Mary Shelley put herself ahead of the revolutionary movements in feminism in the early nineteenth century. In her writing, she was attempting to show the problems in her own society in an age before others had begun to have similar ideas. Shelley wanted a more balanced society, increasing the power of woman, and decreasing the stature of man.
Victor Frankenstein’s newest creation, a monster, appears as such a horrible creation that people often label it as evil before ever giving him a chance. However, the monster is much more human one might think. The monster has a desire to learn and a want to love, but these feelings and emotions seem to disappear with Victor’s denial of a female partner for him.
“You must create a female for me, with whom I can live with in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being” (Shelley, 124). But why should Victor not create such a creature to satisfy the monster? The answer is quite complex. In Victor’s mind, the creation of a female monster would allow for, “a race of devils… propogated upon the earth, who might make the very exitence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror” (Shelley, 140). It is the females’ ability to reproduce that is Victor’s primary fear, but not his only fear. Victor, it seems also posseses a fear of women. When Victor did not create a female monster, not only was he denying his creation a partner, but he was also an active participant in the movement against feminism.
Victor, in his movement against feminism, attempts to hold women back in their fight to prove themselves as equals. He does not create a female not only for the fact she would be able to reproduce, but also the fact that she would be female, and at this moment males are in power. With the creation of a female monster, men would not necessarily be in power. Why would Victor want to overthrow his own power?
In a sense, one could easily agree with Victor’s reasoning for not creating a second monster. But, when one looks at this with a feminist viewpoint, the reasoning seems different. Victor represents the society in which mary Shelley lived, and during this time, women were seen solely as an object, or a possession of man. If Victor were to have created a female, he would have given some of the power held within society by males to the female. Mary Shelley shows us in this novel that women are more than objects or possessions; women have abilities, they have power, and they have potential. With help from Shelley and the feminist movement, more women, and men too for that matter were able to realize this.
The period of the early to mid 1800’s, which is the time of Frankenstein’s creation, Mary Shelley lived in a society in which she, as a woman, was essentially powerless (Ellis, 123). To her, Frankenstein is a way of showing that the male dominated world needed a change. Through the display of Victor’s fear of women, she exposes her own desires to propel females to the head of society.
In the novel, Shelley portrays her own repression within her society in several scenes. Primarily in reading the novel, one realizes that a woman never actually speaks. The characters who possess speaking roles are all male, which further represses the figure of the female. Another concept that is used in Shelley’s portrayal of her time is seen through the fact that, in the novel, women rarely take an active role. The primary function of the woman is either to be a wife or lover, and her sole responsibility is to satisfy her male companion. Even the monster wants a female to keep him satisfied, he never stops to think that this female may not have the same feelings for him, nor does he care. This example is a perfect representation of the society in which Shelley lived (Ellis, 129).
Feminist critics have claimed that Frankenstein is primarily a novel about the opression of women in which the monster represents a social outsider who can never be accepted as an equal no matter what he does. Although the monster plays a significant role in this novel, he is never truly appreciated, and is also opressed by human society, as were the women. Both the monster, and women pose no threat to society, all they are seeking is love, happiness and the respect that they deserve, the only people who might feel threatened by women were those who were against feminism. It is only after rejection and feelings of frustration and loneliness does the monster become agitated and violent (Ellis, 131).
Justine for example, who has been accused of murder, becomes victimized by Shelley, such as the case in the courtroom. The courtroom scene gives us not the impression of Justine as being weak, but of Justine as a victim. Besides the fact that she was being accused of heinous acts of violence she did not commit, she was also being assumed guilty by her closest friends, further making the female look like the so-called “bad guy” and further opressing women.
It is interesting that Mary Shelley would voice her thoughts of feminism and the opression of women in this novel mainly through the voices of two male characters in the novel, Victor and his creation. Although it may seem unorthodox to some, Shelley gets her point across. It was Shelley who was one of the pioneers of the feminist movement, and her contribution, along with many other feminists, have played a huge role in the equalization of women over the last two centuries, to the point in our society today where women are as close to being socially equal to men, although there are still discriminations made today, notably in the workplace, where it is not uncommon to have a male being paid more to do the same job as a female. With the new millenium upon us, one can only hope that males and females can put their prior encounters in the battle of genders behind them, and that both genders can be treated equally without exceptions, whenever this happens, Shelley’s goal with have been attained
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, (1992) Clays Ltd, England
Ellis, Kate. Monsters in the garden: Mary Shelley and the Bourgeois family, (1982) University of California Berkeley Press (123-142)