Can gender stereotypes and assumptions be incorporated into literary characters? In Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, published at first anonymously in London 1818, they are. The book tells the story of an alchemist named Victor Frankenstein and the monster he created while dabbling in occult sciences and natural philosophy. Additionally, it focuses on the interior life of Victor’s creation after his birth. Throughout the novel, Shelley depicts stereotypical gender roles through Victor, the monster, and other characters.
A place stereotypical gender thoughts can be seen is in Shelley’s portrayal of women. As the book plays out, the women are seen as weak individuals that depend on males. They are described as generous, selfless, and almost described to be saintly. Many of them are also perfect maternal figures, as many women were expected to be during that time. But, the women in this novel, although considered pure beings in the eyes of the men, are also continuously suffering for the actions and/or mistakes of men.
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The first woman we encounter in Frankenstein that also shows gender stereotypes is Elizabeth Lavenza. She is described by Victor as a perfect individual but also as a thing that can be owned as she, early on, is betrothed to him by his/their parents. Frankenstein sees her as heaven-sent(Shelley, 20) and unflawed. Even when she was a small child, he describes her as,…a creature who seemed to shed radiance from her looks and whose form and motions were lighter than the chamois of hills,(20) in saying this, Victor is equating beauty with goodness. Shelley shows Elizabeth possessing maternal traits too, as quickly after Caroline passes away Elizabeth steps in and assumes the maternal figure in the household.
She begins to take on the various responsibilities Caroline once had, for instance caring for the children. Later in the story, Elizabeth suffers and dies because of Victor’s naivete and selfishness when he repeatedly believes that the monster he created is coming to get him as revenge even though there is a clear pattern in where the monster is targeting his next victim. The monster is following the pattern of hurting Victor through the sufferings of his loved ones like his brother William and Justine.
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