Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
John Milton’s Paradise Lost
Class: ENG 242-620
Assignment: Research Essay #1 – Frankenstein
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Milton’s Paradise Lost have many similarities. This may be due to Mary taking influences from Paradise Lost to add to her story. Paradise Lost is the same as Frankenstein in design by defining man’s place in the universe. They both describe the forces that threaten humankind. In Milton’s poem it speaks of the fall of the rebel angels and the effect that it has on the history of humans. Lucifer revolts against his creator and tries to command power of everything. So Lucifer and his followers are cast out of Heaven and Satan is transformed into something hideous. Satan travels to Earth to tempt Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and this begins man suffering in history. The poem ends with a promise of the redemption of Adam’s descendants through the sacrifice of God’s Son. Compare this to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and you can view a version of God in the novel. Dr. Frankenstein acts as “God” in the story. He becomes the creator of life. At one point in the novel, Victor feels like Satan. He says, “I trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the idea of their effects.” (Shelley 167). Like Lucifer before the Fall, Frankenstein before the Monster is in rebellion against his own creator, jealous of his place in life (Tropp 15). Victor Frankenstein, playing God, resembles Satan from Milton's Paradise Lost, in which Satan is an archangel punished for his vanity, arrogance, and thirst for forbidden knowledge. Like him, Victor attempts to take over God's role as creator and master of the universe. This achievement, Victor imagines, will be a superior one, and the exuberant and admirable beings that he creates will worship and honor him like a most deserving father. According to the Columbia Critical Guides of Mary Shelley Frankenstein, by Berthold Schoene-Harwood, “It is useful to read Frankenstein and Paradise Lost in conjunction. For Frankenstein is at least in part a commentary on and amplification of Paradise Lost” (Schoene-Harwood 105). You can find with reading these two works, Mary Shelley’s suggestion of Paradise Lost in her novel establishes a contrast between the real power of God, and Victor Frankenstein’s claims of being similar in power and authority. Like Milton's Satan, Victor Frankenstein is a rebellious character who has faith in his own creative powers and has the courage to aspire higher than his limited human condition allows. However, Mary Shelley does not present Victor's acts as positive or admirable. Victor's intellectual curiosity and ambition does not contribute to any scientific advancement or social progress. Instead, he destroys a family and, symbolically, populates the world with monstrous fantasies. In The Realist Novel, It states that “making a link between Frankenstein and Paradise Lost, would undoubtedly have been easier for the reader of the early nineteenth century, when classical education and Christianity were so much more central to culture than they are now” (Walder 74). Direct evidence of Mary Shelley’s reading of Paradise Lost is all through her novel including the Monster’s last speech where he states, “I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly and exult in the agony of the torturing flames” (Shelley 161). Her references to the poem may be contradictory in a few places, but she found a pattern in the poem which could give form to her fears and her understanding of what technology threatened for the future. It is very easy to find many comparisons between these two works especially when read at the same time, with the knowledge of the times and of the meanings behind words used during that time period. The presence of similarities is distinctive in the work, and the frequency with which they occur suggests that Mary intended a series of parallels between the characters and events in Milton's poem and those in her novel.
Schoene-Harwood, Berthold. Columbia Critical Guids of Mary Shelley Frankenstein. 2000. 105. Print. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 2nd ed. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. **City**: W.W. Norton & Company. Print. Tropp, Martin. Mary Shelle'ys Monster. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1976. Print. 15 Walder, Dennis. The Realist Novel . Routledge, 2005. 74. eBook.