This lesson is one of several lessons on Frankenstein. In this lesson we focus on allusion in texts and the way authors use themes from one seminal text to develop themes within their own novel. Students will read an excerpt from "Paradise Lost" and excerpts from chapters 10 & 11 in Frankenstein analyzing the parallel themes in each by focusing on the development of ideas from one author to the next.
Mary Shelley draws on the ideas of John Milton, who in turn, derived his ideas from The Bible. However, both Frankenstein and Paradise Lost are presented as fictional texts with their own themes, purposes and audiences. Both texts focus on an artistic as well as a philosophic interpretation of the act of creation. Milton draws directly from the Bible as his inspiration and as the narrative template for his work. Shelley draws on Milton's themes, yes; but she also overturns the themes as well. When the creature accuses Victor Frankenstein, "I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel" (Ch. 10). The dynamic of creator and created moves to regret and revenge. This is no free will fall from grace, but an accusation of motive and responsibility. Ultimately, the creature holds Victor both morally and socially responsible, a move more in line with Adam ("Did I request them Maker to mold me from clay?").
The emphasis in the lesson is not on the argument itself, but on the method by which Mary Shelley re purposes the argument from theology into science.
One of the main themes of Frankenstein is that of creators and creations. Indeed from the beginning of Victor Frankenstein's narrative to Walton there is a tension between discovery and creation. Frankenstein believes he can discover the secret of life and death through the creation of his monster, and it is only when this creation comes alive that "the beauty of the dream vanish[es], and breathless horror and disgust fill[s] his heart" (Ch. 5). Frankenstein attempts to run away from his creation, and in their dramatic showdown in Chapter 10 of the novel, the creature identifies with Adam in Paradise Lost: "I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel." In many ways the exchange between Victor Frankenstein and his creature mirrors that of Adam and God.
I begin class by having students read a small portion of a modern text version of the exchange between Adam & God in book 9 of Paradise Lost.
The students, having just analyzed the argument between Frankenstein and Victor, immediately see the comparisons between creator and creation.
When comparing like themes between two texts, I encourage my students not just to look for similar ideas in words and phrases, but also similar rhetorical strategies and devices.
For example, both Adam and the creature use rhetorical questions to address their creators, showing respect and deference for their status while trying to plead their case. Both use combinations of litotes and hyperbole to emphasize their suffering and remorse for their behavior.
When looking at the rhetorical strategies and devices both characters use the students see many similarities between them.
I encourage the students to also analyze the creators, Victor Frankenstein and God, and to determine if their are similarities or differences between the two. Many of the students agree that there are more differences than similarities between Frankenstein and God, the primary being the motivations the creators used for bringing their creations into being, and their responses to their creations' transgressions.
Finally I ask my students if there are any parallels between these characters and real life, and many agree there are parallels between parents and children and Frankenstein and creature.
For the remainder of the class period students write a comparison and contrast between the arguments made in Paradise Lost and Frankenstein.