Frankenstein

by

Mary Shelley

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Frankenstein: Allusions 7 key examples

Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Allusions
Explanation and Analysis—The Modern Prometheus:

The novel’s full title is Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus. "Prometheus" is an allusion to the mythical figure in Greek mythology who was responsible for creating man and giving the knowledge of fire to humanity.

In the mythological account, Prometheus is tortured by the gods for this act. He is bound to a rock, and an eagle is sent to eat Prometheus's liver (which grows back each night). He's punished so savagely because he stole fire from the gods; so, even though the gift of fire makes human civilization possible, the myth also implies that with civilizing technology comes power that can be used in both good and bad ways—power that is perhaps better left to the gods. Similarly, protagonist Victor Frankenstein suffers through the slaying of his loved ones and is “punished” for discovering and using the secret to life. Shelley makes this connection explicit in the title, a direct reference that suggests to the reader that Frankenstein alludes to the story of Prometheus throughout.

The story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation is ultimately a tragic, foreboding one. Through the allusion to a myth that she knew would be familiar to many of her readers, Shelley offers a warning on the limits of human discovery and portrays scientific knowledge as having a dark, dangerous side—not as always and everywhere beneficial to humanity. 

Letter 4
Explanation and Analysis—Paradise Lost:

The novel’s epigraph is from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, which tells the story of humankind’s loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden. This reference alludes to Genesis in the Bible: "Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me man? / Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?"

In Paradise Lost, Adam speaks these words to God and curses him for creating him, just as the Monster eventually curses Victor for making him. Victor plays “God” by finding and harnessing the secret to life. Victor sees his scientific knowledge as a path to glory and achievement. Yet these ambitions fail, and lead to horrific consequences.

In Letter 4, Victor alludes to Paradise Lost when he tells Walton:

You have hope, and the world before you, and have no cause for despair. But I—I have lost everything, and cannot begin life anew. 

In his words to Walton, Victor references Satan’s words in Paradise Lost: “The world as all before them, where to choose / Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.” Like Walton, Victor was once highly ambitious and on a grand quest for knowledge. However, Victor’s story is a cautionary one. His ambitions only bring him misfortune. Victor immediately abandons his creation and fails to fulfill his responsibilities as its maker. This eventually leads to a chain of deaths, beginning with Victor’s beloved brother William and ending with the monster’s suicide. 

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Chapter 2
Explanation and Analysis—Sir Isaac Newton:

Victor uses a simile and a metaphor and alludes to physicist Sir Isaac Newton when he describes his thirst for knowledge to Robert Walton in Chapter 2:

Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth.

Sir Isaac Newton, noted physicist and mathematician of the 17th and 18th centuries, represented the powers of scientific knowledge, in particular man’s pursuit of it. Knowledge—"the ocean of truth” —is metaphorically depicted as limitless and expansive like the open waters of the ocean, and the pursuer of said knowledge is compared to a wandering, innocent child—small and helpless compared to the vast deeps, yet delighting in the beauties and mysteries there for him to discover.

Victor’s seashell simile also draws a connection between nature and progress. Walton, an explorer, sees nature as a source of knowledge. Likewise, Victor attempts to “pioneer a new way” by digging deep into the “citadel of nature.” Nature, for these men, is unknown territory to explore. However, the novel’s tragic events suggest that nature, rather than humankind, actually has the upper hand. Victor’s misguided attempt to master nature only leads to his downfall.

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Chapter 4
Explanation and Analysis—The Light:

In Chapter 4, Victor uses a simile of light to describe his intense love of natural philosophy, an ambition that drives him to distraction but leads him to discover the secret of life: 

The information I had obtained was of a nature rather to direct my endeavours so soon as I should point them towards the object of my search, than to exhibit that object already accomplished. I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead, and found a passage to life, aided only by one glimmering, and seemingly ineffectual, light.

The “Arabian” Victor references alludes to the hero Sinbad from The Arabian Nights, who has many miraculous voyages. In one, Sinbad is presented with a wife by a friendly king. He later discovers that it is custom to be buried along with your dead spouse. Soon after, Sinbad’s wife dies and he is buried with her. However, he sees a small spot of light by which he eventually is able to escape from the cave. This light, for Sinbad, represents freedom. In Victor’s case, the light represents the secret to life, a form of knowledge that Victor is desperate to uncover. Yet that light is also blinding. Victor eventually abandons his responsibilities in his search. Blinded by his pursuits, he fails to consider the consequences of his actions and suffers for it.

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Chapter 8
Explanation and Analysis—Never-Dying Worm:

In Chapter 8, Victor uses the metaphor of the "never-dying worm" to express his guilt after Justine Moritz, his brother William’s nanny, is falsely accused of William's murder. The true murderer is in fact the Monster, whom Victor created and therefore feels responsible for:

But I, the true murderer, felt the never-dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation.

