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“Frankenstein” Literature Review

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is a gothic novel that follows Victor Frankenstein’s account of his life as he experienced it; from attending university and creating his “monster,” to the dire consequences that followed his creation for the rest of his life. While written by a woman, the novel fails to represent the female gender fairly as they interact with the main characters of the story, and are often times altogether missing from the work. An interesting way to analyze this novel is by using a feminist lens to observe the role of women and their significance as they appear throughout the story. Using feminist criticism to focus on the under representation and negative portrayal of female characters to be more apparent, such as through looking at the ways in which Victor interacts with the females in his life, the ways in which females are depicted as submissive, or altogether absent from the plot, and how Victor’s monster attempts to persuade Victor to create a woman as his companion.

“Frankenstein” Literature Review

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Firstly, Victor’s relationship to women throughout the novel is very interesting to analyze as it reveals a great deal about Victor’s character and views on women. The two biggest women in Victor’s life would arguably be his mother, Caroline and his wife, Elizabeth. When first analyzing Victor’s mother, it becomes evident just how important the role of a woman is in a man’s life. Victor’s mother dies very quickly during the novel, and the majority of description that we get about her is to describe her in relation to her husband:

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This last blow overcame her ; and she knelt by Beaufort’s coffin, weeping bitterly, when my father entered the chamber. He came like a protecting spirit to the poor girl, who committed herself to his care, and after the interment of his friend he conducted her to Geneva, and placed her under the protection of a relation. Two years after this event Caroline became his wife. (Shelley 18-19)

She is also quickly seen as weak as she comes down with scarlet fever. Caroline quickly falls upon her death-bed and passes away. While Victor is clearly affected by her death and clearly has a sense of love for his mother, it is interesting that the first major female role in the novel is quickly killed off as she succumbs to an illness, “On the third day my mother sickened; her fever was very malignant and the looks of her attendants prognosticated the worst event” (Shelley 24). Having this negative depiction of women right at the beginning of the novel sets up the tone and expectation for women as they will be painted throughout the rest of the story. It becomes evident that women will be considered nothing more significant than companions to men, and that they are weaker than men, as portrayed through the use of Victor’s mother’s quick death.

Similarly, Victor’s relationship with his wife Elizabeth throughout the novel continues to push this idea that women are weak and unnecessary to the story’s plot. When Elizabeth is first introduced to the novel, even the description of her adds to this idea that women are more fragile and delicate than men, “From this time Elizabeth Lavenza became my playfellow, and, as we grew older, my friend. She was docile and good tempered, yet gay and playful as a summer insect” (Shelley 19). Elizabeth appears first in the novel as a child, and is immediately paired up with Victor and quickly the two become close and eventually marry. It’s particularly important to note the relation between Elizabeth and the rest of the family, especially as it changes upon the death of Caroline. As Victor’s mother lies dying, she proclaims that Elizabeth must not perform the role of mother and caregiver for the family:

She joined the hands of Elizabeth and myself: ‘My children,’ she said, ‘my

firmest hopes of future happiness were placed on the prospect of your union. The

expectation will now be the consolation of your father. Elizabeth, my love, you must supply my place to your younger cousins.” (Shelley 24)

Elizabeth never through the novel gets to have her own story and personality throughout the novel, but is rather only described in relation to how Victor interacted with her. This idea of the role women should have within the lives of men is evidenced not only through Victor’s interactions with women throughout the novel, but also through the monster’s lack of connection to women. The monster often laments on not being able to have a mother or female to take care of him through his life, “But it was all a dream: no Eve soothed my sorrows, or shared my thoughts; I was alone,” (Shelley 88). Even in this description the monster is expecting that if there had been a woman or motherly figure to raise him, she would have had no other significance than to care for him alone. Throughout the rest of the novel, Victor does not have many close relationships with female figures in his life. This exclusion of close connections to women shows how the novel expects one role to be fulfilled for women only, to be fragile and insignificant in a man’s life.

