Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) directly quotes 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?” These lines are spoken by Adam to God, questioning his own being. From the very beginning, the readers are ushered into questioning why the monster was created. Frankenstein is himself disgusted by the sight of his own creation and posits a kind of helplessness, as if he were not in control of his own actions, “My spirit was loathing,” he says. The readers thus are compelled to question why he created the monster. In a Biblical reference, Frankenstein compares himself to Satan, “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel.” Barbara Dozier notes that Romantic poets equate Frankenstein to Milton’s Satan, a much more complex character exalted to a heroic stature by Milton.
During the Romantic era, many literary writers presented over-reachers as people who lacked religious directions; thus becoming morally ambiguous. Milton’s Satan is perceived just so: a fallen angel who tried to overreach. Milton’s Adam and Eve too are molded as characters who already possess knowledge of morality, work ethic, companionship and loyalty. The forbidden fruit lends no more knowledge than that of their nakedness. Knowledge thus by Shelly’s time becomes an interesting trope as the scientist Frankenstein strives to create life. He tries to control life and death while unable to control himself. He is unable to accept his mother’s death as just and perhaps this drives him to an almost obsessive urge to create life. Critics have translated this as a ‘god complex’ where he tries to step into the Creator’s shoes like Satan. As Christians believe that man was made in the image of God, Frankenstein creates the thing in his own image and describes it as “my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave and forced to destroy all that was dear to me.” At the same time, just like God, Frankenstein understands the creature’s movements but he is either unable or unwilling to stop it from committing murder as it traverses the world. Frankenstein is also paralleled with Prometheus for he too tried to attain Godlike power. The novel comes with the subtitle of ‘The Modern Prometheus’ – a mythical figure who stole fire (denoting knowledge) from God and was damned to eternal torture. In this, Prometheus can also be compared with Icarus. Frankenstein like him, could perhaps have a zeal for knowledge. According to Dozier, Frankenstein is justly damned.
In the light of the Industrial Revolution, writers like Wordsworth were seeking refuge from corruption. Science and knowledge had come to be seen as corrupting, leading to no good. If Frankenstein’s creation was a result of such a zeal, according to the Romantics it was nothing but worth damnation. His hubris or excessive pride, his thirst for power and possession, his desire to overreach all resulted in the disastrous event of the creation of the ‘monster’ who embodies all social evil; one look at him and even his own creator would cringe. However, we also must take notice that like Milton’s Adam and Eve, Frankenstein’s creation too displayed an innate sense of morality, “My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment.” Is this the indication of a endemic cycle of corruption which cannot be embodied simply by one single figure, resonating Blake’s moral compass as explained in ‘London’ wherein the prostitute is a symptom of social corruption and not the corruption itself?
During Mary’s time, radicals had strong characters of inhumanity, egotism, and arrogance. Frankenstein establishes that secrets could only cause suffering and sorrow to loved ones. In addition, he realizes that happiness does not lie in possessions and power, but comes from domestic affections and simplicity. Naomi Hetherington concludes that “Man’s powers are limited; thus, they should not aspire to reach heights, which are theoretically unattainable.” Is this the extent of Shelly’s intent? Did she wish to jerk the readers out of passive submission into modern ways because of the prevalence social and moral corruption? Corruption has ever been as much part of society as man himself. Then why this sudden outcry?
Shelly has created a text in the epistolary form wherein Walton finds beauty in ice and writes to his sister about his adventures. Why then does he focus his narrative on the story of another? It is because Shelly is trying to convince her readership of the importance of familial relationships. Walton is unable to find companionship in his crew and instead seeks comfort in family. Eventually he is able to resume his role in society, with his family which will go on. Meanwhile, Victor and his creation are left with no heir. No one to take their legacy forward. It would be as if they never existed. Is Shelly trying to erase their presence from society because of the corruption they represent: Frankenstein who represents science and his monster who represents the horrific result of these modern sciences? Is it possible to erase the mark of those who have walked this earth?
Shelly arranges the event of the creation in the middle of the city but inside a lone room, isolated, removed. Shelley juxtaposes the over-reacher’s isolation with domestic affection and happiness. From the assertion, “my chief concern in this respect has been limited… To the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue,” it shows that the novel is impious and immoral. Although many families portrayed in other stories of the time were poor, they lived in happiness and harmony, when compared to the isolation that Frankenstein had to undergo as he fought to overcome the limitations of man. This isolation, according to Shelly can only be cured by family values; values that were slowly drifting away with the coming of Capitalism. The feudal system allowed one to be free to sell her/him-self. Traditions and values of the feudal system had been internalized for centuries. With capitalism men and women grew more and more estranged from each other. Their identities began to be consumed by the pressures of survival.
