Although the women's characters in Frankenstein are more underlying they are vital to the structure of the story. Because not only do they add depth and give moral guidance to the male characters such as Walton and Victor Frankenstein, they are also full of kindness, compassion and social consciousness. This has the effect of stressing the importance of taking care of family and friendship and especially feminine influences in your life in order to retain both your humanity and sanity.
They represent the good women of the world and make it easier for the target audience of the time to identify with the story. Shelley also uses them to explore several themes such as the role of women in the society of the time. For example the way women were judged and valued only for their beauty and/or their usefulness to men. That the women in Frankenstein are not given a voice and that they seem not to have any opinions or power over their future, may be a comment from Shelley about the injustice of women's treatment in her society.
Walton's letters to his sister Mrs Margaret Saville, have several effects. They make his account feel more personal and believable for the reader. Especially as the locations described in the novel are likely to be alien to them. The introduction of Mrs Saville, an English, middle class, married woman, would have made it easier for similar people to identify with the story and therefore bring the events closer to home for them. The letters also stress the importance of family. For example in Letter One, Walton is feeling low and lonely and says "...
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I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me gentle... to approve or amend my plans. " which stresses the importance of friendship and sharing for a person's mental well being and happiness. Then in Letter Two, after Walton has happened upon Victor, his spirits are significantly raised because he sees Victor as an equal and a potential friend. The letters also provide an early contrast between Walton and Victor and their attitudes.
As Walton speaks of his "... conviction that a man could boast little happiness, who did not enjoy this blessing. and Victor replies "... I once had a friend, the most noble of human creatures... But I - I have lost everything,... ". Therefore Shelley illustrates that by seeking his sister's moral guidance, reassurance and love and by valuing friendship, Walton is more humane than Victor who has sacrificed everything and everyone to reach his goal. This may be a warning from Shelley of the possible disastrous consequences of isolation and the healing powers of friends and family. However, it is notable that Mrs Saville lacks a voice or opinion as her letters are not included.
Her lack of voice may be a comment from Shelley that despite her obvious importance to her brother and indeed to his well being, her voice, views and opinions are of little importance to the world at large. The story of Victor's mother Caroline, stresses the fact that at the time of writing a woman's future was dependent upon the men in her life. Beaufort, a good friend of Victor's father, flees from society in shame when he loses his wealth and as a result his health fails. As a consequence Caroline is forced to nurse him and take on menial work below her noble station in order for them to survive.
That Victor says of his mother "But Caroline Beaufort possessed a mind of uncommon mould; and here courage rose to support her in her adversity. " it may be a comment from Shelley, in that despite her status as a lowly women she had the wit, intelligence and courage to find a way to survive with the need for a male supporter. Also it may be evidence of Shelley's disgust at how unfair it was that a woman could only seek such low status and low paid employment, despite possessing equal intelligence and strength of character as that of a man.
Victor's father clearly values friendship highly and goes to great effort to seek out his friend. When he eventually finds him, it is too late to save Beaufort but he 'rescues', and eventually marries, Caroline. Thus saving her from what would almost certainly have been an existence of poverty and hardship alone with no family and friends to support her. The character or Caroline also portrays the way women bring compassion and social consciousness into society, when Victor says of he parents "Their benevolent disposition often made them enter the cottages of the poor. and that to his mother "... it was more than a duty; it was a necessity, a passion - remembering what she had suffered... " and that she was so caring and compassionate that she saw it has her duty "... -for her to in her turn be guardian angel to the afflicted. " Indeed throughout the novel women are portrayed as virtual angels lacking any malice or negative influences.
They are innocent victims, who meet undesirable ends at the hands of and due to the careless and violent actions of men. It is Caroline who adopts Elizabeth on finding her in one of the "... cottages of the poor. It is notable, however, that it is not simply here 'angelic' nature that leads her to this action but also Elizabeth's outstanding beauty and the rumours of her nobility. This is seen when it is said that by contrast to the four other "... dark-eyed, hardy little vagrants;" "She appeared of different stock. " as "her hair was of the brightest living gold,... " "... her blue eyes cloudless,... " and she was "... fairer than a garden rose among the dark-leaved brambles. " So it is her beauty and the aforementioned rumours of a noble birth that save Elizabeth from a life of poverty.
