By Maya Gal
The first edition of Frankenstein, as seen in Fig. 1, begins with an effective epigraph from John Milton’s Paradise Lost:
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mould me man? Did I solicit thee From darkness to promote me?
Though the first edition mentions no author, man or woman, this epigraph suggests that whomever wrote this text is familiar with Milton’s dense religious text, implying the individual likely belongs to an elevated class. Famously, Milton’s Paradise Lost retells the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. In the epigraph, God’s creation, Adam, questions his blame in being born man, with such weaknesses and ‘darkness’ as he was created to have. The God and Man relationship introduced above is paralleled through Victor Frankenstein and his Creature in Frankenstein. Specifically, in Chapter Ten, Victor at last faces “the wretch whom [he] has created” (99). Frankenstein verbally attacks the Creature, and condemns him for the murders he has committed. The Creature’s reply in return parallels the the epigraph and biblical story of Paradise Lost:
Have I not suffered enough, that you seek to increase my misery?…Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself. My height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king, if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me…Remember that I am thy creature, I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss from which I alone am irrevocably excluded…If the multitude of mankind knew of my existence, they would do as you do and arm themselves for my destruction. Shall I not then hate them who abhor me? I will keep no terms with my enemies. I am miserable and they shall share my wretchedness. Yet it is in your power to recompense me, and deliver them from an evil which it only remains for you to make so great that not only you and your family, but thousands of others, shall be swallowed up in the whirlwinds of its rage...I was benevolent and good. Misery made me a fiend. Make me happy and I shall again be virtuous. (100)
Rather than despise, this passage encourages sympathy and pity towards the Creature. Though to truly sympathize with him is problematic, as he does viciously murder innocents throughout the novel, and even in this passage threatens to continue slaughtering innocents in order to spread his agony. There is a trade that Frankenstein must accept here in order to compromise with Death; Frankenstein is eager to give Man a life after death, but this comes at a cost, as the Creature is granted life after death, he steals life from others. The Creature in this passage does not appear unreasonable and irrational, but rather, while pleading for his defense and unholy circumstances he reminds Victor he is his creation, his Adam, and consequently, his guilt, his burden, and at his mercy. Similarly in the epigraph, Man does not choose to be born Man, it is again the Maker who possesses the power in creating Man to be what he is. Through this parallel, the Creature is not portrayed as a monster, but as a Man. This is crucial! As he insists, the Creature becomes a monster through the rejection of Man, his own Maker. Man condemns the story, not an unholy monster; in fact, if a monster at all exist in this novel, it is Man. Rather than the Creature itself, Victor Frankenstein, resembling the addressed Maker in the epigraph, is judged more harshly. The Creature is born in darkness, and as it seems, Frankenstein becomes “an evil spirit” (90), and concludes his life “lost in darkness and distance” (Shelley 223). It is not until he completes his task in giving life to the Creature, and becomes a “Great God” that at last “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart” (57). Finally, Victor Frankenstein understands what Shelley claims throughout the entire novel: Man cannot, will not, and shall not, ever be God or his equal. While “not in deed, but in effect”, Frankenstein is “the true murderer”, and not his nameless Creature (93). Shelley criticizes Frankenstein for his lust and desperation to be God, and condemns this arrogance through the misfortunes that conclude Frankenstein. Essentially, Shelley balances Man’s arrogance by condemning all the main characters of the novel as consequence of Frankenstein’s misdeeds: Frankenstein who finds solace in death, his loved ones who are unjustly killed as casualties of the Creature, and even the Creature himself who is “miserable beyond all living things” (99). In the end, Frankenstein holds very little power, particularly over death, and at last the balance between Life and Death is again even.