Alexis Montgomery Professor Jonathan Luftig English 102 Women of Frankenstein: Impact Based on Influence The novel Frankenstein touches on many controversial themes such as, solitude, the division of “good” evil, rejection, debate about Nature vs. Nurture, manipulation and etc. Among the many controversial themes, the one that is constantly mentioned is the rather passive, “supporting” female roles in the novel. Despite her mother’s feminist and independent legacy, Mary Shelley seemed to have written from a more societal perspective in the roles of her characters as opposed to a rebellious, un-relatable perspective.
Examples of this can be found in the relationships between the characters, as well as backgrounds of each. In Mary Shelley’s novel, her female characters seem to reflect women of her time, including herself, in supporting their male counterparts even when socially invisible. As the author, Mary Shelley used her personal experiences and bias’s of her time to write her novel. Mary Shelley’s mother died giving birth to her, leaving her to be raised by her father who was a member of a group of radical thinkers. When growing up without a mother, it is imaginable that your influences are not necessarily limited, but shifted.
Mary did not have her mother, so she may have looked to the women of her time as examples of what life was supposed to be like. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in her “Vindication of the Rights of Women”, Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; (Wollstonecraft Chpt II) Women in the early 19th century era were viewed as inferior to men.
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The place of women was considered to be in their home, privately. Her novel can be considered a way for her to deal with questions of her own autobiography, through fiction. In being raised by just her father, in the radical atmosphere, she was exposed to advanced ideas at an early age. She then became known in the literary circle with people such as Lord Byron, the friend and neighbor of her family. In being surrounded by writers and poets, like Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, she was able to shape and mold her ideas.
The company of such men, can be described as a “writer’s dream”, a place of such intellect and creativity, sparking ideas for such novels like Frankenstein. As Mary Shelley progressed in her personal life, she ended up in an intimate relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley, causing her to conceive. She conceived children with him over the years, only to find she was unable to support life, losing three of her four children she had given birth to. All but one child, lived a short term after they were born. Losing these children is so significant because it helped her express her feelings on birth through writing.
In Ellen Moer’s, “The Female Gothic: The Monster’s Mother”, she relates Mary’s lose of her children to the creation of the monster. She states, Frankenstein seems to be distinctly a woman’s mythmaking on the subject of birth precisely because its emphasis is not upon what precedes birth, not upon birth itself, but upon what follows birth: the trauma of the afterbirth. (Shelley 321) This supports that Mary Shelley’s feelings of guilt and sadness surrounding birth and the consequences it produces. The loss of her children can be analyzed as expression of personal fears and pains through her writing.
Her experiences have made her views of childbirth, into something grotesque and wretched, this causing the creation of the creature. After being unable to reproduce and losing a quality woman of that era were expected to have, Mary not only didn’t have a mother, but also was unable to become one herself. While propping the men up, enabling them to function, the women of the novel were also portrayed as weak. The ideas of the women in her novel being portrayed as weak can be viewed as a self-reflection of herself.
Being without guidance or female influence, and unable to provide to offspring, she viewed herself as weak. Her personal-reflection of herself is reflected in women of the novel such as Justine, Elizabeth, and even the idea of the female creature. Victor is supported by Justine in everything he does and the creature uses the thought of a female creature as a companion to “support” him. Men represent all women of Frankenstein, all three narrators are male and they “narrate” what the women have said because the whole story is told by men.
An example of this is when the creature says, My companion will be of the same nature of myself, and will be content with the same fare. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man, and will ripen our food. (Shelley 103) The female creature would serve as “support” for the male creature because her purpose only served to be his companion. For his happiness, he would risk creating a creature as grotesque, with fearful looks. His actions and statement prove the selfishness and dominance of men in the novel.
Though men are perceived as the dominant role in the novel, it is ironic that the story is centered on letters between Margaret and Robert. If Margaret hadn’t been Robert’s listener and exchanged letters with him, Robert would have no one to tell Victor’s story to, meaning there would be no novel. Margaret being a woman, can be viewed as the reason the novel exists. Being the main character in the novel, Victor and his relationship with Elizabeth play a large part in the examples of how men are the dominant characters, but only sustain their roles because the women are self-sacrificing.
Elizabeth’s character traits influence her behaviors in her relationship with Victor by making her easy to manipulate. When Victor’s mother Caroline died, Elizabeth assumed her role in household duties and plays the mother figure. Though she assumes such a role, she has little substance, still passive, with not much contribution to social matters or decisions. In a sense, because she was not heard, she was not seen in a public aspect. Victor was bold, controlling, and selfish, not only in his disregard for female needs and roles in the novel, but also in other instances.
His selfishness was portrayed in his desire to create life, in leaving his family and not contacting them, and once he created life, he disowned his creature, shirking all responsibility. Victor was so self-absorbed that he overestimates his importance. This was the reason behind why he was unable to figure out the creature was coming for Elizabeth and recognizes that she now symbolizes vengeance. Her role was so consistent and insignificant to him that he was unable to fathom the importance of her death as well as its affect on himself.
This is shown after the death of his wife, an example is when he states, Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change. The sun might shine, or the clouds might lour; but nothing could appear to me as it had done the day before. A fiend had snatched from me every hope of future happiness. (Shelley 142) In Anne Mellor’s, “The Female In Frankenstein”, she explores the idea of the destruction of female roles due to the difficulty switching from the public sphere, which was more masculine, to the private sphere, which was more feminine.
