Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, first published in 1818 is essentially a story about a student of physics and chemistry who sets out to create his own creature out of decaying cadavers by pushing the boundaries of science and religion and the misery he suffers afterwards. It is intertwined with religious allusions, making the characters from Frankenstein mirror images of those in Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is amply clear that God and Victor Frankenstein are both the creators in their respective tales, Paradise Lost being an epic about mankind’s fall and Frankenstein being an epic novel about inhuman horror and pity. However, with its gothic strain, Frankenstein is also a cautionary tale warning mankind of the consequences of unbridled ambition triggered out of one man emulating God.

Romanticism, a movement that Mary Shelley was attached with, has always had a soft corner for literary characters like Prometheus and Lucifer who ‘rebelled’ against a ‘tyrannical’ ruler for the better of humanity. In their revolt against heaven, they ask for equality to this arbitrary hierarchy of power. The two opposing forces of Victor Frankenstein who is ashamed of his experiments with chemistry and Frankenstein the “monster” oscillate between the roles of God, Satan and Adam.

Victor Frankenstein’s creation of his creature puts him at a parallel to God, his dismissive abandonment of his “Adam” makes him the tyrannical God from Milton’s Paradise Lost while his over achieving ambition and apathetic lack of concern towards the pain and suffering of others puts him at par with Lucifer. His guilt over the genesis of the creature is blatant with his constant self reflection. By creating the monster, Victor has displaced God and usurped the role of the woman. His desire to create a living being was an act of transgression by which he assumed the role of the Christian God. Victor and his creature move from the assumed roles of God and Adam and then god and Satan.

Frankenstein the “monster” is an allegory of Adam because he is inherently the creation; “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”, But at the same time he too is the devil. “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”. Likening himself to Adam, The “monster” accuses Victor Frankenstein of botching his creation by saying, “Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image, but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance.” He models himself around Paradise Lost which he takes to be the written Truth, and sets out to avenge his undeserved punishment and destroys what his creator holds dearest. Satan shames God’s most prized creation (Adam and Eve) and Frankenstein’s creation destroys his family.

The “monster”, in his Lacanian quest for a sense of self, tries to outdo his creator Victor because in physicality, he is better than him. Both the creators abandon their creatures, one more apparent than the other but why would they create these material beings knowing well enough of their downfalls? God, moving from a spiritual to a material world to create Adam and Eve in flesh and blood giving them the free will to sin and Victor Frankenstein ‘dreaming’ his creature but refusing to take responsibility of his ‘child’ once he sees its flawed helplessness, denying them the knowledge that would enable them to choose otherwise, without any divine tutelage, can be held solely responsible for the sins of their creations.

Mary Shelley’s use of a post-lapsarian Adam’s words to God for an epigraph, voices the “monster’s” anguish towards his maker who created him without his consent or request; “Summoned to play a game governed by rules (set by God) he does not understand, is punished for breaking them.” These lines come full circle when the “monster” says, “ I remembered Adam’s supplication; but where was mine?”

The creation of the monster was almost synonymous with the creation of Adam, it is only through the self education that the monster gives himself, starting out from a life of innocence and ignorance, he tries to survive in a hostile world that he becomes the Arch-enemy and Anti-Christ figure. He transforms from Adam into Satan as he blatantly says, “I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.  Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded.  I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend”

What Satan and Adam have in common is primarily their secondary status to God and hence implying that they owe gratitude and obedience to their creator. The “monster” becomes the eternal embodiment of the creature in trying to absorb the characteristics of both Adam and Satan into himself. Frankenstein’s monster, like Lucifer, has no hope of redemption. That perdition, as developed in their respective mythic contexts, has more to do with Lucifer’s pride and the monster’s subhuman status than to any other resemblance (spiritual or metaphysical) between them. Lucifer is a monster because of his pride; the monster is a monster because he isn’t human. Lucifer has rejected God; the monster was rejected by his maker.In Lucifer’s revolt against heaven, he suborns a third of the Host to his purposes, turning them away from the face of God. The monster’s revolt against Dr Frankenstein has nothing to do with politics or a difference of opinions – it has instead everything to do with the animus of the monster.