Secondly, the lack of women throughout the novel is astonishing. For large parts of the novel they are altogether unnoticed, and when they do appear they are used as plot devices to show the unimportance and submissive behavior of women in relation to men. Justine’s character as she appears throughout the novel is a perfect example of this unimportance as she is accused of the murder of William Frankenstein. Justine is unable to truly defend herself as the word of a woman’s is often ignored and irrelevant to that of a man’s, so she confesses a lie knowing that fighting her accusations would be pointless:

‘I did confess; but I confessed a lie. I confessed, that I might obtain absolution; but now that

falsehood lies heavier at my heart than all my other sins. The God of heaven forgive me!

Ever since I was condemned, my confessor has besieged me; he threatened and menaced,

until I almost began to think that I was the monster that he said I was. He threatened

excommunication and hell fire in my last moments, if I continued obdurate. Dear lady, I

had none to support me; all looked on me as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition.

What could I do? In an evil hour I subscribed to a lie; and now only am I truly miserable.’

(Shelley 56)

Justine had even begun to believe that she had committed the crime because of how much a man had pressured her into submission. The few characters that are female throughout the story play extremely irrelevant roles other than to propel the story forward for the male characters. Even the character of Margaret that Walton is writing to throughout the novel is used as nothing more than a reason to have the story be told. She has no significance to the plot otherwise, which adds into the idea that women are nothing more than submissive throughout the novel and are mere devices for men to exist as they please.

Thirdly, the way in which Victor’s monster begs for a companion to be created for him reveals a great deal about the importance of women throughout the novel. In relation to how Victor himself interacts with women throughout his life, it is evidenced through Victor’s monster’s expectation for a wife that the idea of women being a part of a man’s life to provide him nothing but comfort is perfectly exemplified, “‘You must create a female for me, with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being,’” (Shelley 98). This expectation of women is also interestingly explored when Victor is worried about creating this partner for his monster as he fears she may reject the monster:

He had sworn to quit the neighbourhood of man, and hide himself in deserts;

but she had not; and she, who in all probability was to become a thinking and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation. They might even hate each other; the creature who already lived loathed his own deformity, and might he not conceive a greater abhorrence for it when it came before his eyes in the female form? She also might turn with disgust from him to the superior beauty of man; she might quit him, and he be again alone, exasperated by the fresh provocation of being deserted by one of his own species. (Shelley 114)

Victor’s concern of the idea that the female monster will reject the original creation is extremely important to the feminist analysis because Victor cares not for the female monster. He does not care how her coming to fruition as a living creature will affect her and her very idea of existence the same way it did the original monster, but rather he is worried that she will deny his monster. That fear of her denial is enough to make Victor destroy his work on her thus far, “I thought with a sensation of madness on my promise of creating another like to him, and, trembling with passion, tore to pieces the thing on which I was engaged,” (Shelley 115), which is interesting as well because all he has decided to do is hurt his creation on his own. Overall, the expectation put on Victor’s female creation even before she is finished shows how the novel is not at all concerned with the well-being of women, but focuses solely on how that directly affects men and their happiness and comfort.

Looking at the role of women as they appear throughout this gothic novel is particularly interesting because of how they are simultaneously important to the plot as well as extremely useless and submissive. The few that are sprinkled throughout the story are useful in driving the plot forward and explaining a great deal about the male character’s actions, but they are often depicted as so weak and fragile that their inclusion seems unnecessary. Mary Shelley seemed to include women in the novel as nothing more than to show the expectations society, and specifically men, put on women to be concerned with their comfort and well-being. It is important to continue to analyze Frankenstein through different lenses as it reveals a great deal about what the author’s intent is in depicting certain characters or other traits of the novel in specific ways. While Mary Shelley depicted women as extremely inconsequential, this was entirely intentional and a really clever way for her to add subtle commentary about the role of gender in society in a story that at face value seems to be centered around other important themes and lessons. Using a feminist lense is important in understanding how the author wanted women to come across, as she is using this depiction of women as meek and insignificant as a commentary on the lack of value society places on women and their overall importance in life.

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"Frankenstein" Literature Review
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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is a gothic novel that follows Victor Frankenstein’s account of his life as he experienced it; from attending university and creating his “monster,” to the dire consequences that followed his creation for the rest of his life. While written by a woman, the novel fails to represent the female gender fairly as they interact with the main characters of the story, and are often times altogether missing from the work. An interesting way to analyze this novel is by
2022-04-17 06:28:31
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