Feminism in Frankenstein describes the different ways female characters are viewed and the different roles that women were given in “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley compared to the male characters. Mary Shelley wrote the Frankenstein novel when women were seen as a lesser species than men as was the narrative during the patriarchal time.
The gender roles of men and women were very stringent in that women were expected to be mothers, educate the children, stay at home, be an instrument of men’s desire, and perform all the household chores. On the other hand, men worked outside the house and in the public space. Science, leadership, and research were considered men’s domain, and a woman was not expected to be seen in such fields.
As it is famously subtitled, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus 1818) shows how Mary Shelley disagreed with the way society viewed women during that time. In the novel, the male characters are primarily self-centered and selfish, and the women are submissive, self-sacrificing, and docile in the presence of men.
In this essay, we will look at the various ways female characters in the novel ‘Frankenstein’ are used by Shelley to describe different gender roles and the feminist concept that she wanted her male counterparts to understand about the importance of women in society.
The Role of Female Characters in Frankenstein
Victor Frankenstein Maternity Role
The monster’s creation itself is an excellent example of feminism in Frankenstein. Victor subverts the laws of nature by removing the mother entirely from the monster’s creation. He uses science to harness life’s powers, which brings life to the creature.
Victor doesn’t nurture nor cares for the beast since it is too frightening for a father to love. He describes the creation as an abomination to his life’s work and is filled with regret for why he brought it into being.
Shelley, in this regard, echoes Mary Wollstonecraft’s warning against men’s blind devotion to science and Enlightenment of Era Progressivism of 18th Century Europe. It values objectivity over emotion, workplace and laboratory over hearth and home, and impartiality over relationships. These doctrines gave Victor Frankenstein the nerve to think science could eliminate the role of a mother in the birthing process.
Margaret is the first woman introduced in the novel as the sister to Robert Walton. Robert and Margaret are known to write letters to each other as he travels to the north pole, while Margaret is left at home as is expected of her. Robert tells his sister about his sorrows, thoughts and adventures, and Frankenstein’s monster.
In the novel, Robert thanks her sister for her kindness and love in the letters she writes to him, for they support him in hard times. In the late eighteenth century, young women were expected to look after and nature their younger brothers and sisters and encourage them whenever possible. Therefore Margaret played a motherly part in encouraging Robert in his journey.
Caroline is the mother of Victor Frankenstein in the story. She is portrayed first as a caregiver to her father, who is ill and later dies. She is later married off to her father’s best friend, where she continues her role as a caregiver to Victor’s father and a mother to Victor and William.
Later on, Caroline dies, which leaves Victor in a state of depression. This gives him the motivation to defy the laws of nature by creating a monster with the use of science. Victor’s mother played a huge role in victor’s eyes since it was her that showed love and care as was the norm in the patriarchal society.
It is important to note that Victor’s father never treated Caroline as a second-class citizen. He helped Caroline raise Victor and advocated equal rights between him and Caroline. He traveled with her and thus held her to the same standard as him. Even though Victor’s father treated Caroline this way, she never strayed from her motherly role of taking care of Victor, his father, William, and Victor’s Cousin, Elizabeth.
According to the novel, Elizabeth was Victor’s distant cousin destined to be his wife and nothing more. She is raised by Caroline Beaufort, who passes on to Elizabeth the submissive and domestic traits as she grew up before her early death by the monster.
In the story, Elizabeth never wanted anything more than her predetermined fate of being a daughter and a companion to Victor Frankenstein. Her lack of initiative is shown during her mother’s death, Justine’s trial, Victor’s absence, and her murder which shows her helplessness as a woman.
“The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein” was later written by Theodore RosZak in the late twentieth century, revealing the critical balance of masculine and feminine energies portrayed in the novel. He describes the character of Elizabeth as that one who was never educated as Victor, which was consistent with the period time argument for why women appeared inferior.
In the story, Justine is introduced into Victor’s household as an orphan servant. After her mother dies, she is brought to live with Victor’s family. She helps raise William, Victor’s smaller brother who is later murdered by the creature as revenge against Victor for deserting him. The monster furthers the revenge by framing Justine for the murder by putting a photograph that William was carrying inside her pocket as evidence of the murder.
Victor held power to save Justine from the claws of injustice since he knew the monster committed the murder but didn’t. He chose to remain silent since he did not want to admit that he had created a male creature that society would never accept.
The courts concluded that Justine was guilty without proper investigation and despite the statement given by Elizabeth Frankenstein at the time to vindicate her. Justine is punished by being executed for the murder of William.
