The Mortal Immortal Analysis
“The Mortal Immortal” is written as a confessional narrative, meaning that it is written from the first-person point of view of the main character, Winzy. Confessional narratives often depict the narrator’s mistakes and leave room for readers to pass judgment on the narrator’s actions. “The Mortal Immortal” reads as a farewell note, as Winzy has decided to leave on a dangerous expedition and wishes to record his life in the event that he does pass away, despite being immortal.
There are several allusions that Mary Shelley employs in “The Mortal Immortal.” Allusions to Jesus Christ and the Bible are used several times throughout the short story.
- For example, upon introduction of himself, Winzy claims he is not the “Wandering Jew.” The Wandering Jew is a biblical figure cursed to wander the earth as an immortal for having taunted Jesus Christ during his Crucifixion.
- Other references, such as the proverb “a prophet is least regarded in his own country,” allude to Jesus’s words in Mark 6:4. The proverb implies that a “prophet” is more likely to be seen as ordinary and less likely to be revered by those who know the person well.
- Other biblical references can be seen with Winzy’s description of death, which he calls the “fate of all the children of Adam.” This alludes to the biblical book of Genesis, which details the origin of humanity in Adam and Eve. Winzy’s comment claims that all humans must die at some point.
- Last, Winzy points out that he does not wish to make another man kill him in fear of “making another man a Cain.” This is an allusion to the story of Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain murdered his brother Abel, and is often used in reference to the act of killing another.
Other allusions point to Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, a renowned German scholar, theologian, and occult writer. Agrippa was born in 1486 and died in 1535. Throughout his life he wrote many works of theology and three books on the occult. Shelley alludes to Agrippa’s occult work by comparing Agrippa to Satan.
- For example, when Agrippa offers Winzy gold and asks him to become his apprentice, Winzy feels as if “Satan himself tempted me.” Bertha also claims that Winzy is afraid to take Agrippa’s money and face “the devil” for her. Once Winzy becomes Agrippa’s apprentice, however, Winzy claims he cannot see any trace of a “cloven foot,” which alludes to the hooved feet of the devil.
An allusion to Johann Georg Faust may also have been implied by Shelley. Johann Faust, who was born in 1480 and died in 1541, was similar to Cornelius Agrippa in that he too was a renowned scholar who dealt with the occult. Both men lived during the German Renaissance, a cultural and artistic movement that took place in the 15th and 16th centuries. Similar to Agrippa, Faust has been embedded into works of fiction; the most notable being the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, which portrayed Faust as a prideful character overtaken by the devil. In “The Mortal Immortal,” Shelley mentions a “scholar” under Agrippa, who had accidentally raised the devil and caused many problems for Agrippa’s reputation. The “scholar” is perhaps an allusion to Faustus in Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus. Agrippa and Faust’s research and writings into the occult created folk legends that are seen in literary works to this day.
- For example, Agrippa is mentioned in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, whereas Johann Faust became the basis of the German legend of Faust, a protagonist defined by his unfortunate pact with the devil.
By referencing these historical figures steeped in occult superstition, Shelley is able to portray Cornelius Agrippa as a historically grounded, ominous character.
Last, Shelley alludes to the surge of 19th-century North Pole expeditions and polar fiction . Most expeditions to the North Pole hailed from England in the 1800s and were conducted by...
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