In chapter V of volume one in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Shelley alludes to the final section of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The allusion foreshadows what is to come for Victor as a result of his endeavors, with the story of the mariner acting as a foil to not only Victor’s experiences but also Shelley’s novel as a whole. Coleridge’s poem tells the story of an old sailor and how his endeavors on the sea accidentally result in the death of his crew at his hands. A young man on his way to a wedding finds the sailor’s story captivating, and “cannot choose but hear” (Coleridge 18). The young man foils the character of Walton, as Walton finds Victor’s story completing enthralling, and the old sailor serves as a foil for Victor and the regrets he has over his aspirations.
The excerpt that is included in the text is quite ominous, and if one did not know the context behind the poem it would seem simply about the fear that Victor feels because of his Creature. Shelley inserts the allusion at the point in the novel when Victor is appalled with himself after succeeding with his Creature. The “frightful fiend” that “doth close behind him tread” alludes to the Creature, and Victor’s fear that he is following him. While this literal meaning is important as well, it is only when you delve into the poem itself that the deeper meaning behind the allusion arises. For those of us who have read Frankenstein before, we know how Victor’s treatment of his Creation drives the Creation to do certain things. This mirrors the way that the old sailor’s actions drives his crew into death, without him intentionally meaning for them to die. Victor’s proceedings in creating life will cause pain and suffering to those around him without that being his intention. Victor also resembles the sailor in that both of them “wear” their wrongdoing around their necks to haunt them forever. In the sailor’s case he is forced to wear the Albatross that he killed as a constant reminder of his role in the curse on him and his crew. For Victor, the situation is not quite so literal. His version of wearing the albatross is having to deal with the Creature’s murder of his loved ones and his constant reappearance. The naivety and ambition in both the old sailor and Victor are ultimately their downfall, and Shelley’s inclusion of this excerpt serves as a warning to the reader of what is to come and what we can learn from them.