In the gothic novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley weaves an intricate web of allusions through her characters’ expedient desires for knowledge. Both the actions of Frankenstein, as well as his monster allude to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Book eight of Milton’s story relates the tale of Satan’s temptation and Eve’s fateful hunger for knowledge. The infamous Fall of Adam and Eve introduced the knowledge of good and evil into a previously pristine world. With one swift motion sin was birthed, and the perfection of the earth was swept away, leaving pain and malevolence in its wake.
The troubles of Victor Frankenstein begin with his quest for knowledge, and end where all end: death. The characters in Frankenstein are a conglomeration of those in Paradise Lost. Frankenstein parallels Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as well as God, while his monster acts an Eve/Satan mixture. The most predominant theme of this novel is the characters’ ever-present search for knowledge. It is this thirst for learning that spurs Frankenstein’s psychotic attempts to give life to inanimate tissue, ultimately causing his demise.
Frankenstein, in this way, mirrors the character of Eve in Paradise Lost. Eve lives her most peaceful life in the Garden of Eden, her only job being to tend the plants in the Garden which she loves so much. In the novel Frankenstein, Frankenstein lives in an Eden of his own, though macabre in nature. His “garden of life” is actually most morbidly and truly a garden of death; a cemetery. It is there where he works by night to gather the grotesque pieces for his death-defying creature. In the true Garden of Eden, Eve is instructed by God that she is not to eat from the forbidden Tree.
However, being tempted by Satan himself she is forced to make an age-old decision, one in which all know the outcome. Satan tempts her with the prospect of knowledge, saying, “ your Eyes that seem so cleere,/ Yet are but dim, shall perfetly be then/ Op’nd and cleerd, and ye shall be as Gods,/ Knowing both Good and Evil as they know”(PL 8. 706-708). In Frankenstein, Victor is an “Eve,” dabbling in affairs reserved for God alone, and seeking a forbidden knowledge. This knowledge is the ability to create life, and, in the process, bring death to Death.
This search to put an end to Death is Eve’s motive as well. Satan tells her that “ shall not Die” if she eats of the fruit, but only lose her humanity to become a god, if death be considered that. Just as Eve is told that she will be a god if she partakes of the fruit of knowledge, Frankenstein works to create a being to worship him as a god. He says “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (55). The creation of the monster draws some parallels between Frankenstein and God in Paradise Lost.
Frankenstei; my own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (78).
Within Frankenstein, there are many instances where the actions of Frankenstein’s monster mirror those of Victor Frankenstein himself, reinforcing this idea. The monster acts out the very search for knowledge that once plagued Frankenstein. His “Garden of Eden” is the forest in which he makes his home in his life’s beginning. It is here that he is happy, owing to the fact that he is naive still, and has not yet lost his innocence. Once he begins to attain knowledge, however, he begins to understand the truth of the world, pain, and ridicule.
As he begins to understand his misplacement in the world he exclaims, “Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned? I tried to dispel , but sorrow only increased with knowledge” (123). Just as the attainment of knowledge led to a loss of innocence in Frankenstein, the monster’s naivety was lost as well. Both characters can be likened to Eve and “The Fall” which occurred as she ate the forbidden fruit. After the monster attains knowledge, he symbolizes the death of innocence with the murder of William, blameless himself.
Immediately following the loss of innocence and the gain of knowledge in the soul of the monster, he becomes analogous to Satan, God’s enemy, in Paradise Lost. “I gazed upon my victim, and my heart swelled with exultation and hellish triumph” (144), he states as William lies dead at his feet. The monster even recognizes that he is like Satan. He says, “I ought to be they Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel , whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed” (103). Just as the monster parallels Frankenstein in his quest for knowledge, he also does so in his being as Satan.
He is the personification of the devil that is inside all in the form of sin. The monster and the devil share an experience in which it is obvious that one parallels the other. In igMalice, and with rapine sweet bereav’d His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought: That space the Evil one abstracted stood From his own evil, and for the time remaind Stupidly good, of enmitie disarme’d, Of guile, of hate, of envie, of revenge; But the hot Hell that always in him burns, soon ended his delight, And tortures him now more, the more he sees Of pleasure not for him ordain’d (PL 8. 61-470) For a mere moment all of the evil held within Satan was set aside in awe of Eve’s angelic beauty. The monster experiences a moment like this, as he glances upon the portrait of William’s mother.
As he is telling Frankenstein his story, he admits, “In spite of my malignity, it softened and attracted me. For a few moments I gazed with delight on her dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips; but presently my rage returned: I remembered that I was forever deprived of the delights that such beautiful creatures could bestow” (144-145).
Both the creature as well as Satan gaze upon the beauty of a woman and lose their malevolence for a moment, yet when each realizes that they are looking at something unattainable to them, their fierceness is redoubled. There are a few instances in the novel where Frankenstein seems to act as Adam in Paradise Lost. This is evident in the murder of Frankenstein’s wife, Elizabeth. In Paradise Lost, Adam is convinced by Eve that since Eve is the weaker of the two, then Satan will not try to attack her, but instead tempt Adam.
Eve says, “The willinger I goe, nor much expect/ A Foe so proud will first the weaker seek;/ So bent, the more shall shame him his repulse” (PL 8. 382-384). Adam is mistaken in his decision, however, causing the ultimate destruction, The Fall itself. Frankenstein formulates this assumption concerning the monster on his wedding night. He thinks, “‘I will be with you on your wedding-night. ’ That was then the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny” (173). Later, he leaves his bride alone in her bedroom to check for the monster elsewhere, believing that the monster is after only him.
With a shriek his new wife is murdered, and the truth dawns upon Frankenstein, minutes too late. This needless death is caused simply because Frankenstein believes that his monster will not stoop low enough to attack his innocent wife, as Adam assumed concerning Satan in Paradise Lost. Underlying appearances of Hell are prevalent through out Shelley’s novel. Romantic writers (such as Shelley) often refer to Hell as being a place of horrible solitude and cold, such as a barren landscape of ice, which, quite often through out the book, is the setting.
The monster, sin in a tangible form, describes how he is “ better fitted by my conformation for the endurance of cold than heat (134),” as the devil may be in a romantic’s Hell. He also describes that even “Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and detested (133),” showing how utterly lonely the monster is, a hell in itself. The novel Frankenstein has many close ties to the poetry of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Victor Frankenstein and his monster creation are a biblical mixture of Adam, Eve, God, and Satan.
Mary Shelly’s writing was influenced greatly by Milton’s work, evidence of which lies in the eerie similarities between the two. The allusions to Paradise Lost give the reader a story by which to subconsciously compare the characters of Frankenstein, thus also reiterating one of the main themes; the quest for knowledge and the resultant death. Following the death of Frankenstein, his monster utters his own last words. “‘But soon,’ he cried, ‘I shall die. I shall ascend my funeral pyre triumphantly, and exult in the agony of torturing flames’” (225).