Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, tells a cautionary tale of a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, that altered something that he should not have. To help strengthen the lesson of the story Mary Shelley often makes explicit and implicit allusions to Samuel Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.Thesis: Shelley’s use of a similar style, an abundance of parallels, and direct references to Coleridge’s poem, while keeping the characters fates separate to contrast on another, illuminates how humanity should take responsibility for theiractions, as those actions may have unintended consequence.
P1: Through the use of an abundance of parallels, thereby interconnecting the poem and the novel, Shelley brings to light the under lying messages of Frankenstein by providing another example for readers to connect to. Victor created a creature that was initially pure and had good intentions, but by impulsively abandoning the creature the first time he sees it, Victor essentially destroyed this purity/innocence as the monster suffered isolation. This parallels the mariner’s actions as he too destroyed something pure, the albatross, through an impulsive act, shooting it with a crossbow for no apparent reason. Both the mariner and Victor are repulsed by their actions of ruining something innocent, and are thus both consumed by the guilt of their impulsive actions that they didn’t think through, another parallel. Due to this guilt from their actions both the mariner and Victor must spread their respective stories to other people, the wedding guest and Walton respectively, in order to warn them of their mistake.
Thereby lessening the heavy burden of the mistakes, they have made. Furthermore, both characters are haunted by the consequence of the death of their friends because of what they cause, Victor still clings to his friends and family’s “dear forms, as sometimes they haunted even my waking hours, and persuade myself that they still lived…” and the mariner claimed to have heard voices and sees his dead shipmates(Shelley 253). By having not just one story to learn from the reader can better understand the meaning of one, Frankenstein, if the other was previously understood. This connection also provides two examples of when impulsive actions caused unforeseen consequences, further reinforcing the meaning of the novel with another similar cautionary tale, strengthening Shelley’s point. A point, that was more easily revealed through this connection, that through his impulsive actions, what Victordid to the creature, he demonstrates to not pursue foolish ambitions, and we must face the consequences of our actions in order to not get consumer by them.P2: To build on top of underlying messages, Shelley uses direct references/quotes and the same style from Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to further reinforce the messages by emphasizing the connection and adding complexity. In “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Coleridge uses a frame narrative to help emphasize the meaning and ultimate lesson of the mariner’s story. Shelley models her own novel after this same framing narrative style that Coleridge uses, with the main frame of Shelley’s novel being Captain Walton’s letters to his sister Margaret Saville, and it is within these letters that the two inner frames told respectively by Victor Frankenstein and the Creature emerge.
By presenting a story within a story, it guides the reader from the first story into another one, which is all within the overall story. This guidance allows this style to establish the context for the embedded stories. And it is that context that helps to amplify the lessons of both tales by providing a frame of realism to these improbable tales. Besides the same style of narration, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is directly mentioned in the novel. The mariner was first mentioned in one of Walton’s letters as he describes his travels and how he is “going to unexplored regions, to ‘the land of mist and snow;” but I shall kill no albatross, therefore do not be alarmed for my safety, or if I should come back to you as worn and as woeful as the ‘Ancient Mariner?'” (Shelley 10).
By directly stating the lesson from “Ancient Mariner”, it highlights how disrespecting nature is a stupid mistake, something Walton doesn’t intend to do. It also foreshadows the potential for Victor’s actions to have unintended repercussions as he alters nature to create his creature, helping to put into the reader’s mind early on that there are consequences to their actions. Besides directly referencing the killing of the albatross, Shelley also, after Victor is horrified by the creature that he has created and how he “hurried on with irregular steps, not daring to look about me: ‘Like one who, on a lonely road, Doth walk in fear and dread, And, having once turned round, walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread’…” (Shelley 61), directly quotes Coleridge’s poem. By quotingColeridge’s poem it helps emphasizes Victor’s panic at the time and highlights the consequences of altering nature and the natural order. Further solidifying the message of Frankenstein to not mess with nature or there might be repercussions.P3: While there are many similarities between the two works of literature, Shelley creates a slight separation between Victor and the mariner through a difference in blame, to provide an example of another path if the consequences aren’t accepted. While the start of these works of literature start similarly, the ending of the two is quite different. The mariner originally blames himself for condemning his crew to death as he shot the albatross, believing that he survived because he is as disgusting as the “thousand thousand slimy things” (Coleridge 238) that live in the sea.
But towards the end he comes to the realization that he is not to blame for their deaths and that all life, even the life of the sea snakes that he once thought to be so hideous, is beautiful. Victor on the other hand, at the end of the novel, still believes that the creature is to blame for what happened to his friends and family, believing that the monster should pay, swearing “Again do I vow vengeance; again, do I devote thee, miserable fiend, to torture and death” (Shelley 254). He believes that the creation not only deserves to die, but should be forced to suffer pains much worse than the ones he has already experienced in its entire existence.
Because of this desire for vengeance caused by still not accepting these consequences, Victor follows the monster to the ends of the Earth only to get sick and be killed by the creature before he can get the satisfaction of killing the creature. While the mariner accepted what has happened to him and decides to change his view point on nature, showing what happens if you accept the consequences and change because of them, seeing all of nature as beautiful now. Victor, on the other hand, did not accept the consequences and remained fixated on this misguided desire for vengeance, and thus his life ended in suffering and isolation. This contrast between the endings and ultimate fates of the characters due to either acceptance or denial, further helps bolsters how humanity show take responsibility for not only the actions, but also the consequences of those actions.Conclusion: Although Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” may have a different narrative and ending, Shelley’s use of a similar style, an abundance of parallels, and direct references to Coleridge’s poem illuminates how humanity should take responsibility for their actions, as those actions may have unintended consequence.
Through these similarities and even differences to Coleridge’s poem it strengths and helps translate Shelley’s message and the ultimate meaning of Frankenstein to readers. As the main characters demonstrate, through their impulsive actions, what they did to the creature and albatross, respectively, that humanity needs to love all, and to not pursue foolish ambitions, or we must face the consequences of these actions.