Frankenstein might have been written as a horror story, but the ideas and themes prevalent in the novel are ones men have grappled with for ages. From ancient Greek myths to the Bible, the tale Shelley tells is an old one – one rife with the profundities and far-reaching implications of antiquity. The allusions Shelley makes in Frankenstein, alternately known as The Modern Prometheus, to the antecedents of her story augment the impact she makes. In Shelley’s novel, the allusions to the myth of Prometheus and the biblical story of creation provide parallel characters for Frankenstein and his creation, from which significant comparisons can be drawn and the rebellion each perpetrates can be emphasized.
Victor Frankenstein shares many characteristics with the mythical character Prometheus. Like Prometheus, he commits a transgression against God by taking something which has been restricted from humans. Whereas Prometheus stole fire from the gods, Frankenstein stole the ability to create life. The fire that Prometheus stole from the gods was also representative of life. With fire came heat, knowledge, and civilization. When Frankenstein gave his creature life, he usurped the power of God and nature. The ability to give life was not meant to be a capability humans possessed, just as fire was meant to be for the gods alone. In his quest for the ability to create life anew, Frankenstein again is reminiscent of Prometheus. In placing his desire for the ability to create and prolong life above the law of God, he is placing man above God. Prometheus also raises the importance of man above that of the gods when he deceives Zeus, causing him to choose the worst parts of animals to be sacrificed to the gods. The myth says, “Prometheus had not only stolen fire for men; he had also arranged that they should get the best part of any animal sacrificed and the gods the worst.” Finally, just as Prometheus was made to suffer for his violations, so too is Frankenstein. Rather than being fed upon eternally by a giant eagle (“an eagle red/ shall come?/ [and feast] in fury?”) though, he had all his loved ones taken away by his creation. Ironically, the result of his desire to create life, was the destruction of it for himself, as well as for all those he loved. Frankenstein’s tragic hubris mirrors that of Prometheus, each spurning supernal laws in favor of personal ambitions and each paying a dear price for doing so. Ultimately, the allusion to Prometheus provides a fuller development of Frankenstein’s character and mindset, while also underlining the rebellion he commits against God.
In the novel, Frankenstein’s creation likens himself to both Adam and Satan. The monster says, “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.” He originally sees himself as Adam because he is the creation of Frankenstein, without whom he would not have life. Gradually, however, he comes to the realization that he is more akin to Satan. He, like Satan, is rejected by his creator, rather than embraced as in Adam’s case. Before he has fully accepted his creator’s rejection though, he again likens himself to Adam. He does so when he asks Frankenstein to create a mate who is as he is – an Eve for this grotesque Adam. When Frankenstein acquiesces, it seems as if the monster may play the role of Adam after all – but this is not to be. Fearing the possibility of reproduction, Frankenstein abandons his new creation, and the monster once again reverts to the status of Satan. The monster is to remain forever alone and apart. He now fully embraces the character, though. He swears rebellion and vengeance upon Frankenstein and departs to wreak havoc on the world. This climaxes with the murder of Elizabeth on Frankenstein’s wedding night. The shifting biblical allusion, from a role as Adam to Satan, helps in defining the creation as something utterly new and alone. It also more vividly conveys the sense of rejection the monster experiences, by contrasting Satan’s rejection with Adam’s acceptance. This rejection is the impetus for the monster’s violent rebellion against his creator and the subsequent destruction of Frankenstein’s love.
Both Frankenstein and the monster are rebelling throughout the novel, and by alluding to the myth of Prometheus and the biblical story of creation, Shelley is able to more concretely define the natures of their respective rebellions, while also supplying a basis for comparison. Both rebel against their creators, though they do not share the same creator, and both are fated to exist alone. Frankenstein’s rebellion was driven by a refusal to accept his creator, whereas the monster’s rebellion was driven by his creator’s refusal to accept him. Much as Prometheus and Satan share many similarities though, so too do Frankenstein and the monster. Prometheus and Satan rebelled in quite comparable manners, yet one is held in high regard and one in low. The same can be said for Frankenstein and his monster. Maybe then, he isn’t such a monster after all.