Analysis Of The Use Of Allusions, Imagery, And Symbolism in “Frankenstein: The 1818 Text” By Mary Shelley

People everyday read books and then right after not remember what they had just read. To fix this, close reading must be applied. Close reading is the critical and thoughtful analysis that focuses on certain details and rhetorical choices the author makes. This is essential to fully understand the text and comprehend the form, craft, and meaning of pieces of literature. The book How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster hits on different techniques including symbols, themes, and contexts that represent close reading so each person can make his/her reading experience more enjoyable.

Foster provides a broad overview of literature and what reading between the lines entails.

After reading this book, understanding Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein: The 1818 Text was much easier to comprehend and pull apart the literary meanings that are woven into the text. Mary Shelley’s text includes allusions, imagery and symbolism that help to communicate the message of the story, which is that doing something you are not supposed to can come with a price.

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She uses many different methods and techniques to carry the plot along. Pulling apart a book with all of the different rhetorical devices and analysis it includes is necessary for discussion, which is also an important part of close reading.

One of the most important devices Shelley uses is allusions to relate back to the theme that ruining someone’s life also comes with a cost. An allusion is a figure of speech that is a reference to a well-known person, place, event or literary work.

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These connections to various works allow the reader to identify themes throughout the book, as well as gaining a better understanding of what is occurring in the text. The first story Mary Shelley alludes to in Frankenstein: The 1818 Text is the story of Prometheus. Prometheus is about a titan who is a respected and almost god-like figure. He created man through clay and water and taught them how to live. However, Prometheus also tricked Zeus into having him accept the humans’ low-quality sacrificial merchandise. In response to this, Zeus confiscated all fire from mankind. Prometheus, being a caring individual steals fire from Zeus to give to the humans. Zeus then sentences Prometheus to eternal misery and torment. Victor Frankenstein, one of the main characters in Mary Shelley’s novel closely resembles Prometheus because Frankenstein creates a new species and ends up suffering from it. Frankenstein tells the monster he created to “Begone! [he] will not hear [him]”. This is just as Zeus did to Prometheus. The monster then begins to murder everyone Victor Frankenstein cares for. Frankenstein's original intention was to benefit from his scientific discovery to make a new species, but in the end, both Frankenstein and his monster were left very unhappy.

The allusion of the story of Prometheus in Frankenstein: The 1818 Text relates back to the theme that doing something you are not supposed to can come at a price because Prometheus and Victor Frankenstein both suffered from their choices. Since Frankenstein told his monster to go away from him, Frankenstein suffered since the monster killed all his loved ones. The monster then regretted him ruining Frankenstein’s life and wept when he was killed. Frankenstein was not supposed to create this monster and then abandon it. He paid the price which was ultimately death. Prometheus, on the other hand, was not supposed to trick Zeus and he also paid the price of eternal torture.

Another allusion Mary Shelley touches on is the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This poem is about a mariner who disregards the laws of nature and slaughters an albatross and a bird. After this, the mariner and his men come across a ghostly figure who resembles death. This ghostly figure then kills all of the men and leaves a curse on the mariner. This similarly connects back to what happened to Victor Frankenstein because he created this monster and then told the monster to get away from him. He pretty much cursed himself since the monster got revenge and killed everyone Victor had somewhat of a close relationship with. The mariner and Frankenstein both represent that if you do something you are not supposed to, it can come at a price. Both tragedies could have been prevented. If Frankenstein did not exonerate the monster and took care of his creation, his loved ones would still be alive. The monster always left a “murderous mark” which “brought tears to Victor’s eyes”. Victor paid for the price of not caring for the monster he created since the monster wanted revenge and began killing Victor’s loved ones. Likewise, if the mariner did not kill those animals he was not supposed to kill, he would not have a curse on him. This allusion foreshadows the loss of Victor’s loved ones due to his own mistakes.

Similarly, Mary Shelley alludes to the poem Paradise Lost. This poem is a biblical story where God created Adam and Eve- the first people on earth. The two are very innocent. They both were supposed to stay away from this tree and not eat or take anything off of it, but Satan in the form of a snake comes to Eden and tempts her to eat from the tree. Both Adam and Eve end up eating from the tree and are banished from the garden. The title Paradise Lost illustrates this beautiful garden that they lived in is now all gone because of their actions. From here, the monster can be compared to Adam. The monster says to Victor that he “is thy creature: [he] ought to be Adam”. This illustrates how the monster began life innocent, but without the love and care from his creator turned into a horrible killer. These allusions help carry along the plot of the story so the reader can easily identify themes throughout it. The plot makes much more sense because of the story of Prometheus, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Paradise Lost.

