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Frankenstein and Lilith: An Examination of Creator and Creation

Hillary G's picture

 Hillary Godwin

April 19, 2011

GIST – Dalke

Frankenstein and Lilith:

An Examination of Creator and Creation


      For this Webpaper, I intend to examine the concept of creation in Frankenstein and how it reflects my understanding of gender and technology. To do this I will incorporate the myth of Lilith to further discuss the relationship between the creator and the creation. I will draw parallels between the two stories, concerning the role of gender, information, science, and technology in generating perceptions of creation.


Relationship Dynamics

      For thousands of years, people have been enchanted by the story of Lilith, the first woman to reject a place of inferiority beside a man.  According to the legend, God made both Adam and Lilith out of dust at the same time. God made them both perfect, and, upon seeing Lilith, Adam was enchanted by her physical beauty. But from the beginning they fought constantly. Adam insisted that she lay below him and accept his dominance, but she refused, saying that they were created equally and thus neither should be superior. Adam did not accept this answer, and in response Lilith abandoned him and the Garden of Eden. To satisfy Adam’s desire for a woman God then replaced Lilith with Eve, creating her out of one of his ribs to ensure her inferiority.

LilithPainted by John Collier, 1892

      The dynamic between creator and creation is complex in the story. Lilith’s conflict rests on her decision to reject the role assigned to her by Adam, who had no part in her creation process. She acknowledges that God created her as an equal to Adam and insists on being treated as such. But most depictions of Lilith in folklore, literature, and art represent her as being a demonic, sexually deviant predator—a dangerously powerful seductress. She was deviant, but only in her pursuit for independence. 

 Lilith in Eden with Adam and EveLilith in Eden with Adam and Eve


      Frankenstein by Mary Shelley also tells a story about the relationship between the creator and the creation. Victor Frankenstein, obsessed with the idea of artificially creating life, builds a creature based on the human form, and uses science to bring it to life. Victor admires the beauty of his creation until it comes to life, at which point he becomes horrified and abandons the creature. Confused and hurt, the creature wanders in search of purpose, and, after encountering the superficiality of the human race, becomes violent.

 Victor admiring his creation before it comes to lifeVictor admiring his lifeless creation


      Many feminist readings of this novel have likened this story to the idea of male irresponsibility in matters of reproduction. Victor, a man, finds a way to create life—a reproductive power that lies only within the female body. However, when the product of his work enters the living world of consciousness, he flees because he cannot handle the responsibility presented to him. As a feminist, one could read this novel as Shelley’s postulation that only women are suited to the task of rearing offspring.

      This interpretation coincides with the theory that Mary Shelley harbored resentment toward her mother Mary Wollstonecraft for dying and thus “abandoning” her after she was born. Her writings may express a critique of her mother’s prominent philosophical ideals of the time concerning importance of rationality over emotion.


Beauty and Bodies

      Both Lilith and the creature are demonized for their physical qualities. Both are intended to be beautiful by their creators, and are recognized as being so before displaying their respective independent consciousness.

      Lilith is initially described as being stunningly beautiful with flowing hair. But in the myth, after rejecting of the submissive role assigned to her, she is portrayed as a seductive, malicious character associated with demons, vampires, and sin. Thus her appearance becomes intertwined with qualities that represent the danger of feminine sexuality. 

 Depiction of Lilith"Lady Lilith" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

      Victor initially perceives his creature as being beautiful—until it comes to life. Victor’s horror at the creature’s appearance leads him to abandon it completely. The people who see the creature are also horrified at his appearance, and judge him to be as hideous on the inside as he appears on the outside. These judgments affect the creature so substantially that he is driven to behave in the way they expect him to behave—maliciously and violently. But he only adopts this violent behavior when he, himself, becomes aware of his physical defects. 


