Phoenix_fire

The miserable creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein purports to kill himself, yet his words invoke a curious sense of triumph and hope in an afterlife. This seeming paradox is far from it, for the fire he plans to die in is at once destroying and purifying, emphasizing the creature’s spiritual humanity.

This goes without saying, but burning alive is horrifying. The creature recognizes so much, saying he will “exult in the agony of the torturing flames” (Shelley 189). I’ll get to the strange exulting part, but, hey, let’s first recognize the very real, very scary agony and torture he’s facing. Worse, the creature declares that his present miseries will be “extinct” (189), invoking dramatic finality since, by nature of his unique creation, his demise will literally be an extinction.

That’s pretty dang sad. So why exult? Part of it has to do with fire’s purifying properties. The Bible describes how, as a blacksmith refines impure minerals in a fire to produce dazzling gold, God can purify a man from unrighteousness. The creature subscribes to this, believing that the death of his physical body is not truly an end since, as his “ashes will be swept into the sea” (189), his “spirit will sleep in peace” (189). This image works on multiple levels, invoking the idea of “from dust to dust” as well as that of the majestic phoenix (his spirit) rising from the ashes. Finally, as the creature is “soon borne away by the waves” (189), I cannot help but think of how he may soon be reborn as his spirit moves on. The circle is complete, for as a “spark of being” (60) initially brings him to a hideous earthly existence, a grand “conflagration” (189) sends him out into a new purer one. The creation may’ve been dead parts come to life, but he sure appears to have a soul. And he goes out with a bang.

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