Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and John Milton's Paradise Lost
“Forth reaching to the Fruit, She pluck’d, she eat:/ Earth
felt the wound, and Nature from her seat/ Sighing through
all her Works gave signs of woe,/ That all was lost […]”
(PL 8. 781-784)
In the gothic novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley weaves an intricate web of allusions through her characters’ expedient desires for knowledge. Both the actions of Frankenstein, as well as his monster allude to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Book eight of Milton’s story relates the tale of Satan’s temptation and Eve’s fateful hunger for knowledge. The infamous Fall of Adam and Eve introduced the knowledge of good and evil into a previously pristine world. With one swift motion sin was birthed, and the perfection of the earth was swept away, leaving pain and malevolence in its wake. The troubles of Victor Frankenstein begin with his quest for knowledge, and end where all end: death. The characters in Frankenstein are a conglomeration of those in Paradise Lost. Frankenstein parallels Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as well as God, while his monster acts an Eve/Satan mixture.
The most predominant theme of this novel is the characters’ ever-present search for knowledge. It is this thirst for learning that spurs Frankenstein’s psychotic attempts to give life to inanimate tissue, ultimately causing his demise. Frankenstein, in this way, mirrors the character of Eve in Paradise Lost. Eve lives her most peaceful life in the Garden of Eden, her only job being to tend the plants in the Garden which she loves so much. In the novel Frankenstein, Frankenstein lives in an Eden of his own, though macabre in nature. His “garden of life” is actually most morbidly and truly a garden of death; a cemetery. It is there where he works by night to gather the grotesque pieces for his death-defying creature. In the true Garden of Eden, Eve is instructed by God that she is not to eat from the forbidden Tree. However, being tempted by Satan himself she is forced to make an age-old decision, one in which all know the outcome. Satan tempts her with the prospect of knowledge, saying, “[…] your Eyes that seem so cleere,/ Yet are but dim, shall perfetly be then/ Op’nd and cleerd, and ye shall be as Gods,/ Knowing both Good and Evil as they know”(PL 8.706-708). In Frankenstein, Victor is an “Eve,” dabbling in affairs reserved for God alone, and seeking a forbidden knowledge. This knowledge is the ability to create life, and, in the process, bring death to Death. He relates that “[he] might in process of time […] renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” (55). This search to put an end to Death is Eve’s motive as well. Satan tells her that “[she] shall not Die” if she eats of the fruit, but only lose her humanity to become a god, if death be considered that.
Just as Eve is told that she will be a god if she partakes of the fruit of knowledge,...