The Relation Between Frankenstein and His Creator, Essay Example
Creator, Master, Rebel: The Miltonic Roles of Frankenstein and the Monster
As the “modern Prometheus,” Victor Frankenstein attempts to create without thinking of the consequences, and without being willing to accept responsibility for the “fiend” he has created. This carelessness is Frankenstein’s crime against his own creation, a creation that is arguably a more empathetic specimen of humanity than Frankenstein himself. In essence, Frankenstein plays at being God with all the hubris of Satan, while the Monster’s rebellion against his creator comes as a response to Frankenstein’s abuse of his power and shirking of his responsibilities.
Frankenstein can certainly be read as a cautionary tale about playing God in the age of science. While there is something to this, it is important to point out that in fact, Frankenstein describes himself as a kind of latter-day heir to the tradition of “natural philosophy” or natural magic, a fundamentally unscientific view. By his own admission, “Natural philosophy is the genius that has regulated my fate” (Shelley 51). He goes on to recount his discovery of the works of Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535), a natural magician (Smith 45). Later, Victor devours the works of Paracelsus the alchemist (1493-1541) and Albertus Magnus (1192-1280), an Aristotelian natural magician (45).
The point here is not simply that Victor’s quest is unscientific in nature; rather, the point is that from the beginning, he has sought god-like power. After all, what is alchemy if not the ability to, in a manner of speaking, assume or even usurp the powers of creation? His alchemical studies inspire Victor to search for the two great holy grails of alchemy in myth and literature, namely the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life (Shelley 54). It is the Elixir of Life that motivates him the most, however, because of his own visions of glory, clearly informed by youthful optimism: “but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!” (55). However, he also seeks to raise “ghosts or devils,” a clear indication of a morbid tendency in his thinking (55).
Frankenstein’s goal, then, is in essence to take for himself the power of a divine being, a god. As Smith explains, the alchemical authors from whom Frankenstein draws his inspiration had a strong emphasis not only on things like transmuting lead into gold and gaining immortality, but also on gaining moral and spiritual perfection (55). This theme is only reified as Victor meets with derision from his professor when he admits that his education in natural philosophy has consisted of such authors as Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus. “’I little expected in this enlightened and scientific age to find a disciple of Albertus Magnus and Paracelsus. My dear Sir, you must begin your studies entirely anew’” (Shelley 70). Frankenstein reconciles himself to modern natural philosophy, particularly chemistry, but it is a deeply alchemical and natural-magical vision that will guide him to construct his Monster (Smith 48-49, Shelley 78).
As Smith explains, Frankenstein has not become a conventional man of science: he remains a fanatic, feverishly chasing his own radical dreams of grandeur (49). Frankenstein will use science to construct his Monster, but it is his hubris, his overweening pride, that is his fatal flaw. Frankenstein’s hubris will lead him to attempt to become something greater, a creator of life, without thinking of the consequences (Smith 49). In narrating the story to Captain Robert Walton, a dying Frankenstein will warn him concerning “how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (Shelley 87).
Flush with success at having discovered a process, never specified, for bestowing life, Frankenstein is rash and prideful. After some hesitation he banishes his doubts and decides to make a human (Shelley 87). However, when he encounters difficulty with the complexities of the operation he simply revises his plan and resolves to make a giant (88-89). A key point here is that Frankenstein shows no forethought about what he is doing, no compunction about any feelings that his creation may have about being formed as a grotesque giant (Stripling 21). He abandons the Monster in a panic, clearly not having thought ahead about the practicalities of feeding, housing and restraining a monstrous reanimated giant that has just been animated (Stripling 21). In fact, Frankenstein is so disgusted with his creation that he simply runs away: “He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped, and rushed down the stairs” (Shelley 100-101).
In a number of ways, the relationship between Frankenstein and the Monster is in some sense a reflection of relationships between Creator and creation in Milton’s Paradise Lost. The connections between the two have long been noted; indeed, the Monster himself points out some of these connections to Frankenstein. He encountered Paradise Lost in the home of the De Lacey family, and reports being captivated by it. “’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’” (Shelley 36). Unlike the Monster, Adam was created perfect, made to be happy and prosperous by a Creator who genuinely cherished him and cared for him, and he was able to “’acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature’” (36-37). Of course, the Monster falls back on considering himself more like 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 gall of envy rose within me’” (37).