      In both of these stories, the character’s appearance plays a significant role in how they are perceived by others. Their bodies become entangled with their fates. And if that is the case, are their creators directly at fault for making them that way? Should we blame God for endowing Lilith with such extraordinary beauty that she became a symbol of sin and seduction? Is it Victor’s fault that his creature was so ugly that people rejected it right away? Or is it the fault of the characters for behaving in such a way that accentuated their physical appearances? It’s difficult to answer these questions, as they are so entangled with each other, and involve so many other factors. Regardless, we continue to be fascinated by them. 

 Quantum EntanglementsQuantum Entanglements


We Just Keep Comin’ Back

      So why can’t our society forget these memorable stories? I think it’s because we can relate to them. Lilith was created as an equal, but was commanded to be subservient to another being. We all have experiences when we want to rise into the air like Lilith and say, “no, I refuse to be inferior to you!” (Of course, that probably wouldn’t go over well with your boss). Feminists have adopted Lilith’s story time and time again because it is a story of defiance, of deviance from the path set before her by her fellow man. Plus, it’s kind of refreshing to imagine a female biblical figure who insisted on being respected, and whose significance was not defined by her passive sexual role in the story (i.e. the Virgin Mary).

      I think we can also empathize with Victor’s creature in Frankenstein. We have probably all had experiences of feeling abandoned. Imagine if your computer crashed and your phone died on the same day. Like the creature, you would feel a little lost, confused, and pissed off. The analogy may be a bit of a stretch but I think it makes a statement about human nature. Perhaps technology is the creator and we are the creations—we are so reliant on technology to inform our thoughts and behavior that we can’t fully function without them. 


      The United States has been referred to as a culture of commercialization. What this really means is that our culture is heavily informed by advertising and media manipulation. Our concept of beauty is enforced by millions of homogenous models hired by businesses to appeal to the customer’s aesthetic sense. Thus it is no surprise that stories like the myth of Lilith and Frankenstein appeal to us, as they explore the underlying reality of human superficiality. The media is a main source of information for us, and we reflect it in our culture—which raises the question of whether we truly are the creators of our culture, or are we merely the living creation of a corporate ideal? 




shyam sutar's picture

creator and creation

in our hindu religious books frequently it has been mentioned that

" where there is a creation ,creator has to be there. the creator , mortal or immortal is responsible in all ways for his mortal or immortal creation ; hence he must not create anything which he cannot destroy/control and also he must not destroy/control anything which he cannot create."

constructive destruction (surgery) is better than destructive construction (bombs)

khusbu's picture

creator and created

Can you please be specific about the religious book

Hillary G's picture

In response to your comment...

After reading your comment and my webpaper over again, I will try to clear a few things up.

      Firstly, I used several sources to research the Lilith myth. I searched it on Google and read dozens of pages about the variations of the myth, and only recounted the details that most versions agreed upon. More specifically, it is a myth mainly prevalent in Jewish mythology and the Babylonian Talmud, a text from between 500 and 700 CE. Regarding her relationship with Eve: a lot of visual depictions (a couple of which I posted in my paper) portray Lilith as tempting both Adam and Eve to sin, sometimes appearing to essentially be the serpent from the story. I can’t imagine Lilith would have any positive feelings for Eve—I’ve only read versions where she was either indifferent to her, or hateful toward her. Regardless, there are very few sources that mention any interactions between Lilith and Eve.

      My source for the “many feminist readings” of Frankenstein was actually from notes I took during our class. If I recall correctly, they were written on serendip and we discussed several of them, one of which included the idea that Shelley may have felt that men were inherently “too irresponsible” to bear children, and that the novel demonstrates that idea (relating Victor to a man giving birth, and the creature as his child). I suppose a lot of my “evidence” for my claims comes from my own close reading and analysis of the text, supported by discussion we had in class. I did try to research the topic on the Internet, but (surprisingly) there wasn’t much written on the topic that I could find.

      Regarding my images, I will first say that I have never had a class before that allowed any kind of assignment other than a textual essay, or a lab write up. It’s taken me a while to get used to the idea of using anything other than words when discussing an academic topic. Therefore, I apologize that my pictures were confusing! In response to your specific example, I meant to visually emphasize Victor’s appreciation of the creature before it was given life. In my argument, I stressed that he saw his creation as beautiful until it became alive. Perhaps I could have juxtaposed an image of Victor looking at the creature both before and after it opens its eyes, in order to contrast his admiration with his subsequent terror.  

