Intertextual Wreading: Parallels of Paradise Lost and Frankenstein

To a person who has read both John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is an irrefutable connection. Not only do Shelley’s characters resemble that of Milton’s, but also his poem plays an important role in her novel. Shelley shows parallels with Paradise Lost by Victor and his creation sharing characteristics of Milton’s characters: God, Adam, and Satan.  Most significantly, Milton’s poem is seen in Shelley’s novel by Victor’s creature reading it to learn the English language and ultimately coming to terms with his place on the planet. This critical part of Shelley’s novel is an element to pay close attention to while reading because of how Shelley introduces the parallel.

The most thought-provoking parallel approach by Shelley is the one that is clearly stated by the monster. Victor’s creation while trying to understand the language reads Paradise Lost and ends up coming to a conclusion about his own existence. In Frankenstein, Victor on a hike in search of solitude comes across his creation, who commands Victor to listen to his story. The creature tells the story of what occurred after he fled Victor’s lab, which is a story of how he came to understand his existence as well as how society views him. The creature explains the thoughts that Paradise Lost provoked about his abrupt existence in the following passage:

Like Adam, I was created apparently united by no link to any other being in existence; but his state was far different from mine in every other respect. 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: but I was wretched, helpless, and alone. (Shelley, 98)

The comparisons made to the character Adam by the creation are very important for understanding the feelings of the creation. The creature has a sense of being lost in the world because of a lack of guidance by his creator, Victor, and reads in Paradise Lost that Adam is created by God and also guided by God. The creation is created by Victor and left clueless to fend for himself in the world with no guidance.

The contradiction between his creation and Adam’s creation, with his lacking guidance, communication, and consideration from Victor, leads the creature to see himself as one of the other characters of Paradise Lost, Satan.

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 gale rose within me. (Shelley, 98)

The creature reads and understands that he was created like Adam, but unlike Adam his creator left him. God created Satan, then created Adam, and left Satan to focus more on Adam.  Satan angered by being tossed aside becomes enraged and evil, lashing out against his creator for leaving him.

O Hell! What doe mine eyes with grief behold,

Into our room of bliss thus high advance’s

Creatures of other mould, earth-born perhaps,

Not Spirits, yet to heavenly Spirits bright

Little inferior; whom my thoughts pursue

With wonder, and could love, so lively shines

In them Divine resemblance, and such grace

The hand that formed them on thir shape hath pourd.

Ah gentle pair, yee little think how nigh

Your change approaches, when all these delights

Will vanish and deliver ye to woe,

More woe, the more your taste is now of joy; (Milton, 4. 358-369)

The creature, like Satan, is enraged by is desertion. He, like Satan, was created without the knowledge of hatred, but soon, like Satan, learned of its existence and allowed it to take over his thoughts. The creature was angered for being created and being left to go out into the world with no one to understand him. Satan was created by God, but had others to converse with; Victor’s creation was created alone and then left alone. Ultimately, it is this lack of consideration, communication, and knowledge from Victor that causes the creation to learn of evil and, like Satan, follow a path of evil in different ways throughout his existence.

The parallels of Milton’s great poem to Shelley’s novel do not end there. The resemblance of Milton’s  characters are carried throughout Shelley’s novel, but seen again prominently closer to the end of the novel.  The creature again resembles two of Milton’s characters, Adam and Satan, in his request to Victor. The creature comes to an understanding because of his horrid appearance and realizes that he will never fit into society. He was created, like Adam, alone on the planet with no one like him. In Paradise Lost, Adam asks God to create him a companion and God does creating Eve. In Frankenstein, the creature asks his creator, Victor, to make him a female companion.

You must create a female for me, with who I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do; and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse. (Shelley, 111)

The creature asks this because he feels he deserves it as much as Adam did. The creature feels deserted in a world where he knows he will never be accepted, so he is just looking for another being to spend his days with. Victor sees the damage that has been cause by his first creation. He realizes that he can’t be God and create life, for he has no control over it. With this knowledge, Victor refuses and that is when the creature begins to again resemble Satan.

I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear; and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care: I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you curse the hour of your birth. (Shelley, 111)

Satan, previously shown, is angered by God and plans revenge. The creature threatens revenge if he doesn’t not get what he asks for, mimicking Satan’s evil plans against Adam. The creature resembles Satan completely by following through with his threats and causing Victor even more pain and anguish.

The connections between Paradise Lost and Frankenstein are undeniable. There are clear parallels between the two pieces of literature, what can be different is how the individual reading interprets them. While reading Frankenstein I saw the multiple instances in which Paradise Lost was woven throughout the novel. I interpreted the instances differently then others may, but the associations made are still strong. One of the most interesting connections I found to be the one made by the creature himself because it is not only an interesting parallel, but also it is interesting for Shelley to introduce it in that manner. The idea of the creature having that moment of self-discovery drew me to read that section of the novel on a deeper level. The parallels found in that section can be further supported by the creature’s later choices of actions. The hatred towards Victor that filled the creature caused me to forward a connection to Satan of Paradise Lost, but the idea behind the creature’s coming to be and the confusion he had caused me to make a connection to Adam of Paradise Lost. The idea of one character resembling two from another piece of literature can be confusing to some, but if one reads a piece of work, like Frankenstein, closely you can get lost in making multiple connections that aren’t seen when just reading the piece for its entirety.

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