In the feudal system, one has ownership of the products/services one creates. Whether a master or servant, one has the right to call one’s product one’s own. Even the master-servant relationship has been idealized as the employers were responsible for the employees’ well-being. All these values dissolve in the new system whereby society functions on one prerogative i.e. profit. Goods are mass produced and to optimize production each labourer only produces one part of the finished product. This in turn leaves no true satisfaction of production because in essence, the labourer has not produced any item which holds value in itself. Only the compilation of multiple such productions results in a finished commodity of exchange. This isolates and alienates the workers. Capitalism produces such alienated workers for its own survival so that there remains no dispute over rights of ownership. When the wages increase, technological advancements keep the workers in place by reducing labourers and optimizing production, and keep the system running.
Karl Marx stated, “The whole of society must turn into property owners and propertyless workers.” The word “must” here is a verb in that such a state of being is nothing but a historical inevitability. According to Marx, every system comes into being because of historical conditions. Proletariats will once again become the agents of revolution and jolt the world out into a classless society. Until then, one must accept the world as it is because history cannot be undone. It seems as though Shelly is unable to grasp this concept. She sees capitalism without any heirs like Frankenstein and his monster. She strives to restore the idyllic older order within an already evolved society. The mark of Frankenstein and his monster cannot be erased. The factory is completely absent from her novel, why? It is so that the so called monster remains an unproductive glitch in the system; so that he finds no utility for himself, so that (in keeping with the Romantic ideology) she can prove that science leads to no good.
Such a Marxist reading of her text probably reflects her political activeness as she was born into the upheavals of Industrialisation. Her friend Lord Byron was her thread to the Luddite movement while her husband P. B. Shelley was an active supporter of radical politics. Also, the eponymous protagonist is clearly a bourgeois capitalist who creates the monster (or the proletariat) who then tries to kill him. The terror of a split society – split between workers and owners – haunted the masses in the time of the Romantics. They cannot coexist, nor can they survive without one another. The same split between Frankenstein and his monster results in the monster’s death after his creator perishes. Without the capitalist, the worker too will cease to exist. Poverty thrived because profit was generated on the shoulders of their overworked-underpaid lives. Capitalism creates its own expropriators because these are also the shoulders of the revolution. “Expropriators will be expropriated,” says Marx but this is not how the system fails, rather it is how the system works. The bourgeois have lost control of what they created just like Frankenstein could not contain the monster.
The monster is representative of the working class; almost a race of monsters – impoverished, dejected. Their condition is well depicted by Charles Dickens in Hard Times where they are referred to as “hands”, reduced to their productive labour and nothing more. Shelly does not want this class to exist at all. The deafening silence of capitalism in her novel only makes it clear as to why Shelly created the monster. She is not only critiquing social corruption, Satanic evil and Promethean zeal, she is trying to redo/remake/rewrite history. Moretti explains this by saying, “Wishing to exorcise the proletariat, Shelley, with absolute logical consistency, erases capital from her picture too. In other words, she erases history.” The novel is ideology at its finest, reworking society to suit dominant thought (the dominant thought here is Shelley’s ideals). It is trying to hide history, hide the fact that there does in fact exist a race of devils created by the system, for the system. It warns its readers of the Capitalist stirrings in the form of Frankenstein’s pains: his nightmares, isolation and demise. She aspires to take two steps back into family values and thus implies that had Frankenstein not attempted to create his monster, or in other words refrained from knowledge and scientific advancement, he too like Walton would have been able to avoid his suffering. If only he hadn’t challenged man’s limits or existing boundaries, he would have had heirs and left a mark on this earth, he could have spent his years in the company of his loving family.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
- Communist Manifesto by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx (1848)
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Barbara Dozier (2015)
- Creator and Created in Frankenstein by Naomi Hetherington (1997)
- The Dialectic of Fear by Franco Moretti (1982)
 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Barbara Dozier (2015)
 Creator and Created in Frankenstein by Naomi Hetherington (1997)
 The Dialectic of Fear by Franco Moretti (1982)