“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel”
Mary Shelley’s renowned novel needs no introduction. As one of the oldest and most famous examples of the horror genre it embodies the classic horror trend, forcing us to see the evil not in the Monster but within ourselves. We are asked to question our definition of ‘monster’ and to closely examine each character. Shelley wants us to decide if it is the ‘Monster’ himself, or the society which shaped him, that is evil. Furthermore, she forces us to examine what differentiates the Monster from Frankenstein and other characters, and in the same vein, Lucifer from Adam.
Throughout his journey the Monster uses Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, a story about man’s creation and expulsion from Eden, to understand Frankenstein’s rejection of him.
Daughter to prominent feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (right), Shelley (left) was just 21 when she wrote her masterpiece on a writer’s retreat when her friend Lord Byron challenged the holiday-goers to each write a ghost story
At the beginning of the novel he identifies strongly with the figure of Adam. Both are the first of their kind, forced to walk alone and long for company. This loneliness renders both Adam and the Monster miserable; Adam laments “Did I request thee, maker, from my clay to mould me man?“,while the Monster bemoans his “unearthly ugliness”.
Furthermore, the Monster craves to be good and benevolent like Adam. He is born completely pure and uncorrupted, taking childish delight in the world around him. It is only after his encounters with society; man’s loathing and violence towards him, that he becomes corrupted, the illusion of virtue dispelling before him. Reflected in the mirror of hatred that humanity holds up to him, the monster begins to identify as a malevolent being.
At this point Adam is supplanted by a new idol, the tragic angel who’s creator rejected him and damned him to become the devil. In parallel to our protagonist it is God’s very repudiation that leads to Satan’s corruption, breeding his warped obsession to seek revenge and destroy all things beautiful in his creator’s eye. Similarly, the monster vows to become “the scourge” of both Frankenstein and everyone he loves.
Satan lamenting his expulsion from heaven, as told in Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’
Shelley is saying to us we are not born evil, but slowly distorted by the societies in which we live.
Both Satan’s banishment from heaven and the Monster’s exile from humanity destroy their goodness. Satan links this expulsion to his immoral behaviour; on realising he will never see heaven again Satan proclaims“all good to me is lost; Evil be thou my good”, implying that his ostracisation has warped his morals. Similarly, after being brutally beaten by Felix, the Monster decides that he no longer has any place in society; by destroying his friend’s house he breaks his final link to humanity.
Throughout the narrative the Monster remains nameless, denying him any fixed identity. Through this Shelley is showing his potential to be anything; he is born completely new and unmoulded with the capacity to become either good like Adam, or evil like Lucifer.
The Monster looks sadly at his own reflection: Book cover from Penguin Classics edition
The Monster’s shift from morality to corruption corresponds with his encounters with human violence, suggesting that the cruelty of society debased his innocence. This notion of society shaping the individual is still a prevalent question to ask ourselves two centuries later.
After all, are criminals born guilty, or like Frankenstein’s Monster are they corrupted by the brutality of the societies in which they exist? Are we able to create our own destiny in the world, or are we bound to socially constructed ideas of beauty, wealth and happiness? Shelley does not answer these questions, but leaves it up to us to decide, as we reflect on the tragic fate of the Monster who never asked to be made.