In one of the more poignant scenes in the novel, the Monster confronts his creator with the terrible truth: the Monster knows that Frankenstein found him repulsive (Shelley 38). This is a crucial difference between Frankenstein as a creator and God as Creator, as depicted in Milton’s Paradise Lost: God loved His creation, while Frankenstein was repelled by his. The Monster is very clear about this: “’”Cursed creator! 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…”’” (Shelley 38). Thus, the Monster very clearly sets up a contrast between God the Creator and Frankenstein the creator, and the comparison does not flatter Frankenstein.
Indeed, as Hatlen explains, the novel is in some sense a commentary on Paradise Lost, a commentary that amplifies certain themes (19). The key lies with understanding that Milton was not “simply” writing a traditionalist defense of authority and hierarchy, any more than Shelley was “simply” writing a cautionary tale about the hubris of an egotistical and short-sighted scientist gone awry. Both are far more complex, and a key element that they share in common is certain anti-hierarchical and egalitarian motifs (19). In fact, both are profoundly subversive. Mary Shelley’s own parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, were two of the most important revolutionary thinkers of the time in which they lived. Both were profoundly committed to the ideals of the French Revolution, and both criticized systems of inequality formed on the master/servant pattern (Hatlen 21). Godwin made the argument that government exists for the purpose of preserving inequalities, and Wollstonecraft, his wife, made the same argument for male dominance in society (21). Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s husband, Percy Shelley, was also a revolutionary thinker of similar disposition, and the radical credentials of their friend Lord Byron are of course impeccable (21-22).
For Mary Shelley and for others in her Romantic circle, Milton was a figure of admiration. Indeed, they saw him as a fellow revolutionary artist, a clear indication that they saw him more clearly and read him more carefully and appreciatively than certain modern critics who have argued that he was a champion of established hierarchy (Hatlen 22). Shelley’s own parents had plenty to say on this topic. Her father Godwin concurred with the prevailing Romantic wisdom of the day, shared by none other than William Blake, that Satan’s rebellion against God was motivated by Satan’s perception that there was no good reason for the extreme inequality between himself and his Creator (23).
Mary Wollstonecraft acknowledged that Paradise Lost does contain many passages that seem to be derogatory toward women, but made an excellent case that in fact, Milton himself felt a tension between the conventional sentiments of his time and his own desire, however latent, for equality between the sexes (23). Mary Shelley’s own husband Percy very explicitly stated that Milton’s Satan was a morally superior being to Milton’s God (23). This conviction motivated him to write Prometheus Unbound as a kind of purified Paradise Lost, a version of the story stripped of the encumbrances of theological tradition with which Milton was ostensibly bound, i.e. Milton’s need to still depict Satan as a doer of evil (23-24).
Hatlen argues that for Mary Shelley, Paradise Lost was a poem not only about sin and rebellion against God, but more deeply about the relationships between creator and creation (24). It is also, of course, in many ways a poem about the relationships between men and women (24). Frankenstein has a number of motifs and themes that touch upon counterpart motifs and themes in Paradise Lost, and the role of the creator is of course one of them. It has already been established that as a creator, Frankenstein is a sorry specimen: he is prideful, irresponsible, and utterly thoughtless about the wellbeing of the creature he has made.
In fact, Frankenstein is in some sense not unlike Satan. He is the modern Prometheus, the prideful usurper of the divine prerogative of creation. His capability to create life certainly places him in the role of God, but the fact that he is selfish and prideful likens him to Satan. As Hatlen points out, Milton’s Satan is also a creator, and like Victor Frankenstein, his creations are—or become—monstrous (26). Satan creates Sin, and he also seems to create Hell (26). Frankenstein, as Tropp points out, exhibits a disposition with many parallels to that of Milton’s Satan. His pride and arrogance in planning his experiments are case in point, and his entire project can be seen as a thoughtless inversion of the natural order of things for his own glory (15-16). The melding of Frankenstein’s roles as creator and Miltonic, Promethean rebel reaches a climax when he brings his creation to life, only to be suddenly disgusted by the Monster. As Tropp explains, this is the beginning of Frankenstein’s downfall (16).
