In Mary Shelley's gothic novel Frankenstein and Charlotte Gilman's short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” imprisonment is a reoccurring theme. The main characters in both stories seek to break free of the confinements imposed upon them by hierarchical societies. These strictly stratified societies prosecute the characters;who respond with immediate action in order to achieve that freedom which their societies have purged from them.
Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein's monster, and John's wife all suffer the indignities of both literal and metaphorical imprisonment founded on racism, classism, and sexism. In “Frankenstein,” Victor endures several types of imprisonment. His workshop is much like a prison cell, in that he stays in the room for months at a time and leaves only for brief stretches. Victor admits that, “My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement” (Shelly 32). Victor is literally imprisoned by the authorities for the murder of his best friend, Henry Clerval.
He is metaphorically imprisoned by his inability to protect his loved ones, including his future wife, from his monster. He reveals the dread created by his powerlessness when he says, “And then I thought again of his words- I will be with you on your wedding-night” (Shelly 117). Victor’s fear of social ostracism, which would be the likely outcome if anyone of his class were to discover that he had created the repulsive monster that had killed so many innocent people, also impairs his actions.
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It is only after he decides to hunt down the monster and vanquish him in order to ease his conscience that Victor breaks free from the prison that his fears create for him. Although Victor dies before avenging his loved ones, his death is what ultimately releases him from this prison. Frankenstein's monster also suffers both literal and metaphoric imprisonment. Because his hideous appearance prevents him from developing relationships with humans, he is a prisoner in his own body. The monster’s accidental killing of a boy in the woods is an example his inability to have even the most basic social experiences.
The monster is also sentenced to something like solitary confinement by the De Laceys. Although he spends months learning how to speak and read so that others will think him civilized, the De Laceys chase him away when he finally approaches them. Felix tackles the monster who remorsefully states “I could have been torn limb from limb” (Shelly 91), this shows how unwilling the De Laceys are to compromise. The monster is wronged in the same way that the victims of racism are wronged: namely, he is rejected for his outwardly appearance.
Even though the monster is the only one of it's race, he is prosecuted by a hierarchical society who doesn't judge based on character. Frankenstein's monster tries to win his freedom from isolation by asking his creator, Victor, to construct a female monster for him. The monster pleads, “You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of the sympathies necessary for my being” (Shelly 98). The monster believes that having a companion would give him a reason to live, however Victor denies his monster of this request. We see in Anne K.
Mellor's “Processing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein”, “By stealing the female's control over reproduction, Frankenstein has eliminated the female's primary biological function and source of cultural power”(Mellor 274). This further more states that Victor has created the perfect patriarchal society, in which the creation of humanity no longer needs the service of women. The woman in “The Yellow Wallpaper” also experiences several different types of imprisonment. The woman's husband, John, treats her like a prisoner in her own home because of her postpartum depression.
She feels that she has very little freedom of thought or action because John dictates the course of her life as though he were a prison guard. She has internalized her husband’s authority to the point she hears John's voice in her head. The narrator states, “I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus-but John says the very worst thing I can do is think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. So I will let it alone and talk about the house”(Gilman 2).
The narrator starts to keep a secret journal because of this captivity, this writing is the only emotional stimulus the woman can forgo to express herself freely. She says, “I must not let them find me writing” (Gilman 3). In a metaphorical sense, the woman finds herself trapped by her condition and the patriarchal society in which she lives. Both prevent her from asserting her independence as a women. In a physical sense, she finds herself confined to a room of John’s choosing. All she can do is obsess over the wallpaper. The narrator says, “I am getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper.
Perhaps because of the wallpaper” (Gilman 7). Eventually, when she sees the creeping women in the wallpaper,the narrator gains a measure of freedom when she tears it all down, thus freeing her mind as well as the imprisoned women, fusing into one. The narrator rejoices that, “I've got out at last” (Gilman 10). She goes insane at the cost of winning her freedom from John and a sexist society. The main characters in both stories undergo a major transformation. They all start as prisoners of sorts, but they all eventually break free when they confront the powers that imprison them.
This proves evident with some truths about humanity, about the prisons that we construct for ourselves and the prisons that our societies constructs for us. Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein's monster, and John's wife all suffer from hierarchical societies which reject the characters, who attempt to gain their freedom which have been denied to them.
Works Cited Gilman, Charlotte. The Yellow Wallpaper. Boston, Ma: Small & Maynard, 1899. Web. 2 Oct. 2010. . Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York, NY: W. W. Norton &, 1996. Print.
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