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Women in 'Frankenstein'.

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Laura Day

on 21 January 2014

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Transcript of Women in 'Frankenstein'.

Women as possessions.
Women - the gender stereotype.
Women in 'Frankenstein'.
Volume one.
Justine - 'Justice'.
Effeminate men in 'Frankenstein'.
Possessive pronouns such as 'MY' are used by both Walton and Frankenstein when referring to the women in their lives, showing that men treat women as commodities to 'own' - "FAREWELL, MY DEAR, EXCELLENT MARGARET" - "...LOOKED UPON ELIZABETH AS MINE - MINE TO PROTECT, LOVE AND CHERISH. ALL PRAISES BESTOWED ON HER I RECEIVED AS MADE TO A POSSESSION OF MY OWN".
Victor Frankenstein's mother refers to Elizabeth (his newly-adopted sister) as a "PRETTY PRESENT", as if she is going to be a new toy for him to play with. Use of the word 'PRESENT' automatically creates a sense of possession about Elizabeth - as if man is meant to regard women as a 'collectable' for themselves.
The alliteration of 'PRETTY PRESENT' emphasizes the idea that Elizabeth is a commodity for man (Frankenstein) to own. It is quite sinister that it occurs at a young age (Frankenstein is presented with Elizabeth by his own mother), yet it is mirrored later in volume one with William - "HE (William) HAS ALREADY HAD ONE OR TWO LITTLE WIVES; BUT LOUISA BIRON IS HIS FAVOURITE, A PRETTY GIRL OF FIVE YEARS OF AGE".
Women are presented as subordinate to men, which is seen particularly in the relationship between Walton and his sister Margaret (she has no voice/no return letters included), and Frankenstein and his sister Elizabeth (she is described to be reliant on him - "...YOU ALONE (Frankenstein) CAN CONSOLE ELIZABETH").
Justine, who is wrongly accused of William's murder, has a name that is only one letter removed from the word 'JUSTICE', suggesting that women are fair, unlike men. This links to the idea that Frankenstein knows of Justine's innocence, but does not speak up.
A woman is convicted of murder - a subversion of the set gender stereotypes within the novel. Justine, the accused, takes the burden very graciously and never aims to profess her innocence, taking the guilt of men as her own. This shows women as strong.
In the opening of chapter 8, Frankenstein finally recognises the value of women when he acknowledges Justine's sacrifice whilst he is plagued by guilt - even so, he is dismissive of her still - "JUSTINE ALSO WAS A GIRL OF MERIT, AND POSSESSED QUALITIES WHICH PROMISED TO TENDER HER LIFE HAPPY".
Justine is transformed from the victim of male ignorance - "JUSTINE WAS CONDEMNED" - to a character of superior strength - "BUT SHE HAS CONFESSED". It is a social criticism of men - furthered by Justine's acceptance of her own innocence.
Throughout volume one, women are presented in more caring and maternal roles, compared to the men, who take on the traditional stoic male persona. Initially, we as the readers are introduced to three stock characterisations of women: the caring daughter, the devoted mother, and the affectionate sister. These are not necessarily positions of strength, but they are somewhat respected by men in the novel.
It is ironic that women are denied their rightful role (as deemed by nature) by Frankenstein, who creates life without the aid of woman - think about the personification of nature as a woman - 'MOTHER NATURE'.
When Elizabeth is first introduced to the reader, she is described in terms of her aesthetics only, as if this is the only matter of importance to man. Women are constantly put on pedestals as objects to desired and admired by man - this is emphasized by the constant usage of the word 'DESIRE'.
Descriptions of Elizabeth only appear in terms of her appearance - "...FAIRER THAN A GARDEN ROSE AMONG DARK-LEAVED BRAMBLES", "HER HAIR WAS THE BRIGHTEST LIVING GOLD, AND DESPITE THE POVERTY OF HER CLOTHING, SEEMED TO SET A CROWN OF DISTINCTION ON HER HEAD", "...A CREATURE WHO SEEMED TO SHED RADIANCE FROM HER LOOKS".
Women are finally portrayed as stronger than men in the latter part of volume one concerning the trial of the innocent Justine.
Throughout the novel, it is interesting to observe that the male characters are written with as much obvious emotion as the female characters - suggesting a subversion in traditional gender roles.
Frankenstein in particular is quite effeminate in his descriptions of how he is feeling, as if he is trying to gain some sort of sympathy from the reader by creating a female air about himself. It in fact deters the reader from connecting with him because it breaks the traditional stereotype of a strong male protagonist.
Frankenstein has repressed loving feelings for his own mother which he manifests in his desire for his adopted sister, Elizabeth - "I THOUGHT I SAW ELIZABETH, IN THE BLOOM OF HEALTH, WALKING IN THE STREETS OF INGOLSTADT. DELIGHTED AND SURPRISED, I EMBRACED HER, BUT AS I IMPRINTED THE FIRST KISS ON HER LIPS, THEY BECAME LIVID WITH THE HUE OF DEATH; HER FEATURES APPEARED TO CHANGE, AND I THOUGHT THAT I HELD THE CORPSE OF MY DEAD MOTHER IN MY ARMS".
The effeminate descriptions of the male protagonist in the novel almost suggest that the role of women is 'desirable' to men, and that women are the true strength in society, not men. Mary Shelley is essentially commenting on the idea that without women, the existence of man is futile - this is demonstrated through the disasters related to Frankenstein's 'creature'.
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