The role of Satan has double billing in Frankenstein, however, for the Monster also plays the role of Satan. The monster too is in rebellion against his creator, but here again one must remember that for Shelley and for those in her circle, rebellion against one’s creator could be admirable (Tropp 16). Indeed, Mary Shelley’s husband Percy Shelley once argued that there is no monster in the novel: the Monster, so-called, is only a ‘monster’ because he has been abandoned by his creator and is repulsive to anyone who looks upon him (Tropp 14). The Monster himself recounts his story at great length, and it is a story that lends itself to empathy: after learning from the De Lacey family in secret for many months and coming to love them, he is rejected when he tries to show himself to them. This leads him to declare war on the human species, a rebellion motivated not by pride but by loneliness, despair and the pain of rejection (Shelley 54-62).
These bitter feelings are what motivates the Monster’s anger, against the human race in general and his creator in particular. “’But on you only had I any claim for pity and redress, and from you I determined to seek that justice which I vainly attempted to gain from any other being that wore the human form’” (Shelley 62). With these words the Monster describes his perception of what the relationship between himself and his creator ought to be: Frankenstein has unthinkingly created him hideous and then abandoned him, effectively absconding from his responsibilities to the Monster, and he must be held to account for it. Along the way he kills William, Frankenstein’s brother, quite by accident. Though an accident, the Monster realizes this will hurt Frankenstein, which causes him to gloat. He goes on to frame Justine for William’s death (Shelley 69-73).
Finally the Monster comes to his request of his creator: he abjures Frankenstein to promise to make for him a companion, an Eve to his Adam. “’I am alone, and miserable… My companion must be of the same species, and have the same defects. This being you must create’” (Shelley 73). Frankenstein, of course, almost honors this, but in the end he does not. His excuse is that he does not believe the Monster’s promise to take his new bride and travel to some remote wilderness area, never to trouble humanity again (Shelley 129-131). However, there is another way to view Frankenstein’s refusal to honor his creation’s need for companionship: as self-serving. Frankenstein claims to be acting from altruistic motives for humanity, in that he does not want to create a second potentially destructive monster as a mate for the first, particularly given the fear that they might procreate and give rise to “a race of devils” (130). Even if Frankenstein has convinced himself of this, he remains quite unmoved by the Monster’s suffering, and the fact that this suffering has motivated all of its diabolical behaviors. For Frankenstein, his creation is still a monster.
Indeed, on balance the Monster compares rather favorably with his reluctant and callous creator. To the degree that he becomes wicked, it is only after discovering himself to be human in essence but repulsive to humans in physiognomy: he has human passions and a human mind, meaning he longs for human companionship. As Bloom so aptly puts it, “the monster is more human than his creator. This nameless being… is more lovable than his creator and more hateful, more to be pitied and more to be feared…” (4). Paradoxically, Frankenstein succeeded as a creator in that his creation proved to have the capability of becoming greater than himself, albeit in a tragic fashion (6). For Bloom, Frankenstein’s failure as a creator was his failure to love his own creation: indeed, he abhorred his creation and, terrified, fled from his responsibility toward the living, conscious being he had created (6).
As a reflection upon Paradise Lost, Frankenstein does not invert the roles of God, Satan and Adam so much as re-imagine and re-envision them. As creator, Frankenstein occupies the position of God, the one who bestows life. However, he abandons his creation in terror and disgust, an act of cowardice that speaks to the fact that this is a profane creation: it is creation and fall at the same time, because Frankenstein is God and Satan at the same time. Frankenstein absconds from his duties as a creator in a way that is at least suggestive of how Adam and Eve hid from God after their sin.
