An Analysis: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Penny Dreadful's Interpretation of Frankenstein's Monster
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a classic novel that tells the story of a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who reanimates a corpse with an unorthodox science experiment. The text explores themes such as what it means to be a monster and questions where should be the limits of scientific curiosity.
Alternate Names Frankenstein Could Have Been Called
The two likely candidates for an alternate title for Frankenstein The Modern Prometheus are titles that reference the biblical Adam and Satan. Frankenstein intertextually refers to the monster as Adam “Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed” (Shelley, p. 140) and as Satan (Shelley, p. 192), both in which reflections on themes of father and son relationships and paternal abandonment. In Genesis, God views the creation of man and Adam as something to be proud of, which correlates with the excited tone Frankenstein when describing the process of creating the monster.
However, God’s pride in the Adam fades after he eats the forbidden fruit and abandons, akin to how Frankenstein abandons the monster when the creation he expected. However, the monster claims he relates more to Satan than he does Adam since he states he was “united by no link to any other being in existence” but Adam was different because Adam was created as, “He had come forth from the hands of God a perfect creature, happy and prosperous, guarded by the especial care of his Creator; he was allowed to converse with and acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature” (Shelley, p. 191).
Instead, the monster saw himself as “wretched, helpless, and alone” (Shelley, p. 191). It is more fitting that an alternate title would be “The Creation of Lucifer,” which is supported by the monster’s self-perception and intertextuality to Paradise Lost. In the text, Lucifer was once regarded as one of God’s greatest creation but he is abandoned when Lucifer rebels against him. The bitterness the monster has toward his creator for his abandonment strongly relates to Lucifer’s abandonment;
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?"— Paradise Lost, X, 743-45
This is an intertextual reference that shows the audience how the monster questions why he was created and why his creator allowed him to feel. This is further supported by the monster’s letter, “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” (15.7).
The reference to Satan also suggests duality between creating something. In the vein of trying to created life, there is the notion of trying to control life and destroy life. Therefore, it is fitting an alternate title would reference Satan.
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Links Between Prometheus and Frankenstein
The reference to clay acts as a direct reference to Paradise Lost quote (Paradise Lost, X, 743-45) also references the myth of the Greek titan, Prometheus. The myth is one the explores hubris alike how Frankenstein is an allegory about where humans should draw the line for scientific advancements. PROMETHEUS was the Titan god of forethought who was given the task of moulding mankind out of clay. He then gave humans the gift of fire inside a fennel-stalk against Zeus’ wishes. Consequently, Prometheus was bound to a stake on Mount Kaukasos (Caucasus) where an eagle was set to feed upon his ever-regenerating liver.
In Prometheus Bound by Percy Shelly (Mary Shelly’s husband), he states the god Hermes warned Prometheus from falling into hubris, a sin that was condemned by the Greek Gods in many myths such as the fall of Icarus and Narcissus and Echo.
Prometheus defies this, parallel to the way Frankenstein defies the laws of mother nature and committed an act that would have been condemned by the Judeo-Christian god (England prominently held Christian beliefs). Shelley borrows from the tale of Prometheus a sense of consequence resulting from seeking enlightenment and power. Victor is her modern incarnation of Prometheus. He as Prometheus was fascinated with the creation of humans, stating, “he wants to "penetrate the secrets of nature" (2.7).
However, it is the power to create life is where his inner torture begins. His torture mirrors that of Prometheus'; undying and eternal. From the beginning of the novel, when Victor warns Walton of the consequences of curiosity. This creates an allegory that provokes the audience to think about where the line about scientific endeavours should be drawn.
Who Was the Monster in Frankenstein?
My definition of a monster is someone or something that lack moral or ethical regard for others, who only intend harm on others, seeks to control and manipulate others for pleasure, whose actions are unable to be rationalized, sympathized or empathized with by the regular human, is past the point of redemption, and is overall cruel. I believe people can harbour monstrous qualities but at the same time, they can harbour good qualities also. But I do not believe one can be purely monstrous or purely angelic, the question of people being so is not black and white.
To consider one a monster I believe one would have to be completely devoid of good qualities or their monstrous qualities would have to severely outweigh their human ones. I perceive the same thing with Dr Frankenstein and his creation. To me, neither Frankenstein or his creation are monsters, however, they have triggered and made monstrous events unfold.
Frankenstein’s reaction to his creature is human. He reacts to the creature with fear, which is understandable. He had been the first person to animate life after all. He had been rash in the creation process, had not seriously anticipated success, and was driven by ambition and obsession to find out the secrets to life and death. This scientific curiosity does not make one a monster. To define scientific curiosity, it is “a desire to seek out and consume scientific information just for the pleasure of doing so.”
I believe Shelly was trying to point out that it is not scientific curiosity that makes one monstrous, but scientific curiosity can lead to monstrous consequences. Alternatively, if Frankenstein had prepared for his creation and had not responded to it with rejection and fear, his discovery could have been good for humanity.
Instead, he abandoned the creature out of fear but to fear is a natural, human response. This does not mean he is a monster, it just means his actions lead to monstrous consequences.
However, it is his reaction to the creature that leads the creature to make monstrous decisions. Initially, the creature craved affection and companionship, “… I persuaded myself that when they should become acquainted with my admiration of their virtues they would compassionate me and overlook my personal deformity” (Shelly 1818, p.155). These are undeniably human qualities considering humans are social creatures.
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Frankenstein could have prevented the creature from becoming like this if he had not rejected him and gave him an appearance like Adam (Shelly 1818, p.144). But him not doing so does not make him a monster. Foolish and unorganised, perhaps, but not a monster. On the creature’s part, he does make monstrous choices such as murder, attempted kidnap, and blackmail, but that does not make him a pure monster.
These actions would not have occurred if he had been given the affection he craved and had not experienced repeated instances of rejection. The hatred and anger he feels is a natural response to what he experiences, and his situation can be sympathised with. The creature only was a reflection of the humans he had encountered.
In summation, I do not believe Frankenstein or the creature are monsters, but they have made monstrous decisions. These decisions were not reflections of monsters, but negative qualities found in humanity.
Carey, L. Tessa 2017, Curiosity—not just knowledge—about science influences public perceptions about vaccines, climate change, Science, New York, viewed 26 October 2017, <http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/02/curiosity-not-just-knowledge-about-science-influences-public-perceptions-about-vaccines>
Shelley, Mary 1818, Frankenstein Or the Modern Prometheus, London, United Kingdom. Viewed 18 October 2017, from Planet PDF.
Waytz, Adam 2014, What Scientific Idea is Ready For Retirement?, Edge, New York, viewed 27 October 2017, <https://www.edge.org/response-detail/25395>
© 2017 Simran Singh