Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, uses a variety of literary devices to tell her story; however, as the story progresses, the central characters of her text allude to many classic texts from religious, mythological, and literary sources. Most notably in Chapter 5, Shelley implicitly alludes to and draws parallels between the actions of Victor Frankenstein and the actions of characters in the Prometheus myth, the Genesis 2-3 account, and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. These allusions reinforce Victor’s negative character development from an ambitious, promising scholar to a mentally unsound, egotistical scientist on a quest for personal glory.
The first instance of Mary Shelley’s use of allusion in Frankenstein, Chapter 5, recalls the myth of Prometheus, which is also alluded to in the text’s subtitle Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. In Chapter 5, Victor Frankenstein works in his apartment at college one November evening, and he is on the verge of beholding the “accomplishment of his toils,” which is indicated in Chapter 4 as the creation of a human larger in stature than the average man. Shelley alludes to the Prometheus myth in Chapter 5 as Victor narrates, “. . . I collected the instruments of life that lay around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.” In this moment, Victor parallels Prometheus in that they are both creators of mankind, and both use “sparks” or natural elements (electricity and fire, respectively) to provide their creations with the ability to live. Shelley’s use of allusion in this instance helps develop Victor’s character in contrast to Prometheus’ character. While they both attempt to
achieve the same goal and both overstep their boundaries to achieve their shared vision, Victor’s actions as a human creating lifeforms in contrast to Prometheus’ actions as a god creating lifeforms indirectly characterizes Victor as a skilled and intelligent, yet unchecked and pompous scientist with a dangerously
inflated opinion of himself.