:
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?” (Milton Book X, 743–745).
This is a powerful passage because this is how the monster in Frankenstein feels as well. Both are shunned by their creator, though each strives to be good. A question this proposes is whether Adam and the monster began acting out as a result of being shunned or whether they were shunned as a result of acting out. In Adam’s case, it appears that the latter is true. For the monster, however, it is a bit more complicated. No doubt the monster acted out, but Victor did run from his own creation. The creature was shunned from the beginning whereas Adam was loved, but sinned against God by going against His word. Even the creature realized he is different from Adam saying, “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect” (Shelley 116). He goes on to say that Adam was made by God a perfect person, guarded by his Creator. The creature said he was alone, helpless, and dejected.
Hollywood would have one believe that Frankenstein is just another simple monster horror story. But, upon further analysis, it is noticeable that Mary Shelley had a deeper meaning for her story. The story, using comparisons from John Milton’s Paradise Lost as well as other inter texts, develops a complicated picture of humans and our struggle with God from the beginning of time. Putting a monstrous, yet humanistic creature was an interesting choice. The monster in Frankenstein shows the best and worst of mankind. In this aspect, it represents all that humans are. And I think that Shelley wants us to realize that God wants the best for us; for us to strive for perfection, even though He knows we will never fully attain it. Though Victor dies before he gets his revenge, the monster comes to realize the error of his ways. This novel shows us that we are more than our mistakes and that we can overcome them. We all make mistakes; it is how we overcome them that defines who we are.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. England: Samuel Simmons, 1667.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. London: Macmillan Press LTD., 2000.