Almost all great works of literature contain allusions to other great works of literature that enhance the meaning of the work. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is an excellent example of a major literary work that contains a sustained allusion to another major work. Frankenstein contains many references to Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the two stories are parallel in many aspects.
In Shelly’s novel Frankenstein’s monster in often compared to Adam from Milton’s epic work. In fact, the monster himself tells Victor Frankenstein that he sees himself as being very similar to Adam. Like Adam, the monster was, in a sense, perfect at his creation. The monster was full of love for humanity and nature at his creation but was turned to a life of evil and hardship by outside forces beyond his control. Similarly, it was a circumstance beyond Adam’s control, namely Satan, that turned him to a life of sin and hardship. This comparison of Milton’s Adam and Frankenstein’s monster focuses attention on the ideal of the “noble savage,” an important idea in Romanticism. The idea of the noble savage stressed that man, left to his own devices, is inherently good, and it is an important theme in Frankenstein. The monster also sees himself as being similar to Milton’s Adam because he has no others like himself and fervently desires the companionship of an equal. He, like Adam, implores his maker to create such an equal. With this comparison Shelly brings to the reader’s attention the idea that every person needs another person, an equal and a friend, in order to be complete and happy. This idea is also a central idea in romanticism.
Frankenstein’s monster is also compared to the Satan of Paradise Lost. Like Satan, the monster was created to be beautiful. However, also like Satan, the monster falls from his creator’s grace and becomes a perversion of beauty. The monster is cast away from his creator’s presence just as Satan is cast out of heaven. This comparison of the monster and Satan stresses that something created to be great and beautiful can be easily perverted into something loathsome and utterly different from its intended purpose. Rejection of one’s offspring is another theme in Shelly’s novel and is reinforced by comparing the monster to Satan because Satan was one of God’s heavenly children but was ultimately rejected by God. However, Satan and the monster differ in a key aspect: Satan fell with companions. The monster fell alone, and the monster himself brings this fact to the attention of both Victor and the reader, saying that his loneliness was the most loathsome part of his existence, reinforcing the theme that happiness lies in close companions who complete the person. The monster is also similar to Satan in that neither he nor Satan directly attacks his creator in retaliation. Rather, they both attack those closest to their creators, inflicting more pain than any direct attack could. Satan attacks God’s beloved new creation, man, and the monster attacks Victor’s closest friends and family members. The pain caused by the attacks on these close companions again illustrates the romantic idea that close companions are essential to life and the peace of the individual.
Allusions are also made that show that Frankenstein himself is also similar to Adam in Paradise Lost. Like Adam, Frankenstein brings about his own downfall by making a choice to attain knowledge that he should not have. Shelly uses this comparison to bring a very important theme to the attention of the reader: Man has the ability to know things that make him “not much less than God,” but man should not partake of that knowledge.
Mary Shelly’s allusions to Paradise Lost in Frankenstein help to illuminate many central ideas of the work. Like most great works of literature, Frankenstein is enhanced by allusions to another great work of literature. Frankenstein sees far because it stands on a literary giant.