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Frankenstein’s Mirror of Truth

Published on April 21st, 2016 at 03:17 am

by Justin Tahara

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus is a novel written by Mary Shelley examining the life of a scientist by the name of Victor Frankenstein who later brings life to a monster by playing god. Many of the key characters in the novel that speak are male or represent a male figure and the female characters lack a definite part of the story even though they are significant to the flow of the story. Their minute appearances compared to characters like Victor Frankenstein and the Monster create an inequality between the two genders and brings the idea of feminism into the novel without revealing it to the reader. Most of the male protagonists have a certain flaw within themselves that leads to future problems but many of the female characters are shown as the ideal female figure in the sense of sacrificing themselves for the males never ending ambition.

Mary Shelley vaguely hints the difference between the male and female roles through her writing. Throughout the novel Mary Shelley wrote the stories perspective from the male point of view rather than the female point of view. The lack of female protagonists in the story minimizes the spectrum of view upon certain events throughout the story. Many of the women do not speak as much as the men but they are portrayed as great figures. One of the first important female figures introduced in the story is Caroline Beaufort. Caroline marries a man named Alphonse Frankenstein later giving birth to Victor Frankenstein and throughout her life was recognized as a beautiful, caring, and gentle woman who had a kind heart. When Victor is describing his mother, Mary Shelley relates her to an angel when she wrote, “This, to my mother, was more than a duty; it was a necessity, a passion—remembering what she had suffered, and how she had been relieved—for her to act in her turn the guardian angel to the afflicted” (32). His mother would go around poor villages in search of people who would need help and one day she decides to adopt Elizabeth Lavenza, a young poor girl who becomes more than family with the help of Caroline. Her ambition to have a daughter after only having Victor eventually led her to adopting a young girl. Later in the story Elizabeth becomes very ill and Caroline takes care of her but eventually contracts the scarlet fever and passed away when Victor was seventeen and brings great sorrow to all of her family. Although mentioned significantly less than the male characters Caroline had a large impact on many of the other characters in the story and was portrayed as a motherly figure who kindly oversaw over many of the other characters. Continuing off of Caroline, Elizabeth Lavenza is another female character with great influence toward others with an unfortunate ending. As discussed before she is was an orphan adopted by Caroline and Alphonse and is described as a beautiful child when Mary Shelley wrote, “ this child was thin and very fair. Her hair was the brightest living gold, ... Her brow was clear and ample, her blue eyes cloudless, and her lips and the moulding of her face so expressive of sensibility and sweetness that none could behold her without looking on her as of a distinct species, a being heaven­sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features” (32). She was a couple years younger than Victor and the two were always together eventually leading to their marriage. Although they do decide to get married, it is cut off by the mistakes caused by Victor who is one of the leading males in the novel. The innocent orphan girl was sacrificed because Victor did not want to be killed by his own creation, the Monster, that finds Elizabeth and murders her on the wedding night. Due to Victor’s selfish ambitions another perfectly innocent female role is brought to her death. As the novel continues another female character is introduced. Caroline Beaufort had adopted another young girl by the name of Justine Moritz who was a great servant to the Frankenstein household. She was the one caring for Caroline when she had contracted the illness and is portrayed as another perfect figure. When Victor is being introduced about Justine, Mary describes her and stated, “Justine was the most grateful little creature in the world ... She is very clever and gentle, and extremely pretty” (67). As Justine saw her adopting mother pass away she returns to her actual mother who becomes ill and passed away as well. After the many tragic events, she decided to return the Frankenstein household to help raise the children of the Frankenstein family which included William. As the story progresses it is revealed that William had been murdered and the killing had been framed upon Justine. She admits to the crime that she had not committed but the crime committed by the monster and is later executed. Another life is taken due to Victor's Monster who wanted revenge for being abandoned and now because of Victor the lives of many family members had been taken and could have been stopped if he could suppress his greed for power. Many of the incidents and deaths could have been stopped even after the creation of the monster if Victor had made a companion for the Monster like an Eve to the Adam but refuses due to the dangers that may lie within the creation of life without the actual process of birth. The Monster negotiates with Victor and Mary Shelley wrote, “If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again; I will go to the vast wilds of South America. ... acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment. My companion will be of the same nature as 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” (158). Although the Monster wants to live a peaceful life, Victor would not let him and due to this certain incident the mass murdering of the kin of Victor begins. The male protagonist brought upon himself this burden but is incapable of dealing with his own problem causing problems for others.