Victor feels so guilty that he goes so far as to call himself a murderer. The "worm" Victor describes represents his knowledge of the truth, a knowledge that is active and restless. This metaphor expresses Victor’s psychological state, one of extreme remorse and suffering and from which he can never gain relief.

The worm is also an allusion to Mark 9:48 in the Bible, which refers to the "worm that never dies" as an expression of the unending torments of hell. Notably, in this Bible passage, Jesus has just been telling his disciples that it's better for a person to cut off the body parts with which they commit sin than to enter Hell physically intact. Though the language is hyperbolic, it conveys the idea that it's preferable to suffer in life than to do terrible things and suffer for them in the afterlife. In using this figurative language, especially by using a biblical allusion that most readers would readily pick up on, Shelley suggests that Victor’s actions have grave moral implications.

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Chapter 15
Explanation and Analysis—The Bible:

In Chapter 15, the Monster alludes to Eve from the Bible as it describes its feelings of isolation to Victor:

But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam’s supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him.

In the Bible, God creates Eve from Adam’s rib after he complains to God of his loneliness. In Frankenstein, the Monster and Victor are allegorical figures for Adam and God. Like God creating Adam, Victor creates the Monster, and like Adam, the Monster feels abandoned by his maker. Later on, the Monster pursues Victor and asks him to make him a female companion, citing his isolation and misery as the source of his violence.

In Chapter 22, Victor also makes an allusion to the Bible after he reads a letter from his wife-to-be Elizabeth and remembers the Monster’s threat, “I will be with you on your wedding-night!”:

Sweet and beloved Elizabeth! I read and reread her letter, and some softened feelings stole into my heart and dared to whisper paradisiacal dreams of love and joy; but the apple was already eaten, and the angel's arm bared to drive me from all hope.

The apple Victor references alludes to the story of the Garden of Eden, an allegory for the fall of man. In Genesis, God forbids Adam to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Enticed by a serpent, Adam and Eve eat fruit from this forbidden tree. As punishment, Adam and Eve are banished from Paradise. In referencing the eaten apple, Victor suggests he, like Adam and Eve, was once in a state of innocence, an innocence that has been forever lost, reflecting his despair. Significantly, this loss of innocence is rooted in Victor’s scientific ambitions. Victor’s belief that he can use the secret of life to create a new, improved species of man only leads to harm and suffering. 

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Chapter 16
Explanation and Analysis—Shining in Mockery:

In Chapter 16, the Monster is rejected by the De Lacey family. The Monster, in a fit of rage and loneliness, personifies the wilderness around it:

 The cold stars shone in mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches above me; now and then the sweet voice of a bird burst forth amidst the universal stillness. All, save I, were at rest or in enjoyment; I, like the arch-fiend, bore a hell within me, and finding myself unsympathized with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin.

The Monster’s psychological state is mirrored in the surrounding landscape, all through vivid and precise visual and auditory details. The stars, despite their brightness, lack warmth. The trees appear to make fun of the Monster, as does the bird, taunting with its “sweet voice.” The Monster’s attribution of human qualities to the stars, trees, and bird reflects a profound sense of abandonment and a desire for human companionship and acceptance. To him, the surrounding elements are not lifeless. In fact, they are not unlike the De Laceys and Victor, humans who reject him out of prejudice and fear.

The Monster also uses a simile, comparing itself to an arch-fiend, an allusion to the Devil in Milton’s Paradise Lost. The heightened language that follows conveys just how tormented the Monster feels. All in all, the passage generates a feeling of sympathy for the Monster. 

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Chapter 22
Explanation and Analysis—The Bible:

In Chapter 15, the Monster alludes to Eve from the Bible as it describes its feelings of isolation to Victor:

But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam’s supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him.

In the Bible, God creates Eve from Adam’s rib after he complains to God of his loneliness. In Frankenstein, the Monster and Victor are allegorical figures for Adam and God. Like God creating Adam, Victor creates the Monster, and like Adam, the Monster feels abandoned by his maker. Later on, the Monster pursues Victor and asks him to make him a female companion, citing his isolation and misery as the source of his violence.

In Chapter 22, Victor also makes an allusion to the Bible after he reads a letter from his wife-to-be Elizabeth and remembers the Monster’s threat, “I will be with you on your wedding-night!”:

Sweet and beloved Elizabeth! I read and reread her letter, and some softened feelings stole into my heart and dared to whisper paradisiacal dreams of love and joy; but the apple was already eaten, and the angel's arm bared to drive me from all hope.

The apple Victor references alludes to the story of the Garden of Eden, an allegory for the fall of man. In Genesis, God forbids Adam to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Enticed by a serpent, Adam and Eve eat fruit from this forbidden tree. As punishment, Adam and Eve are banished from Paradise. In referencing the eaten apple, Victor suggests he, like Adam and Eve, was once in a state of innocence, an innocence that has been forever lost, reflecting his despair. Significantly, this loss of innocence is rooted in Victor’s scientific ambitions. Victor’s belief that he can use the secret of life to create a new, improved species of man only leads to harm and suffering. 

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