Donald Moran

Professor Meehan

English 101

17 October 2011

Paradise Lost in Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, is a book riddled with other literary works throughout.  Shelley uses these intertextual references to add to her story and emphasize certain events and themes in the book.  One of the pieces that Shelley includes which is significant to the book is John Milton’s Paradise LostParadise Lost appears multiple times throughout Frankenstein in the epigraph at the very beginning, in the creature’s education, and in the creature’s misery of being completely alone in the world.  By including Paradise Lost, Shelley introduces another story of creation that readers can compare the creation to which Victor gives life, to God and Adam.  Paradise Lost emphasizes the unique creator/creation relationship that the creature has with Victor.  This relationship is made unique because of the hatred the creature feels toward Victor in response to the disgust and neglect Victor expresses toward the creature.  In using various texts like Paradise Lost, Shelley complicates and expands the interpretation and significance of her own novel.

            The most important time Paradise Lost is included is in an epigraph on the title page.  It reads, “Did I request the, Maker, from my clay to mould me man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me”?  This quote starts the story off in a very dramatic way bringing in the idea of creation and creator before the first chapter starts.  Throughout the whole book there seems to be a question of whether Victor had the right to give life to another creature with emotions and that acts like another human.  Victor completely consumed himself in trying to create life but once he finally succeeded, he looked at what he had done and found it evil and wretched.  I interpret this as a possible punishment for thinking that he could take on the role of creator of another being.  In addition, the creature was completely left abandoned in a world unknown to him and in an existence that the creature never asked to be a part of.  In Paradise Lost, Adam was the creation of God and Adam was made in God’s image making him a perfect creature.  Victor’s creation did not have the fortunate benefit of being beautiful and malevolent that Adam did.  Unlike Adam, the creature was made by Victor, a scientist, who combined various body parts from dead persons and used science to reanimate them.  Everywhere the creature went he was beaten and treated like a monster because of his ugly physical appearance.  These things occurred despite the fact that early on in the creature’s life, it did good things like collect wood for the family in the woods and save a young girl who was drowning. 

            After maturing and learning how to express himself through speech, the creature seeks vengeance on Victor for giving him his wretched existence and then abandoning him.  The Epigraph directly relates to the dialogue that Victor and the creature have on top of the mountain after the creature kills Victor’s brother, William.  On top of the mountain the creature talks to Victor with respect but also with an edge of anger and entitlement.  The creature admits that he is Victor’s creation but expects Victor to supply him with a mate so the creature would not be so terribly lonely.  Like the epigraph illustrates between God and Adam, the creature is the result of Victor’s work and the creature was not a part of its own creation in any way.  Victor even admits to being moved by the creature’s story and his request to have some kind of happiness through having a mate similar to himself.  There is even a direct similarity to the creature’s request of Victor for a mate to Adam’s supplication in Paradise Lost. In this request of Adam, he directly asked God for a companion.  The only difference in these two events is that Adam gets his wish in his mate, Eve, and Victor decided not to comply with the creature’s wish.  The creature was simply left lonely and ostracized even though he feels human emotions. He is treated like a monstrosity, even after he tried to reason with his own creator.  Victor obviously differs with God, who is the creator of everything in Paradise Lost.  Victor focuses so fully on giving the creature life that he completely ignores any repercussions that may occur after his creation lives.  Victor abandons the creature and refuses to take any responsibility for what he did by leaving the creature on its own and hoping that his problem will fix itself.  Instead of things getting better, the creature learns everything the hard way through hatred.  His natural feelings of good transform into feelings of vengeance and bitterness toward the human race.  God was an all powerful being in Paradise Lost and Victor is a mere human with human limitations.  The creature pays the price of Victor’s neglect through no fault of his own which is well illustrated in the epigraph.

            With Victor’s refusal to fulfill the creatures wish, the creature’s mood shifts from reasonable to filled with rage.  The creature did not ask Victor to create him but now the creature is asking Victor to make another like him.  After once again being treated as subhuman, the creature openly expresses his pain and hatred toward Victor.  This is a much darker and evil side of the creature than shown immediately before.  The words, “did I solicit Thee from darkness” imply that before the creature was alive, it was in a dark place.  Good is almost always associated with light and evil with darkness.  The epigraph leads the reader to think that possibly the creature may be inherently evil or at the very least have an evil side to him.  I think that the creature is made out to be evil because it is Victor who brings about its existence.  Victor is not God and unlike God in Paradise Lost, is not capable of making a perfect being. He instead makes a creature which is hideous to look at.  The creature’s appearance is like a curse for it throughout the whole book because the creature is never judged for its actions.  Even after he attempted to gain DeLacey’s trust, who is a blind man, he fails because the other family members see him and force him away like a wild animal.  Later on, the creature decides to save a little girl from drowning and he is rewarded by getting shot.  The creature does let his dark side take control of him in numerous parts throughout the novel and coincidentally they seem to all be during the night in “darkness”.  It was dark when the creature saw William, choked him to death and framed Justine Moritz by putting the necklace in her pocket.  It was also in the dark when the creature killed both Clerval and Victor’s newlywed wife, Elizabeth to make Victor completely miserable.  Through these differences in personality, the creature demonstrates how he is similar to both Adam, a perfect being, and Satan, the archangel who decided to turn against God and leave heaven to wage war against God and man.  There is even a passage in Frankenstein where the creature addresses this topic directly.  In his own reading of Paradise Lost, the creature says, “Like Adam, I was apparently united by no link to any other being in existence”.  Right after this he shifts and says, “but I was wretched, helpless and alone.  Many times I considered Satan as the fitter emblem of my condition” (Shelley 116-117).  This event proves that it was the complete loneliness the creature experienced that made him associate himself with Satan and therefore do the evil things that it did.  Perhaps if Victor had been a better creator and cared about his own creature like a father would care about a son, the creature would not have done all of its evil acts. 

            Victor dedicated himself fully to creating another being but failed to support and take care of his own creation after he gave it life.  He tried to be like God who created Adam but unlike God, he refused to give a companion like Eve to the creature.  Also, because the creature did not ask to be created, he ended up becoming evil.  Similar to Satan, he committed terrible acts in response to his abandonment that ultimately led to Victor’s misery.  By intricately webbing the epigraph from Paradise Lost through the book, Shelley adds layers and depth to her novel including good versus evil and creator versus creation relationships. 

 

 

Bibliography

Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein, Macmillan Press LTD, Boston, MA, 2000

 

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