The many unusual and unanswered questions leave the reader to ponder on some of the events that occur in the novel. The lack of birth and just creation of a living creature which skipped the process of being a child and is “born” into a giant is very controversial among many theorists. One theorist by the name of Nancy Yousef discusses this issue when she wrote, “The creature does not come to life as a small, helpless infant in need of the care of others; his height and vigor are exaggerated inversions of the tininess and weakness of newborns” (197). The difference between the Monster and regular humans was very evident and was a factor for Victor to abandon the Monster and to leave it on it’s own. Yet the young Monster although grown up physically lacks the knowledge of an adult and struggles. This inference relates to a woman who could not attend school because they were forced to stay in the household which was common during the time period for Mary Shelley. Another topic Nancy Yousef discusses is how the Monster had to survive on its own and wrote, “Frankenstein contends with ideals of autonomy and self­sufficiency not only by narrating the unnatural fashioning of a creature in an act of solitary conception but, perhaps more important, by narrating the unnatural development of the creature after it has been abandoned to its solitary fate” (198). The concept of abandoning a specific group like the female mass is a very controversial move and the Monster could be the mirror to what many of the women believed was wrong. By representing the female role in society, the Monster provides context on how Mary Shelley had viewed society around her. Although it can be seen how Mary Shelley is pushing towards a form of feminism, Nancy Yousef ends by stating, “It is an odd ending to a reading that so successfully recovers the power of Shelley's critique of masculine identity and desire. Whether or not Frankenstein evinces Shelley's "pain," it certainly demonstrates her strength and depth as a reader and thinker working both in and against a philosophical tradition into which she was born” (199­200). Although it is clear that Mary Shelley is addressing the idea of feminism it is still quite unclear if she is against or for the movement in feminism and is difficult to determine.

The transformation of the Monster later leads to his greed for power when asking for a companion. The partner the Monster asks Victor is a large obstacle and critical part of the novel that represents a large theme of the novel. Although the idea of creating a female companion for the monster is cut short, the other female characters in the novel provide a vivid image of how Mary Shelley would have interpreted the creation of the female monster. Erin Hawley another critic of the novel Frankenstein discusses the importance of the female monster when she wrote, “the female monster is a fascinating character due to the extent of her silence: she is never allowed to speak, or indeed to live; she is never given name or form. In the moments preceding her creation/destruction, she is depicted via Victor's narration in the most oblique way possible: the focus is firmly placed on Victor's task, rather than its end product” (220). The sole purpose of the creation of the female monster was to please the Monster which goes back to the idea that females are their only to support the male figures in society. Victor goes against the idea only for the reason that he is terrified by the consequences. Erin Hawley also discusses the ongoing theme amongst the female role in the story and how it would be ruined with the introduction of the female monster and stated, “For Shelley, a female monster­­a woman born of unnatural means, a creature both desirable and horrible­­would have been too much of a boundary creature, even within this tale about monstrosity and otherness”(222). The idea that introducing a female character unlike the others which was not a perfect example into the story would ruin the ongoing female role of being perfect when this monster is composed of several living creatures combined into one. The unknown of the female monster was too much for Victor and the Monster itself because no one would know the final outcome of the two Monsters interacting and it would just lead to more problems rather than solutions. Erin Hawley discusses this when she wrote, “This ability to be at once seductive and terrible, and to trouble our understandings about beauty, life, and embodiment by appearing as obviously non­ or even post­human, is an aspect of the female monster's identity that many adaptations of Frankenstein would later explore” (224). By reaching the boundary of where a character could go Mary Shelley was capable of stopping a whole new idea to be born from the fact that now a female could be created leading to the interaction between the two monsters and have an unforsaken future that lies ahead.

Many subtle events that occur in the novel are portraying a larger idea that contrasts the two genders. Having the female roles in the shadow of the males created inequality yet the impact the females have on the novel is equal or even greater than that of the male characters and helps us later understand why Mary Shelley decided not to include the female monster to the character list due to the fact that it would ruin the ongoing theme of having the females be the perfect human being in society. With many controversial and hidden concepts Mary Shelley is strongly influenced by the theory of feminism.

Works Cited

Hawley, Erin. “The Bride and Her Afterlife: Female Frankenstein Monsters on Page and Screen.” Literature Film Quarterly 43.4 (2015): 218­231. Web.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Douglas Clegg, and Harold Bloom. Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. New York, NY: Signet Classics, 2013. Print.
Yousef, N. “The Monster in a Dark Room: Frankenstein, Feminism, and Philosophy.” Modern Language Quarterly 63.2 (2002): 197­226. Web.