      I think feminists would celebrate Lilith’s defiance as an example of female strength and independence. She may have been ostracized for her “deviance,” but so was Joan of Arc. The fact that she was ostracized for her behavior is probably one of the reasons feminists would be fascinated with her story—the demonizing of her character speaks volumes about various cultural perspectives on gender roles. 

      We, as a culture, keep coming back to these stories as literary reference points because they’re a part of our cultural consciousness. Both Frankenstein and the Adam and Eve story are well known in present-day American culture. Lilith’s story is a little more esoteric, but her supposed role in the Garden of Eden is still known to enough people that it can be relevant to gender studies. Historians that have studied the Bible are still mystified as to why the book of Genesis initially refers to God creating both man and woman, and then later describes God creating a woman because of Adam’s loneliness. A common theory about this is that at some point Lilith was edited out of the Bible, potentially for patriarchal reasons.

      No one can be sure of her original role in the Bible, but if she was edited out of it intentionally, I think it is important to consider why. My theory, as somewhat suggested in my webpaper, is that at some point, the men in charge were unnerved by the presence of a strong female character. They may have removed her to avoid the possibility of women recognizing their equal place among men. This fear would have perpetuated demonized versions of the character that would portray her as an evil seductress, rather than a woman who only insisted on being equal to a man.

      So, getting back to your question, Lilith’s beauty became a symbol of sin because theoretically, it should have been irrelevant. Her physical appearance had no relevance to her initial behavior of rejecting subjugation. A feminist would likely argue that being beautiful was an aspect of the story that was emphasized only as a negative feature (sort of like the Femme Fatal archetype in literature and film).

      The concept of the “underlying reality of superficiality” was intentionally oxymoronic. The last paragraph was supposed to be an attempt to answer the question of “where do we go from here?” and “why is this analysis relevant in a greater context?” My point was that the concept of beauty is a highly influential one in our culture, and that stories like that of Frankenstein and Lilith may reflect our obsession with beauty and how the aesthetic ideal affects our perceptions of the world around us.

Hope this explanation was helpful in clarifying some of your questions!


P.S. This source was particularly helpful in learning and writing about Lilith. I realize now I should have cited it earlier!

Witcombe, Christopher L.C.E. Eve and the Identity of Women. Eve & Lilith. 2000.

Anne Dalke's picture

"The underlying reality of superficiality"

Let me start with some technical queries. There are many variations of the Lilith story; what is your source? And what was her relationship with Eve (who also wasn't a rule follower, as I recall!). What is your source for the 'many feminist readings" of Frankenstein, or the particular one that sees Shelley's novel as an argument that only women can rear children? What is your evidence, in other words, for the claims that you make throughout?

Also: though I appreciate your use of images to illustrate your essay, I would nudge you to think of them more as "quotes" that need both setting up and explication; when you follow your description of Frankenstein's violent creature, for instance, with an image of "Victor admiring his lifeless creation," you aren't advancing but only confusing your argument.

Now to that argument. How far does the analogy between Lilith and the creature go? You say, for example, that he is driven to behave in the way he is expected to. Was that the case for her? Was it her beauty that became a symbol of her sin, or her independence that led her beauty to be interpreted in such a way?

I'm puzzled, too, by your final section, on why we keep "comin' back" to these memorial stories. Why would feminists celebrate Lilith's defiance, if she was ostracized for it? I'm also really unable to understand the connection you draw between the creature's abandonment and the day when contemporary technology fails us: how is he reliant on technology? How is a computer crash like not being cared for by your creator?? Your final gesture toward the "underlying reality of superficiality" (isn't that oxymoronic?) is particularly puzzling to me: are you claiming that the U.S. "culture of commercialization" was @ work in Shelley's 19th century English novel? What does the "corporate ideal" have to do with Lilith??