AP English Literature
18 December 2017
“Softened feelings stole into my heart and dared to whisper paradisiacal dreams of love and joy; but the apple was already eaten, and the angel’s arm bared to drive me from all hope”(Shelley 196). Victor Frankenstein said the above words when reflecting on his future expectation of death by the hands of his creature. At first glance, this sentence seems to be merely a poetic sentiment of sorrow. However, upon closer examination, a gem is found in a Biblical allusion to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve. What bearing do the details of the Genesis account have on the interpretation of this sentence, and the novel in general? The Biblical allusion in the account well illustrates how the hamartia or fatal flaw of Frankenstein was his ambition. It serves to define the plot line of the novel and further develop the character of Frankenstein.
Before examining the implications of the allusion in more detail, it would be good to review the Genesis account. The account of Adam and Eve begins when Jehovah God creates Adam and places him in the paradisiac garden of Eden. Adam is given the task of naming all the animals. The animals all have mates, yet Adam does not. Jehovah thus sees to it that Adam receives a mate that, while in subjection to Adam, is equal, “a complement of him”(Genesis 2:18). Jehovah gives Adam and Eve a wonderful assignment, to “be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it”(Genesis 1:28). However, a divine prohibition is also given. The words of Genesis 2:16,17, contain the divine prohibition: “From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will certainly die.” Thus, of all the trees in the garden, only one was reserved for Jehovah, the rightful owner and Creator. However, an angel whose name is unknown begins to desire the power and prestige Jehovah has in being Sovereign of the Universe. He decides to incite Adam and Eve to rebellion. He accomplishes this by accusing God of lying, and saying that they not only would not die if they ate the fruit from the tree, but they could be like God and do what they pleased (Genesis 3:4,5). This led Eve to be deceived into eating the fruit, while Adam deliberately disobeyed and ate the fruit. This led to their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. At that point, Jehovah “posted…the cherubs and the flaming blade of a sword that was turning continuously to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24).
How does this account relate to Frankenstein? For one thing, Victor Frankenstein alluded to the apple having been eaten. While the fruit of the tree was not necessarily an apple, as noted in Footnote 1, it has been traditionally claimed to have been an apple. Thus, Victor is referring to a turning point in his life, a point where he disobeyed the laws that were put in place for him to follow. At what point did this occur? The Genesis account provides an answer when the former angel claimed that Adam and Eve could decide for themselves right from wrong. Taking the fruit from the tree was a symbolic act of rebellion against God, with Adam claiming that he did not need God, or higher laws, to guide him. Victor Frankenstein disobeyed the laws of nature in creating his creature. His motives for creating it were as ambitious as Adams, for Victor said that as a result of his creation, “a new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me”(Shelley 44).The syntax of this statement, a lengthy statement separated by a semicolon, adds to the perception that this statement was a thought and was naturally flowing in the mind of Victor, creating an exciting mood. In effect, Victor is trying to be a creator, or god, and this is what excites him. This indicates that the turning point in the life of Frankenstein, when problems first started to develop, and the rising action of the plot storyline would begin, was when he created his creature. This situation also characterizes Frankenstein as having a prideful and ambitious spirit.
The account of Adam and Eve also provides insight into the outcome of Frankenstein’s actions. Recall that Frankenstein spoke of the angel barring him from hope. The account of Adam and Eve provides a similar account when the cherubs blocked the way to the tree of life, so Adam and Eve could never get the life that they lost because of their disobedience. Similarly, Victor Frankenstein could never get his old life back. He now had a responsibility to tend to a creation that should not have been his in the first place. For one thing, Frankenstein’s “justice, and even…clemency and affection” was due to his creature (Shelley 96). In addition, Frankenstein was bound to listen to the creature’s story, which he did, while his “heart was full” (Shelley 98). This idiom, which is defined by Oxford’s Dictionary as having to do with “great enthusiasm and commitment,” well illustrates the range of emotions that resulted from Frankenstein creating his creature (Full-hearted). Finally, the context of the Biblical allusion being discussed shows that Frankenstein was meditating on the last words of his creature, “I will be with you on your wedding-night,” and assumed that he would be the one dead, losing his hope of marriage to Elizabeth (Shelley 195).
In review, Shelley’s use of the Biblical allusion to Adam and Eve characterized Frankenstein as ambitious and highlighted the consequences of his actions. It truly highlights the truth of what the Bible says centuries later: “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step”(Jeremiah 10:23).
APPENDIX A: SATAN THE DEVIL
The following material is taken from Endnote 7 of “What Can the Bible Teach Us?,” published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
*** bhs p. 208 Endnotes ***
7 SATAN THE DEVIL
Satan is the angel who started the rebellion against God. He is called Satan, which means “Resister,” because he fights against Jehovah. He is also called Devil, which means “Slanderer.” This name was given to him because he tells lies about God and deceives people.
► Chap. 3, par. 4
APPENDIX B: “Who Said It Was an Apple?”
The following material is taken from the June 8, 1985 issue of Awake!, page 20, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
*** g85 6/8 p. 20 Who Said It Was an Apple? ***
Who Said It Was an Apple?
The Hebrew word tap·puʹach, commonly translated “apple,” appears a number of times in the Bible. But it is not used in describing “the tree of the knowledge of good and bad.” (Genesis 2:9, 17; 3:6) Where, then, did the tradition that the apple was the forbidden fruit come from?
According to Plants of the Bible, by H. N. Moldenke, this idea was “due, no doubt, to the influence of Medieval and Renaissance artists who so depicted it.” For example, about the famous painting The Garden of Paradise by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), now in the Hague Gallery, Moldenke observed: “The fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, with the serpent coiling among its branches, seems definitely to be apples. This painting is probably one of those to which we owe the presently widely held misconception that the apple is a Bible plant.”
Regarding the painting Adam and Eve (see above) by the German court painter Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), in which the apple is depicted, Moldenke commented that the Renaissance painters “loved retaining their right to rely on their imagination when they chose.” Other artists of the time, such as Tintoretto and Titian, did the same in their paintings on the same theme.
Probably among the first to put the idea down in writing, however, was the famous English poet John Milton. In his Paradise Lost (1667), Milton wrote of the temptation of Eve by the serpent:
“On a day, roving the field, I climbed
A goodly tree far distant to behold,
Loaden with fruit of fairest colours mixed,
Ruddy and gold. . . .
To satisfy the sharp desire I had
Of tasting those fair Apples, I resolved
Not to defer; hunger and thirst at once—
Powerful persuaders—quickened at the scent
Of that alluring fruit, urged me so keen.”
Thus, not from God’s Word, the Bible, but from the fanciful, yet misguided, imagination of artists and poets has come one of the most popular myths of Christendom. What was the fruit? The Bible simply does not say, for the vital point is not the fruit but man’s disobedience.—Romans 5:12.
“Endnotes.” What Can The Bible Teach Us?, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 2015, p. 208. Watchtower Library, Books-Teach Us-Chapter 3-"What is God's Purpose for Humans?"-paragraph 4-Endnote 7.
“Full-Hearted.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries, Oxford University Press, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/full-hearted.
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. 2013th ed., Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 2013.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Perma-Bound Classics, 1988.
“Who Said It Was an Apple?” Awake!, 8 June 1985, p. 20. Watchtower Library, apple.
...(download the rest of the essay above)