As said by Burton Hatlen in his essay Milton, Mary Shelley and Patriarchy, “There is a direct connection between Frankenstein and Paradise Lost… Frankenstein is atleast in part a commentary on and amplification of Paradise Lost, designed to uncover certain egalitarian and libertarian motifs that are at work in Milton’s poem, but which are partly suppressed by an overlay of religious orthodoxy.” Leslie Tannenbaum argues that “Mary Shelley’s allusions to Milton primarily serve to establish a contrast between the legitimate power and authority to God and Victor Frankenstein’s illegitimate claims to similar power and authority.”

Mary Shelley in her novel talks about the relationship between the authority and the rebel (in this case both Victor and God and Victor and his “monster”) and shows how both Frankenstein and Paradise Lost are not novels about the sin and the fall, but about creation and the mutual rights and responsibilities of the creator and the creature. This conception of the process of creation derives directly from the Bible; in the first chapter of Matthew where it suggests that each male in the line of David must generate his own son, with at best incidental assistance of an occasional woman. As Ellen Moers points out, “He (Victor Frankenstein) defies mortality not by living forever but by giving birth”.

Victor and God are the “male mothers”. When Paradise Lost is seen through Frankenstein, Adam, God and Satan all give birth in the course of the text-Adam creates Eve, Satan creates Death by an incestuous relationship with Sin and God creates Adam and Lucifer.

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley creates the unholy Trinity of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit but replaces them with Victor Frankenstein as the Father, Robert Walton as the Son and the monster as the Unholy Spirit. The book begins with these characters in opposition to each other but it ends with them resembling the other two foils. Shelley achieves this by using the typical Gothic feature of multiple narratives. Robert Walton’s epistolary frame narrative embeds itself into Victor recounting the monster’s story, which can be called the box of horrors opened by Pandora; the central driving force of the novel (the monster) is the ‘Heart of Darkness’ of the novel. These inescapable inter-relations propelled from the centre i.e. the monster, is also the metaphorical monster of ambition that lives in Walton’s and Victor’s hearts. That is the reason why all three can be referred to as the ‘fallen angel’, banished from their original world and set out to create a life for themselves, out to seek revenge against their maker or to defy him in Walton’s case.

In the Enquiry, Godwin repeats Blake’s description of Satan as that of the archetype of the rebel against arbitrary authority; that the reason why Satan rebelled against God, his creator was because he saw no sufficient reason for that extreme inequality of rank and power which the creator assumed. Taking the theme of Faustian ambition forward, Richard Walton, like Victor is a passionate over achiever who strives for some selfish goal without caring for the safety or survival of anyone else. They both are utterly alone in their endeavors, refusing to accept their limitations. Walton is an “incipient Frankenstein” and Shelley created them both with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and personal glory by the way of scientific discovery. Victor Frankenstein is shown as dismissive of philosophical arts, he is shown to prefer the empirical sciences over blind dogma, hence from his ambition to become the creator and outdo his own, it can be said that Victor Frankenstein assumes the role of Satan in Mary Shelley’s almost retelling of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

The patriarchy in the text shows how “male mothers” are incapable of forming bonds between equals with a “mutual respect for independence, the selfhood, the ‘subject-hood’ of the other”, instead forge a very human relationship that of a master and a slave.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Worldview critical edition)

  • Milton, Mary Shelley and Patriarchy by Burton Hatlen (Bucknell Review, Worldview critical edition)

  • ‘From Filth Type to Truth: Miltonic Myth in Frankenstein’ by Leslie Tannenbaum (Keats-Shelley Journal)

  • An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice by William Godwin (Baltimore, Penguin)

  • ‘Female Gothic: The Monster” by Ellen Moers (1976)

  • “Mary Shelley’s Monstrous Eve” by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1979)

  • “Frankenstein and a critique of Imperialism” by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.

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One Response to “Critically examine the nexus between God-Satan-Adam as it emerges in Frankenstein”

  1. Taleah Says:

    Incredibly articulated. Thank you for delving into the depths of this literary classic; it has enlightened me quite a bit.

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