In the preface Percy writes, his concern the novel was the, “the exhibition of the amiableness of domestic affection, and the excellence of universal virtue. ” (Shelley 7) He exhibits this in Elizabeth. Though Elizabeth exists in the private sphere, to the family she is a symbol of domestic harmony and can be considered a character based on sacrifice and true virtue. In all the things she does for Victor as well as his family, she is Victor’s hope for future joy. After all the bad things he has done and all the mistakes he has made, Elizabeth represents domestic peace.
Her representation of domestic peace can subconsciously be the reason Victor’s family wants him to marry her so badly. The death of Justine as well as Elizabeth was centered on the selfishness of men they loved. Justine was put to death, after trial because Victor refused to admit the creature he created was the cause of his brother William’s death. Elizabeth’s death was caused because Victor’s selfish ways made him refuse to create the creature a female companion to have in his life. Both of these women can be looked at as self-sacrificing.
Victor Frankenstein dealt with his extreme guilt of withholding information and secrets from his family regarding his creation, putting people’s lives, such as Justine’s in jeopardy. His secrecy can easily be the reason for the death of Justine, William, and Elizabeth. This extreme guilt is key in discussing how he one of the dominant characters in the novel, because despite how much guilt he feels he never disclosed to anyone his secret creature until he met Robert. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein as a Creator of the creature can be compared to a Mother, giving birth to a child, something that the author, Mary Shelley was unable to do.
Again, she uses her personal experiences to express herself in her writing. Victor stripped women of their main purpose during that era, to reproduce. He established that the role played by women isn’t limited to female characters, but can be shown in men as well because Victor can be considered a bad mother. Also in Anne Mellor’s, “The Female In Frankenstein”, she states, In place of normal heterosexual attachment to Elizabeth, Victor Frankenstein has a substituted a homosexual obsession with his creature, an obsession that in his case is energized by a profound desire to reunite with his dead mother, by becoming himself a mother. Shelley 363) The loss of his mother’s influences cause him to want to create life on his own, so that he can influence or rather control it, leading to the creation of the Creature. Shelley’s personal struggle is evident because though he was able to create life, he wasn’t proud of it, and wasn’t anything like he thought it would be. He then abandoned the creature, sort of like his mother had done when she died, and like Mary Shelley’s mother had done when she died as well. Another example of the role’s women play to the male characters was shown the Creature’s need for a female companion.
The Creature’s solitude never allowed him to know what love was, until he began watching the De Lacy’s and seeing the love they shared as a family and how happy Safie made Felix when returning to his life. Felix seemed ravished with delight when he saw her, every trait of sorrow vanished his face, and it instantly expressed a degree of ecstatic joy, of which I could hardly have believed it capable; his eyes sparkled, as his cheek flushed with pleasure; and at that moment I thought him more beautiful than the stranger. (Shelley 81)
This moment of joy is something he wanted to feel for himself, or better yet something he wanted someone else to feel for him. He longed for someone to accept him and risk everything, just as Felix had done for Safie. When learning their backgrounds and seeing how Felix risked his family, reputation, and wealth, all to save Safie’s father, the Turk and to marry her, the Creature yearned for that kind of love. He also admired, the extents companions seemed to go for each other. The Creature seems to want a counterpart, not only because she is a female nd he wants to be loved, but because he wants to share his burden of ugliness and non-acceptance from humans who have shunned him. After viewing their relationship he reflects on his loneliness and goes on to blame Victor for his pain. Cursed Creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God in pity made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid from its very resemblance. (Shelley 91) In his inhuman heart, he doesn’t long for material things or wealth, he longs to experience life as he’s viewed it as a bystander.
Watching the De Lacey’s function in society and as a family, is the example he leads by, therefore he doesn’t understand why he is unable to have that as well. This fact is what makes the creature most human, maybe even more human than Victor because of his need for communication and love, while Victor never needed any of that. Never once in the novel did Victor long for real companionship, his joys came in being isolated from others, which caused him to predetermine the creature’s life of isolation as well.
In never needing a companion to share life with, Victor saw no problem in destroying the female creature he had created for the male creature. Because Victor excluded women in every way, and he clearly doesn’t understand the significance of his own female counter part in the novel, he definitely doesn’t understand the creatures. Not knowing the significance of a feminine role in his life, nor the creatures is what made the destruction of the female creature an easy decision for him.
One of the biggest reasons he struggled to understand the significance was because he was clouded by his fear. In Anne Mellor’s, “The Female In Frankenstein”, she argues that “ he is afraid of an independent female will, afraid that his female creature will have desires and opinions that cannot be controlled by his male creature. ” (Shelley 360) Victor’s true fear was that by creating a female creature, he’d be defying everything that he believed in. The belief that women are to be more of the private sphere than the public might change and it would cause imbalance of society in his eyes.
What if, a women or female could walk the earth as men and think their own thoughts and live life as she pleased. The belief that women are to be controlled, rather than loved and treated equally is what causes each female not to exist anymore. The novel uses its female characters to display that of women in Mary Shelley’s time, displaying failed attempts at changing societal roles. The men of Frankenstein control life, death, and the all possibility of any women functioning as an equal. Mellor, Anne K. Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein. " Norton Critical Edition (1996): 274-86. Print. Moers, Ellen. "Female Gothic: The Monster's Mother. " New York Review of Books (1974). Rpt. in Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 1996. 214-24. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition. ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996 Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. A Wollstonecraft Anthology. Ed. Janet M. Todd. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977
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