Significant Allusions

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Last Reviewed on July 9, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 475

Shelley employs a number of biblical, mythological, and literary allusions in Frankenstein. These allusions enable her to express apprehension about the post-Enlightenment emphasis on ambition, technological advancement, and scientific experimentation. 

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Biblical Allusions: Like many 19th-century authors, Mary Shelley relied heavily on biblical allusions. In Frankenstein, Shelley’s use of biblical allusions suggests a deep skepticism toward scientific experimentation and technological advancement, particularly in their manipulation of natural processes. Here are two of the novel’s most prominent biblical allusions: 

  • When Frankenstein performs his animation experiment in chapter 5, Shelley alludes to the Judeo-Christian creation myth from the Book of Genesis. Frankenstein plays the role of God, but is neglectful and cruel when he beholds the horrific appearance of his creature. Instead of providing for his new creation as God did for Adam, Frankenstein abandons the creature and tries to avoid the consequences of his actions. 
  • The novel’s apprehension about the ethical implications of scientific experimentation is reflected in repeated allusions to Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. Frankenstein, who figuratively eats from the Tree of Knowledge by learning how to give life, is immediately plagued by the results of his unnatural experiment. The creature experiences his own fall from grace. His story parallels that of Adam, the self-conscious creation who comes to question his own existence. As the novel progresses, the creature also embodies the story of Satan, the fallen angel who becomes an enemy to humanity. 

Mythological Allusions: Shelley incorporates an extended allusion to the story of Prometheus in Greek mythology. In fact, the novel’s full title is Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Here are two of the novel’s most prominent allusions to the Prometheus myth: 

  • Frankenstein parallels Prometheus, the Titan who created humans and, in an act that advanced human civilization, stole fire from the supreme god Zeus. Also like Prometheus, and in an intersection with the biblical creation myth, Frankenstein is punished for stealing the divine power to create life. 
  • The creature parallels the humans whom Prometheus created. Unlike Prometheus’s mortals, he never receives aid from his creator. Instead, misfortune immediately befalls him because of his monstrosity. 

Literary Allusions: Frankenstein’s plot includes numerous allusions to John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. These allusions both develop characters and intensify their relationships—especially the relationship between God (the creator) and Adam (the creation). Here are two of the most important allusions: 

  • Frankenstein is characterized as equivalent to Milton’s God, the creator of humankind, but he fails to provide for his creation as God did for Adam. 
  • The creature figures as both Milton’s Adam and Milton’s Satan, both of whom represent fallen creatures of God. In a twist, this allusion seems to justify Satan by rendering him as a faultless anti-hero worthy of sympathy and understanding. 

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