For his part, the hapless Monster is Satan and Adam at the same time. Driven to rebel against the human species and his creator, the Monster attempts to force Frankenstein to complete his work of creation by making an Eve for him. When Frankenstein reneges, the Monster rages and attempts to invert the “natural order” of creator and creation entirely: “’You are my creator, but I am your master;—obey!’” (Shelley 134). As he finally recounts in the last scene, the Monster ultimately chose to give himself over to evil entirely, so that he could destroy Frankenstein utterly (272). In this choice, the Monster completed his metamorphosis into his own casting of the role of Satan. At last, Frankenstein dead, the victorious but despairing Monster resolves to immolate himself, a poignantly poetic end to the creation of the modern Prometheus.
Bloom, Harold. “Introduction.” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007. 1-12. Print.
Bloom examines Shelley’s classic novel, noting that the Monster is quite arguably more human than his creator. Bloom observes that this is an important paradox that defines the relationship between creator and creation in the novel. The monster is a Modern Adam in the Miltonic sense, much as his creator is a Modern Prometheus—again, shades of Milton. Bloom explains that in many ways they form a kind of unity, with each possessing traits that complement the other. The Monster represents the mind and the emotions turned outward to confront the world and other people, while Frankenstein represents both mind and emotions turned inward. This is what drives so much of the psychic tension in the story.
Hatlen, Burton. “Milton, Mary Shelley, and Patriarchy.” Rhetoric, Literature, and Interpretation. Ed. Harry R. Garvin. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1983. 19-46. Print.
Hatlen explores Frankenstein in light of the connections with Paradise Lost, and the revolutionary-subversive themes in both. Hatlen’s contention is that Frankenstein critiques the master-slave relationship, particularly in the context of patriarchy. For Shelley and others in her circle, including her own husband and her parents, Milton was an admirable figure, a subversive rebel whose depiction of Satan made for a compelling and even sympathetic character. In essence, for the Romantics Milton’s Satan served as the basis for an intelligent critique of mastery. Hatlen finds strong parallels with the deeds and behavior of Shelley’s monster, and connects them to a critique of patriarchy.
Shelley, Mary W. Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. Google Books, 2006. Web. 04 Aug. 2014.
Smith, Crosbie. “Frankenstein and Natural Magic.” Frankenstein, Creation and Monstrosity. Ed. Stephen Bann. London: Reaktion Books, Ltd., 1994. 39-59. Print.
Smith explores the theme of “natural magic” in the novel, contextualizing Frankenstein’s alchemical pursuits in light of history and literature. This is important for understanding Frankenstein’s motivations and their full import. Frankenstein himself was very much an alchemist at heart, and the significance of this for the story is the degree to which it highlights his hubris. Frankenstein desires godlike power: this is his prime motivation, and it is fundamentally what drives him to create the Monster. Thus, the story is a great deal more than a cautionary tale about science, and is in fact more of a story about the efforts of a man to surpass his “natural” station and gain godlike powers.
Stripling, Mahala Y. Bioethics and Medical Issues in Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005. Print.
Stripling examines issues pertaining to bioethics through literature. While the scope of the book is considerable, the section devoted to Frankenstein is very insightful, highlighting the ethical issues that the novel engages with. While a cautionary tale, it is fundamentally a cautionary tale about being responsible for what one creates. Stripling points out that Frankenstein’s sin is really his negligence: he shows a profound lack of foresight to begin with, and after creating the Monster he is so repulsed that he abandons the Monster without a second thought. Frankenstein’s negligence points to the importance of foresight and regard for others in the field of bioethics.
Tropp, Harold. “The Monster.” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2007. 13-28. Print.
Tropp analyzes the Monster and Frankenstein in light of the connections with Milton. In particular, Tropp notes the ways in which the Monster is not so monstrous after all, while Frankenstein himself is arguably more diabolical. Frankenstein, Tropp explains, is not unlike Lucifer in Milton’s Paradise Lost, in that he is prideful and (effectively) in rebellion against his creator. This seems to have not been an admirable sort of rebellion from Shelley’s standpoint, given the rashness and lack of foresight Frankenstein showed. The Monster, on the other hand, was created in a world where he did not belong, and he never gains respite or comfort. Thus, although the Monster did resort to some wicked deeds, in many ways he was far less blame-worthy than his rash and thoughtless creator. In addition, he is also more sympathetic and human.
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