An allusion is a figure of speech that is a reference to a well-known person, place, event, or literary work. These allusions are typically used by an author who intends to make a powerful point without the need to explain it. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein provides many examples of allusion’s. She connects the story of “Prometheus”, Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Milton’s Paradise Lost to her own novel to convey the critical points of the meaning behind the story. Not only does Mary Shelley make use of the mythological symbolism, but includes biblical allusions of the creation of Adam and Eve as well.
The connections to various works leave clues that will allow readers to identify the many themes of the novel, as well as gaining a better understanding of the primary ideas. The story of the Prometheus is about a titan, a large and godly being, who created man through clay and water. Prometheus taught man the essentials to living and cared for them as their creator. However, he managed to trick Zeus by having him accept the humans’ low-quality sacrificial goods. Zeus’s response was the confiscation of fire from mankind; Prometheus, being the caring creator, stole fire from Zeus and gave them to the humans.
Zeus sentences Prometheus eternal torment; His punishment is to have his liver eaten every day by an eagle, only to have it regrow and consumed again because of his immortality. Prometheus became a figure of anyone who sought to improve humanity through the means of scientific knowledge, but suffers from the risk that follows because of his well-known tragedy. Victor Frankenstein, the protagonist of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, becomes the modern Prometheus since his tragedy is parallel to Prometheus’ story.
Victor Frankenstein created man, something no other human could possibly fathom. This act reflects that of Prometheus since he, too, created humans with his hands. Victor rebels against the laws of nature by creating the monster, and gets punished for it; the monster torments Victor by murdering the ones he held dear until he is left alone in the world. Victor’s original intention was to benefit the scientific world for mankind by creating the perfect race of humans through the reanimation of the dead.
His gift to the humans, like Prometheus’ fire, ultimately caused retribution rather than being anything beneficial. Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It’s about a mariner who disrespects nature by slaying an albatross, a bird, and pays for it. The mariner and his men encounter a ghostly vessel that houses a skeleton that represents death. The skeleton takes away the life of his crew mate’s, but puts a curse on the mariner. The mariner is forced to roam the earth alone while shouldering the burden of his late crew mates.
He must tell the story of his misfortunes to a stranger in order to alleviate the pain caused by the curse: “Like one, that on a lonely road / Doth walk in fear and dread, / And having once turned round, walks on, / And turns no more his head; / Because he knows a frightful fiend / Doth close behind him tread” (50). This quote parallels Frankenstein since the cursed life of the mariner is similar to Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein suffers from his action of creating the monster and not assuming responsibility for it, whereas the mariner suffers a curse because he has disrespected nature.
Therefore, the allusion foreshadows the death of Victor’s loved ones due to his own faults. John Milton’s Paradise Lost specifically parallels the monster’s upbringing during Victor’s absence of parental responsibilities. To understand the impact the poem had on the creature, we first must understand Paradise Lost. This poem is about the Fall of Man, a biblical story. God created Adam to be the first man to ever tread earth, along with a female companion named Eve. God created the two to be pure from the deadly sins. Adam and Eve are in a state of naivete; they do not feel shame from being nude nor do they know anyything of the world.
This innocence allows Adam and Eve to live in the Garden of Eden, free from all conflict under the condition that they follow the only rule God gave them. This rule was to simply stay away from the tree of knowledge. However, Satan came to Eve in the form of a snake and tempted her to eat from the tree knowledge. This tree grants the consumer knowledge and curiosity, which negates the innocence Eve once held. Adam, learning of this, is quite furious, yet he eats the apple as well. The apple granted the two beings the ability to know of lust, shame, and mutual distrust.
Their punishment would be banishment from the garden, pregnancy for Eve, and labor work for Adam. Hence the title, Paradise Lost, meaning the simple and gracious life they lead has crumbled due to their actions. With this, we are able to connect the monster to Adam. The quote “I am thy creature: I ought to be thy Adam” (66) is said to Victor by the creature when they encounter each other atop Mont Blanc. This quote essentially explains how the monster began as an innocent creature knowing nothing, much like Adam, and suffers considerably as he discovers how people view him. He is a monster, a symbol of terror to the human race.
As readers go further into the book, they learn that the monster reads Paradise Lost and from there he compares his existence to Adam while Victor plays the role as the cruel God. The monster’s “apple” came from the hate humans expressed so well. Mary Shelley conveys powerful messages to her readers without the need to explain it. This is through the power of allusions; it may seem it’s as if Mary Shelley simply copied the themes and ideas from other works; however, that is far from it. Frankenstein is such a successful novel because of how everything is brought out to make sense.
I treat Frankenstein as a genre for books because the concept of “your actions will punish you later” is so strongly present within the novel. There are many similar stories to Frankenstein, such as: The Portrait of Dorian Gray, The Strange Case of Dr. Jkyll, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. New York: Random House, 1999. Print. Dudczak, Rebecca. A Cultural History of Frankenstein: Paradise Lost. Mount Holyoke College, 2002. Web. 13 Nov. 2012. <https://www. mtholyoke. edu/courses/rschwart/hist257s02/students/Becky/paradise. html