Justine’s character only proves that a woman’s word in the court was not regarded as much without the backing of a male witness. Shelley used the characters of Justine and Elizabeth in court to describe the desperateness that female species were facing in that time before the feminist movement that went to give women a voice later on in society due to the feminist movement.
Frankenstein’s Female Monster
The creation of the female monster was the most robust character Shelley created to represent the social feminist commentary in the novel Frankenstein. In the novel, Victor made the female creature a companion for the male monster.
As Victor begins his second experiment to create the monster’s female companion at the creature’s request, he starts to doubt his decision to give her life. Victor was afraid that the female companion would become a free-thinking and reasoning creature who might refuse to comply with the agreed pact between Victor and the male monster.
The female monster could also hate the male monster who loathed his own deformity and might not conceive a greater abhorrence when it came before his eyes in the female form. He also pointed out that the female monster would turn with disgust against the creature due to the superior beauty of the man, who at the same time might leave the creature and be alone again. Lastly, Victor feared that they would birth smaller creatures who would later run over the world with their deformities.
From Victor’s eyes, female autonomy became a terrible threat that he would not comprehend risking. He was fearful that the female creature would become a reasoning animal who would have her way of thinking rather than what the rest of the women in the society are accustomed to following men’s lead.
Another fear Victor faced while creating the female monster was the procreation of their own species, resulting in a “race of small devils.” Due to all of Victor’s fears, he decides to destroy the monster’s female companion. The notion of a headstrong, sexually liberated female threatened Victor’s perception of women as submissive, and the patriarchal desire to validate men’s superiority over women.
Mary Shelley female Character Safie
Safie is introduced as the foreign woman who lives with the De Lacey family from Turkey. She is represented as an independent woman who travels alone without the company of a male figure like his father. She insists on her own possession of a soul and devotes herself to noble emulations of virtue.
Mary Shelley introduces Safie to represent her mother’s, ideas and words. Mary Wollstonecraft herself was an exemplar of a woman claiming her rights as a rational being in her own way.
In the novel, Safie is the one who inspires the creature to want the education by observing and listening to DeLacey as he is teaching Safie. She also gives the creature a chance to hope that he will one day be accepted just as the De Lacey’s accepted Safie, as she was also an outsider like the creature. In other words, the creature yearned for a sense of belonging since Victor left him right after his creation with no one to help him adjust to this new world. He lived loathed and shunned by the people in the village because of his appearance and this led him to hide in the forest and learn from the DeLacey’s hidden.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Novel Take Away
Feminism in Frankenstein has been widely represented by Mary Shelley’s novel on the different gender roles played by men and women in society during the patriarchal time. Being the daughter of the world’s known feminist, Mary Shelley wanted to highlight female roles by using female characters in her feminist novel, which started the fresh provocation of the women’s movement in modern literature.
Mary Wollstonecraft was Mary Shelley’s mother who also lived in an era where men were regarded to a higher standard than women. She wrote the book ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ to try and explain the societal norms that were present and to explain her view of women who were not inferior to men but could also be beneficial contributing members.
She argued that women deserved to be given a chance at an education accorded to men and not to be tossed aside when building the foundations of a functioning society. Mary Wollstonecraft died while giving birth to Mary Shelley due to placental abruption during the birthing process.
Through Frankenstein, Mary Shelley saw an opportunity to advocate that women’s problems while giving birth can be eradicated. She did this by daring to imagine that science could solve these problems and that no woman should die during the birthing process like what her mother went through.
“Frankenstein,” or the Modern Prometheus, although science fiction, acted as an introduction to feminism in a highly bent society on the idea that men were superior to women. Shelley saw a chance to highlight the women’s rights that were being denied to women at that time and show her idea of an ideal society where a woman was regarded to the same standard as the man.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, as she liked to call herself, tried to imagine a world where women were ought to be strong and not always wait on a man to come and save them. She did this by painting women negatively through the monster, which made many of Shelley’s female characters suffer in the novel. She wanted to help women stop submitting to men as the only ones who could solve problems as it was the societal norm at the time.
To conclude, Shelley rebelled against the social norms forced on women by following her heart and supporting herself financially, emotionally and mentally without the help of a man in her life. She was one of the first feminists before feminism even became a movement.
Shelley believed in the power of being a woman in society as a free thinker and a reasoning human being. She has inspired many of the true icons of feminism in the world today. Her life and contribution to the movement have been widely accepted as a work of art and literature through the Frankenstein novel.
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