In Frankenstein: The 1818 Text, Shelley uses imagery throughout to entice the reader and bring light to the message she is trying to portray. The author’s use of vivid and descriptive writing is a crucial technique that appeals to the human senses to deepen the reader’s understanding of the piece of literature. Victor feels true hatred for the monster when the monster begins to kill and describes it as “gloomy and black melancholy”. If Victor would have taken care of the monster he created, the tragedies of losing his loved ones would have been prevented. Victor would have never felt so sad and the monster would know what a caring relationship in the human world felt like. The use of imagery really helps the reader visualize Victor’s feelings. His emotions are described as “black melancholy”, the reader can illustrate in his/her mind this very dark sky that represents his mood. Victor even tells the reader the “fresh air and bright sun seldom failed to restore [him] to some degree of composure”. Victor is to blame for his unhappiness since he neglected his new creation. He then goes looking for the monster and describes him as the “devil”. Unfortunately for Victor, the monster “eluded his grasp”, meaning he got away from him. Victor uses such strong adjectives to relay the hatred he feels for him, but it is his own fault for what happened. Victor wants to catch him and destroy him, so no more horrible events happen to him. If he would have cared for the monster, the monster would have never wanted to get revenge and kill people. Victor’s negligence came at a price, which was ultimately his death from sorrow. Victor did not want to have a relationship with the monster because of how hideous he was. People should not be judged because of their looks. Everyone needs to be cared for and respected the same. Victor learned by the end of the book that his choice to not take care of the monster was a very poor one. The author’s use of imagery allows the reader to make a visual picture in their mind while collecting their thoughts on the message of the text.

Mary Shelley’s use of symbolism is also used to bring attention to her theme that doing something you are not supposed to can come at an expense. Light is used to symbolize the ugliness of the monster. It illustrates how different he looked compared to the human race. The monster’s first encounter with light is it “pressed upon [his] nerves”. The light of science is good until you get too close or pursue it too far like Victor did. He abandoned his creation because of how the monster looked. Victor knew he was not supposed to create this new species of life, but tried to anyway. That is why the monster wanted revenge because he was created and then neglected shortly after. Fire is also used as a symbol which can cause pain destruction and death, but it can also sustain life by providing heat and heating food. The monster realized the dual nature of fire when he says he “found, with pleasure, that fire gave light as well as heat”. The monster was so happy he had the fire to keep him company but realized it could be used for destruction when he would “thrust his hand into live embers, but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain”. The monster wants to use the harmful power of fire to destroy himself since he feels too ugly and uncared for. He wants to eliminate any memory of him on earth. The fire symbol also relates back to the Prometheus myth, as he brought fire back to humans. Victor left the monster to feel so unwanted and alone. Victor knew he was not supposed to abandon the monster but did it anyway. By the end of the book, Victor regrets his decision to which leaves him with a “bitter sting of remorse”. The use of symbolism in this story creates meaning and more emotion to the plot.

Mary Shelley uses allusions, imagery, and symbolism effectively in her novel Frankenstein: The 1818 Text to relay the message that doing something you are not supposed to do can come with consequences. These three elements ensure the reader gets a close read of the plot and has a deeper understanding of the text. People do not always realize the repercussions that can occur as a result of their actions. An individual must learn to think before they act to ensure he/she is happy and content with their life.

Works cited

  1. Foster, T. C. (2014). How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines. Harper Perennial.
  2. Shelley, M. (1818). Frankenstein: The 1818 Text. Penguin Classics.
  3. Aristotle. (2012). Poetics. Translated by S. H. Butcher, Publishing.
  4. Shelley, M. (1839). Preface to Frankenstein: The 1831 Edition. In J. P. Hunter (Ed.), Frankenstein (pp. 223-227). Norton Critical Edition.
  5. Keats, J. (1819). Ode to a Nightingale. In J. O. Hayden (Ed.), The Works of John Keats (pp. 425-429). Oxford University Press.
  6. Wordsworth, W. (1798). Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. In R. Norton (Ed.), The Major Works (pp. 110-114). Oxford University Press.
  7. Milton, J. (1667). Paradise Lost. In J. Leonard (Ed.), John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose (pp. 1-282). Pearson.
  8. Coleridge, S. T. (1798). The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period (pp. 543-557). W. W. Norton & Company.
  9. Homer. (1998). The Odyssey. Translated by R. Fagles, Penguin Classics.
  10. Freud, S. (2003). The Uncanny. Penguin Books.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Analysis Of The Use Of Allusions, Imagery, And Symbolism in “Frankenstein: The 1818 Text” By Mary Shelley. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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