The Unsung Heroines Of Frankenstein By Mary Shelley
Though Mary Shelley was a modern woman for her time who came from an equally empowered mother, her portrayal of women is most contradictory. The female characters in Frankenstein are presented as biddable and passive which was a sign of the times. The voices of Frankenstein are male-dominated leaving no room for a feminine perspective; in short, the novel is incepted story told by a deranged man to a lonely man about a man-creature. The women in Frankenstein, namely be Elizabeth Lavenza, Justine Moritz, and the Monsterette, take on a more “traditional” and outdated role as being objects of men’s desire, utility, and control. Elizabeth was the most obvious example of the submission found in female characters. Her only real purpose in life is Victor, to marry him, to care for him, to have his children, just like most women during that era. Caroline, Victor’s mother, even presented her to Victor as a “pretty present” (Shelley 43) for his own enjoyment. Elizabeth was not seen by the Frankensteins as a family member of friends but rather an object whom Victor claimed to be “[his] to protect, love, and cherish. ” (Shelley 43)
While away, Victor completely forgets about the love of his life’s existence while he is gallivanting through Europe until she sends a letter. She plays very well into the role of the damsel in distress who just waits until the day her Victor will come and get her and hopes he did not cheat on her (but its fine if he did) because “it is [Victor’s] happiness [she] desire[s]. (Shelley 161) Elizabeth was forced into this long-term arranged marriage to Victor by the death wish of both his parents. She had no choice in the matter and she seemed perfectly content with that. Victor takes advantage of their love as he confesses he will tell Elizabeth his “tale of misery and terror [that will] … chill [her] frame with horror” (Shelley 163) only after their marriage. Victor playing into his domineering husband role even says, “[He] know[s] [she] will comply. ” (Shelley 163) The only active role Elizabeth plays is when she advocated for Justine during her trial which was completely disregarded as she was only a woman and the patriarchy ran that courtroom. Only Victor has the power to free Justine with his testimony which he chooses not to give. In the end, it could be said that Elizabeth fulfilled her duty as a “traditional wife”: She lived and died for her husband. Justine plays perfectly into the idea of women in the early 19th century. She is docile and passive as she succumbs to her inequitable death too afraid to challenge the court decisions.
Justine said during her testimony, “God knows…how entirely [she is] innocent. But [she] does not pretend that [her] protestations should acquit [her]. ” (Shelley 80) She knows that she will not be believed even though she has a solid alibi and even a powerful testimony given by Elizabeth to vouch for Justine’s good nature. Victor’s unchecked ambitions are directly the cause for Justine’s death. She was the poor scapegoat for a coward’s actions. Justine was used as a prop and framed by the Monster, a man for intents and purposes, who was created by another man, Victor. It is also important to note that the reason Justine confessed was that “[her] confessor [had] threatened excommunication and hellfire and menaced [her], until [she] almost began to think that [she] was the monster that he said [she] was. ” (Shelley 83) She was forced to accept her unsightly placed guilt because her male priest decided for her. This murder needed a murderer or in this case a murderess. Justine was the victim of a gruesome crime and she paid the ultimate price because of these three men: Victor, the Monster, and the priest. The Monsterette can be viewed as the Monster’s Elizabeth. The Monsters demands Victor make him “a creature of another sex, but as hideous as [himself]”. (Shelley 129) In this way, the Monsterette will probably be forced to be with the monster just as Elizabeth was forced to be with Victor. The biddable role of women as traditional wives only living for their husband’s enjoyment is seen yet again displayed by the monster. The monster wanted to share his pain, more than love someone. The Monsterette is aborted before she has a chance to take her first breath. Victor as creator usurps women’s natural role of motherhood. In this new world, men control the creation of life, leaving women unnecessary. To be blunt, reproduction is what a woman’s body was and is genetically designed to do from gestation to nursing. By destroying the Monsterette, Victor assures himself that no “race of devils would…propagate upon the Earth. ” (Shelley 144) Without the female monster, the power of creation remains with Victor.
This can also be viewed as women’s lives are dominated and controlled, literally by men. Who knows, the Monsterette could have has a positive influence on the Monster as he finally has someone equally as grotesque as him to rely on, as with Elizabeth and Victor. However, we will never know, because she was not able to come to fruition. The chaotic end to Frankenstein may be attributed to the lack of female involvement throughout the novel and maybe this was Shelley’s goal all along. Shelley lived by the principles set by her mother of equality and this novel was to disillusion her readers about the current treatment of women. Nonetheless, the females in this novel did not live up to their potential as they were treated as objects for men’s enjoyment rather than humans.
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