That she is given to Victor as a "... pretty present... " and Caroline's wish that they should someday marry, is a further example of women's lack of power over their futures. Elizabeth is a vital character in the novel as she provides a contrast within the Frankenstein family by which to compare Victor. Indeed Victor admits that she "... was of a calmer more concentrated disposition;... " than himself while his "... temper was sometimes violent... " and his "... passions vehement,... ". Indeed, it is Elizabeth who takes motherly responsibility for the household when Caroline dies.
However, despite this great responsibility she has little or no power. We also see the depth of Victor's selfishness and disregard for others when despite the Creature's threat to kill Elizabeth should Victor marry her, he goes ahead with it still. This action begs the question; if he loved her at all why marry her and put her in mortal peril? As had he not gone ahead with the marriage she may have survived. Again, excepting her letters, Elizabeth like Mrs Saville and Caroline lacks a voice.
Further evidence of Victor's disregard for others and the more compassionate nature of Elizabeth is seen when Justine is wrongly accused of the murder of their brother William. For although Victor knows that it was the Creature that killed him, he does nothing for fear of the discovery misdeeds in creating the Creature in the first place and also for fear of how it would appear to others. On the other hand Elizabeth, even though she has less of the facts, feels it is her moral responsibility as a friend to see justice is done.
Aware of the detrimental affect it may have on her social standing and the evidence against Justine, in the form of the broach, she still speaks up for her in court to say that Justine had neither the nature, motive nor means to commit such an awful crime. This is, yet further evidence of the lack of value Victor places on friendship, family, loyalty and justice compared to Elizabeth. Justine too is adopted into the family, but is not as beautiful as Elizabeth and as a result, although she is a blood relation, she is treated as a special servant rather than a proper member of the family.
This could be seen as a comment from Shelley on the unfairness of the value put on beauty and the unfairness of a class system that judges a persons moral worth by using their beauty and class position as a guide. Justine's name may also be a play on words, in that is resembles Justice and ironically she receives non. Instead she is forced to confess to a crime she did not commit in order to save her soul. Justine's character also illustrates the influence of the writings of Godwin on social and political justice and her mother's feminist works on Shelley's view of both political and female injustice within the society of the day.
Both Safie and Agatha also play and important role, as it is by observing them that the Creature learns about many aspects of life. For example the Creature discovers deeper emotions within himself when he sees Agatha cry and hears man made music for the first time. However, the arrival of Safie is vital to the story as she provides a way for him to learn much more. Because she speaks a different language and is from a different culture, it is necessary for Agatha and her father to teach her their language and customs.
By listening and observing her tuition, the Creature is able to gain a better understanding of the language and with the addition the some books he happens upon in the forest he learns to read. Also, due to Mr DeLacey's minute attention to detail and eagerness to teach Safie as much as possible, the Creature gains valuable knowledge of many subjects. These include some history, a broader view of the world and its "... empires... ", governments, religion, death, the difference between the sexes and the importance of family.
He also learns more about the structure of society and the class system for example the value of possessions/wealth, lineage and family connections in relation to a persons place within society. Armed with this knowledge he begins to understand that as he has neither family, wealth nor possessions that he has little or no status within society and this compounded with his ugliness saddens him greatly. His ability to read also means that he is able to read Victor's journal and learn of his creation, which is obviously vital as his memory of his creation was incomplete.
His ability to read and the geographical knowledge he gains from Safie's tuition also helps him in his search for Victor. However, Safie is and important character for other reasons to. In that her escape from non-Christian Asia and an undesirable existence in a Harem, to a Christian culture where by comparison women are free and "... allowed to take rank in society,... " may be a comment from Shelley that although the fate of women in the western world is unfair their fate is worse in some other cultures and religions.
Safie's story also gives the Creature hope as he sees that although her father was very unkind to the DeLacey family they welcome her into their home all the same. It is also a classic romantic tale of how love can conquer all, which would have appealed to the readership. In conclusion, I do not agree that the women in Frankenstein play an insignificant part in the story. Indeed without them the male characters would lack depth and the novel would have been less appealing to its audience. They bring the far away and foreign locations closer to home and make what is often an unbelievable story more believable.
Without Safie's character the Creature would not have been able to learn so easily or convincingly. Also Shelley's views about women's contribution to the balance of society, their relative lack of power, freedom or control over their future's when compared to men could not have been expressed so strongly. Her point that society tends to judge people by appearances and wealth rather than their moral character and the misconceptions this causes could not have been made so convincingly. Overall I believe the story is strengthened and made more complete by their existence.
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