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How Women Are Treated in FrankensteinEssay

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Role and Treatment of Women in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Read with gruesome fascination by generations of horror-seekers for nearly two centuries, Mary Shelley's classic novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, describes the animation of a "monster" created by Victor Frankenstein using electricity, a relatively new innovation that was also a source of popular fascination. Moreover, this novel also provides a number of insightful descriptions concerning the contemporaneous role of women in the early 19th century. To determine the facts, this paper reviews the relevant literature to examine the role and treatment of women in Shelley's novel, including how the male characters differ in their views of women. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings concerning the role and treatment of women in the early 19th century Victorian England as depicted in Shelley's novel are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Women living in the early 19th century were marginalized in a number of ways, including being disenfranchised from the political sphere and were largely relegated to subservient roles to men, a social situation that was clearly reflected in Shelley's novel, including most especially on the part of the protagonist. As Hobbs points out, "Critics of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein have articulated a multiplicity of gendered characteristics in her protagonist, Victor Frankenstein" (152). Other modern critics agree that the manner in which women were depicted in Frankenstein was an accurate description of the social practices that were commonplace in Victorian England. For instance, Barron reports that, "Elizabeth Lavenza and Victor Frankenstein's male creature suffer at the hands of a patriarchy which outcasts them based on their gender and material bodies" (37).

Similarly, Gill argues that Frankenstein was popular reading for women then and now because of the vivid manner in which the unfair treatment of women was described. In this regard, Gill notes that, "[Frankenstein] has cultural relevance, particularly for women readers who have made it a popular culture phenomenon since the late eighteenth century, because as a paranoid text, it expresses the woman reader's experience within a patriarchally defined world" (94). Indeed, Gill even maintains that although Frankenstein is a horror novel to be sure, it is a horror novel for reasons that are largely unrelated to the monster created by Victor: "Shelley's Frankenstein is a rather radical rewriting of the Gothic Romance's psychically relevant message, for its plot works to say that women are right to be paranoid, that women are killed by patriarchs and the power structure they perpetuate" (94).

In fact, Barron and like-minded critics maintain that even Frankenstein's monster is a female-like character based on society's preoccupation with physical beauty, the lack of which results in the monster's expulsion from polite Victorian society. For example, Barron writes, "In Shelley's novel, the heroine is split into two - the 'good', passive woman (Elizabeth) and the angry, independent creature (a man who is in several regards marked as female for the injustices he suffers due to his 'otherness', existing on the outside of acceptable society)" (38). In sum, the female characters in Frankenstein, like women in the larger society in which the events take place, are largely relegated to domestic roles and heaven help the women who tried to flirt with introducing changes to the status quo. In this regard, Barron emphasizes that, "Elizabeth acts passively and virtuously, adhering to societal expectations and succumbing to the Father's law when she grows up and lives with Frankenstein's family. During the nineteenth century, society divided men and women into two spheres: the public sphere for men and the private, domestic sphere for women" (38). Because the public sphere was restricted to men only, it is not surprising that Shelley felt compelled to publish Frankenstein anonymously (Fara 19).

On the one hand, women are treated as being the nurturing influence that families need during times of crises. For instance, Hobbs points out that, "Shelley's treatment of the family psychodynamics makes it clear that, for the Frankensteins, grieving must be completed quickly and privately, and with the intervention of female nurturers who speed up the process" (153). On the other hand, though, Hobbs also emphasizes that, "Men determine the rules of behavior [and] they give women the most visible role… [END OF PREVIEW]

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