In the novel Frankenstein, the author Mary Shelley references various outside sources that link the novel to works of others that came before it. These intertextual elements, including the book of Genesis, help not only to clarify the plot through comparison, but also add another layer of significance that the reader can interpret for themselves. In developing a closer reading of these intertextual references, the reader can come to understand the significance of the narrative in a new way. For example, Frankenstein uses many of the same themes from the book of Genesis to extend the novel beyond it’s basic plot. Shelley uses this comparison to Genesis to guide the reader past the general storyline and into an argument of more significance regarding the role of women.
There are many similarities between the book of Genesis from the Bible and Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both stories deal with the concept of creation and discuss the role that women play within that creation. In Genesis, God created Eve after Adam to be his companion and “suitable helper” (Genesis 2:20). It is never mentioned in Genesis why God decided to make this companion of Adam a woman rather than a man. It can be assumed however, that this is the case because one man and one woman are needed to reproduce. God described his will for them to do so them when He said, “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Therefore, God made Eve to begin the multiplication of the human race. When Eve was created, she was tempted into eating fruit from the tree that God had deemed forbidden. She then gave the fruit to Adam who also ate of it and thus sin was officially released into the world. Genesis seemingly puts the majority of the blame on Eve for this act rather than Adam as she was the first to eat the fruit. God confirms this thought when He punishes Eve for her sinful act, “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).
This blaming of women for the sin of the world from Genesis relates to Shelley’s Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein, like God, has the opportunity to bring a female companion into the world to live with his previous creation. Unlike in Genesis however, in Frankenstein, Victor had the power to create a female companion but decided not to. His reasoning behind this could be traced back to the story of Genesis. Victor possibly feared that his creation, like Eve, would bring nothing but evil into the world. Not through a forbidden fruit however, but through other means such as reproducing a family of evil monsters. In this way, Victor is blaming the female creation that has not even been formed yet, for something he fears they might do. The fact that Victor does not even give the female creation a chance speaks volumes to what his perspective is. It seems that having a second chance to make a better version of his first creation would thrill Victor. He had the opportunity to make all the necessary edits from his first creation, including making the creation unable to reproduce and less physically powerful and dominant thus squashing all his fears from the original creation. His decision not to make the creation at all instead of making a better and safer version proves that Victor has something against the idea of a female creation. Shelley never reveals to the reader what this reason is. This absence of an explanation could be Shelley’s way of telling the reader that society often has biased perspectives on women that are not always as positive as the perspective of men. This bias Victor obtains keeps him from redeeming himself and in turn angers his previous creation. All of this could have been avoided had he only blamed himself for the misfortunes of his first creation instead of blaming the female that never even got created. In this way, Shelley uses Victor as a symbol for her larger argument. His bias against his unformed female creation is actually just a reference to what Shelley believes is societies perspective on women.
Another part of the novel where the reader can uncover Shelley’s argument of the imbalance between the genders occurs in the story of Justine’s death. Again linking the reader to Genesis intertextually, Shelley compares Justine to Eve. The connection is that both women are blamed for acts of unimaginable evil. In Genesis, Eve is blamed for eating the forbidden fruit and in Frankenstein Justine is blamed for the murder of William. Perhaps what Shelley is doing by comparing her novel to this famous tale of Adam and Eve is rewriting the original story. It is up for debate whether Eve can be solely blamed for her part in the consumption of the fruit; however, one thing is for certain: she played a role in that sin. The important difference is in Frankenstein, Justine had absolutely no part in the murder of William and was therefore falsely accused. In this way, Shelley is showing that it does not matter whether the woman is falsely accused or truly at fault because women are the ones who always seemed to be blamed no matter what. Even in her rewritten adaption of the Genesis story where the woman had not sinned, the ending remains the same which could be an implication that Shelley is showing her view on society and the unfair treatment of women in it.
For an average reader who only reads Frankenstein for the plot, it may seem odd that Shelley is using female subordination as one of her themes. It is important to do a closer reader of the text however to find the true significance of Shelley’s work. Once the reader analyzes the text and uncovers the intertextual significance, then one can understand why she decided to focus on this aspect. Shelley is only expressing this theme so that she can expose the flaws that encompass it. Justine’s death was only the first of a long list of deaths as a direct result of Victor having the power to speak but being unwilling to do so. Shelley is showing the reader that women are not always the reason for evil for in this instance it was Victor who was clearly at fault. If the women had been given the knowledge of Victor’s secret, Justine would not have been falsely accused and the monster could have been stopped before he continued his reign of terror. Victor was also responsible for the death of his love Elizabeth when he refused to create a female companion. This absence of a female counterpart did not stop the influx of evil. In this way, Shelley is proving that evil will find a way into the world whether it is brought by a male or a female and therefore the bulk of the blame that women receive in Genesis, Frankenstein, and society in general is unfair.
Some may have a counterargument to the idea that Victor did not create a female companion for his first creation because he feared and thus blamed the female for what she would do. Some would say Victor did not create the female, not because he feared her, but because he was so ashamed of his first creation that he just could not bare the idea of making another one. The problem that I have with this is the fact that this was Victor’s opportunity to fix everything he had done wrong the first time. Not only did Victor’s first creation promise to stop harming people if he made the female creation, but just to be safe Victor could have made a completely different version of his first creation. Having learned from his mistakes, Victor easily could have made a harmless female companion that would have been no damage to anyone. It is obvious that this creation would have been far different from his first and I believe that Victor was smart enough to recognize this. His bias towards the female that Shelley never explains is therefor the true reason for Victor not fulfilling the first creation’s demands.