Frankentein - are the women pure, pursued, powerless and passive?

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citydeer
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I have a timed essay in class this week and I'm getting stuck trying to do my plan, any suggestions would be helpful!
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mazzletazzle
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OLD stuff from last year ( a mix of mine and pasting from internet)

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the author characterizes each woman as passive, disposable and serving a utilitarian function. Female characters like Safie, Elizabeth, Justine, Margaret and Agatha provide nothing more but a channel of action for the male characters in the novel. Events and actions happen to them, usually for the sake of teaching a male character a lesson or sparking an emotion within him. Each of Shelley’s women serves a very specific purpose in Frankenstein.

First, Justine’s character is a very passive, seldom vocal character in the novel. She is tossed back and forth between her family and the Frankenstein’s, until she is ultimately framed for the murder of William Frankenstein. Justine defies the expectations of one wrongfully accused of manslaughter, remaining tranquil and peaceful. In her own words, she explains, “God knows how entirely I am innocent. But I do not pretend that my protestations should acquit me; I rest my innocence on a plain and simple explanation of the facts…” (65). Not only do her speech and actions demonstrate passivity, but the simple act of being framed proves this to be the purpose behind her character: “But I have no power of explaining it…I am only left to conjecture concerning the probabilities by which it might have been placed in my pocket” (66). Thus, Justine becomes an inactive, docile victim of circumstance. Despite her innocence of the crime for which she is accused, Justine Moritz is executed for the murder of William Frankenstein (and is even half-persuaded by her male confessor that she is responsible for William's death). And Elizabeth, fully convinced of Justine's innocence, is unable to save her. The impassioned defense she gives of Justine arouses public {117} approbation of Elizabeth's generosity but does nothing to help Justine, "on whom the public indignation was turned with renewed violence, charging her with the blackest ingratitude" (80). Nor can Elizabeth save herself on her wedding night. Both these deaths are of course directly attributable to Victor Frankenstein's egotistical concern for his own suffering (the creature will attack only him) and his own reputation (people would think him mad if he told them his own monster had killed his brother).

In contrast to this pattern of gender inequality and political injustice, as I suggested earlier, the De Lacey family represents an alternative ideology: a vision of a society based on justice, gender equality, and mutual affection. Agatha’s purpose, as a kind and gentle female, is to exhibit and embody all virtue and sensitivity. These are the first lessons learned by the monster. Agatha most moves him in her interactions with her blind father: “Agatha listened with respect, her eyes sometimes filled with tears, which she endeavored to wipe away unperceived” (93). Agatha’s female character, through its inactive and tender nature, serves to teach the monster about healthy human relationships and love. They are then joined by Safie who having reached the De Lacey household, promptly becomes Felix's beloved companion and is taught to read and write French. Because of her role as a passive female character she acts as a channel to the creature’s action: “My days were spent in close attention…and I may boast that I improved more rapidly than the Arabian…I could imitate almost every word that was spoken…I also learned the science of letters” (99). It is inconsequential to the novel whether Safie herself learns the language, as long as the lessons being taught to her are influencing and furthering the monster. She is a means to his educational end, becoming yet another passive, action-channeling female character. Safie, whose Christian mother instructed her "to aspire to higher powers of intellect, and an independence of spirit, forbidden to the female followers of Mahomet" (119), is the incarnation of Mary Wollstonecraft in the novel. Wollstonecraft too travelled alone through Europe and Scandinavia. More important, she advocated in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman that women be educated to be the "companions" [12.24] of men and be permitted to participate in the public realm by voting, working outside the home, and holding political office.

Perhaps the most important emotional channel in the novel is Frankenstein’s betrothed Elizabeth. Described as a submissive, gentle character from the beginning, Elizabeth has always been a soft spot for her fiancée. Frankenstein views her as a possession: “I 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” Frankenstein’s monster, well aware of this weakness and filled with the madness that results from parental neglect, murders Elizabeth in order to hurt his creator as deeply as possible. Even when her life is threatened, however, Frankenstein still holds the game of wits between himself and his monster above protecting Elizabeth. Instead of staying with her and guarding her on his wedding night, he patrols the premises: “She left me, and I continued some time walking up and down the passages of the house and inspecting every corner that might afford a retreat to my adversary…when suddenly I heard a shrill and dreadful scream” Elizabeth has become another inert victim in this game of insanity and male-centered mayhem. She has been demeaned and reduced to a simple tool of revenge, along with the other female characters appearing in Frankenstein. The scene of her death is based on a painting Mary Shelley knew well, Henry Fuseli's famous "The Nightmare" (Plate VIII, bottom): "She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down, and her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair" Fuseli's woman is an image of female desire, both lusting for and frightened of the incubus (spirit) that sits upon her, brought to her bed-chamber by the stallion that leers at her from the foot of her bed. Invoking this image, Mary Shelley alerts us to what Victor fears most: his bride's sexuality. Returning to the body of the murdered Elizabeth, Victor "embraced her with ardour; but the deathly languor and coldness of the limbs told me, that what I now held in my arms had ceased to be the Elizabeth whom I had loved and cherished" The conflation with his earlier dream, when he thought to embrace the living Elizabeth but instead held in his arms the corpse of his mother, signals Victor's most profound desire; to possess the dead female, the lost mother.

{115} In constituting nature as female -- "I pursued nature to her hiding places" (49) -- Victor Frankenstein participates in a gendered construction of the universe whose negative ramifications are everywhere apparent in the novel. The uninhibited scientific penetration and technological exploitation of female nature is only one dimension of a patriarchal encoding of the female as passive and possessable, the willing receptacle of male desire. The destruction of the female implicit in Frankenstein's usurpation of the natural mode of human reproduction symbolically erupts in his nightmare following the animation of his creature, in which his bride-to-be is transformed in his arms into the corpse of his dead mother -- "a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel" (53). By stealing the female's fcontrol over reproduction, Frankenstein has eliminated the female's primary biological function and source of cultural power. Indeed, for the simple purpose of human survival, Frankenstein has eliminated the necessity to have females at all. One of the deepest horrors of this novel is Frankenstein's implicit goal of creating a society for men only: his creature is male; he refuses to create a female; there is no reason that the race of immortal beings he hoped to propagate should not be exclusively male. Perhaps the most striking and enduring of the many feminist critiques of the novel is that of Ellen Moers in Literary Women (1976) who argues that the book embodies a male fantasy of creation, arrogantly usurping the female roles of gestation and birthing.

CONCLUSION

Though all of the female characters mentioned were created by a female author, each of them has a very demeaning characterization. Shelley’s women are objectified, used, abused, and easily discarded. None of them, save Margaret, survive the novel and all of them live their fictional lives to serve a very specific function and impact a man’s life.

At every level, Victor Frankenstein is engaged upon a rape of nature, a violent penetration and usurpation of the female's "hiding places" [1.3.6], of the womb. Terrified of female sexuality and the power of human reproduction it enables, both he and the patriarchal society he represents use the technologies of science and the laws of the polis to manipulate, control, and repress women. Thinking back on Elizabeth Lavenza strangled on her bridal bier and on Fuseli's image of female erotic desire that she encodes, we can now see that at this level Victor's creature, his monster, realizes his own most potent lust. The monster, like Fuseli's incubus, leers over Elizabeth, imaging Victor's own repressed desire to rape, possess, and destroy the female. Victor's creature here becomes just that, his "creature," the instrument of his most potent desire: to usurp female reproductive power so that only men may rule.
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