“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: Creating Our Own Gods and Demons

This was my third reading of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. What struck me on this reading was just how rich this text is and how many layers of symbolism and metaphor is woven in to the story. As pages of my journal filled with notes, I realized that I faced the daunting task of narrowing down all my thoughts to a short blog post. After some deliberation, I decided to focus on the concept of humanity creating gods and demons.

The first thing to point out is how Shelley uses the term “creature.” It is specifically the product of the creative process, particularly from the mind. A creature, therefore can be anything which we as creative beings consciously create.

It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally at the panes, and the candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

(p. 34)

Throughout the text, I noticed that the creature is depicted as both godlike and demonic. That is because the things that our minds create can be both positive and negative, and often a combination of both. The issue becomes whether we allow the creatures of our minds to elevate us spiritually or drag us down to our lesser natures.

I will first provide an example of the creature as godlike, as a being described as both omnipotent, invincible, and in control of the future.

But to me the remembrance of the threat returned: not can you wonder, that, omnipotent as the fiend had yet been in his deeds of blood, I should almost regard him as invincible; and that when he pronounced the words, “I shall be with you on your wedding-night,” I should regard the threatened fate as unavoidable.

((p. 132)

The other thing I would like to point out regarding this passage is the tone of the creature’s proclamation. It almost sounds like how God speaks in biblical text. God speaks, and what he says comes into being.

Next we will look at a passage where the creature is depicted as demonic, particularly associated with Satan. Here the creature embodies Lucifer’s characteristics of persuasion and eloquence.

He is eloquent and persuasive; and once his words had even power over my heart: but trust him not. His soul is as hellish as his form, full of treachery and fiend-like malice.

(p. 145)

Near the end of the tale, Victor Frankenstein warns Walton about the dangers of creation, about how when we use the power of our minds to create our gods, we inevitably also end up creating our own personal demons.

Sometimes I endeavoured to gain from Frankenstein the particulars of his creature’s formation; but on this point he was impenetrable.

“Are you mad, my friend?” said he, “or whither does your senseless curiosity lead you? Would you create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy? Or to what do your questions tend? Peace, peace! learn from my miseries, and seek not to increase your own.”

(p. 146)

This parable in Frankenstein is an important one and pertinent to our times. Many of us allow the news, social media, and the plethora of mental distractions to create imagined threats, monsters, and demons that plague our minds. What we imagine ultimately becomes our reality. We should learn from Frankenstein’s mistake and not let ourselves create our own demons which will inevitably destroy ourselves and our world.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to ““Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley: Creating Our Own Gods and Demons

  1. Fresh this morning in the NY Times:

  2. What strikes me about Shelley is the amazing creativity matrix in which she was embedded. Her mother was one of the first writers of a feminist manifesto, her dad was one of the first anarchist writings, and Mary Shelley not only wrote Frankenstein, but one of the first apocalypse sci fi novels (The Last Man).

    • So true. I also read “Vindication of the Rights of Women” years ago. Kind of sucks that we’re still dealing with this crap, though.

      Have not read Last Man. May have to add that to my ever-expanding list of books to be read 😉

      Cheers!

  3. Interesting. I tend to see it as a sort of two step process. I believe there are spiritual powers external to us. But when they act on us, our minds create the imagery to represent them.

    There’s another possibility too. God gives us positive imagery (say, in visions) that God knows we’ll be able to relate to. So in that case, it’s not just us creating the imagery. On the dark side, God could permit us having dark visions (with imagery) so as to teach us something. But again, in this scenario, God controls/permits the representation of the spiritual power (i.e. what the demon looks like).

    I guess the reason I see it this way is that if it were all a product of our minds, I don’t think transpersonal connections would really happen. I talked about this years a go with a friend. He argued that the brain generates energy which others can feel. He was a scientist. I feel that his thesis was a bit hokey. I tend to go with the idea that there is a master override that many people can sense. Any energy generated by the brain would be relatively weak and localized, I would think.

    Just some thoughts/theories. This is my area of interest. I hope I’ve said all this clearly enough to make sense!

    Good post for Halloween. 🙂

    • Thanks for yet another thoughtful comment. I certainly do not claim to have the answers. I have my ideas, but they are just that. The English Romantics definitely believed in the creative power of the imagination (look at Coleridge, particularly “Kubla Khan”). Anyway, the truth probably exists somewhere between the two extremes. Hope you have a great day. Cheers!

    • Earthpages, if you are not familiar with the writings of Rupert Sheldrake, I think you are in for a treat. Definitely worth checking out. This is a good place to start if you don’t know this scientist’s writings: The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Memory of Nature

      • Thanks Jerry. I still have books that you have given me sitting on my shelves. One of these days I will get around to reading half the unread books I own 😀

  4. Pingback: Thoughts on “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorn | Stuff Jeff Reads

  5. Jeff, after all these many, many years, I have finally gotten around to reading Frankenstein, thanks to your post. My experience was greatly enhanced by my many trips to Switzerland, and to the castle in which Byron was held prisoner. The Boris Karloff movie was pretty good, considering how much of this extraordinarily rich story needed to be edited out, but the pop-culture has no idea of what they are talking about when they say “Frankenstein.” Thanks for your post – it would have been sad to miss this great work of literature. Cheers, “DR.”

  6. Pingback: Symbolism in “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro | Stuff Jeff Reads

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