Gender Representations in Frankenstein
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Extended Written Response Gender representations are present within texts as an example through which an author is able to communicate their own opinions to a wider audience. The presence of gender representations within texts are used to communicate the blatantly recurring inequality between male and female. A gender reading itself will interrogate all representations of gender and the power distribution within the text in order to come to a full understanding of the nature of the characters and the major theme behind their personalities and actions.
Mary Shelley was influenced substantially by her mother's feminist views and despite never knowing her remained firm in her belief of women's equal worth. The novel Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus although not a feminist novel at first glance is rather a powerful statement made by Shelley concerning the plight of women and the differeing social expecations placed upon them. The female characters are stereotypical in such a way that they embody the idilic, nurturing, loving, selfless and dutiful qualities so sought after during the time.
Rather than write a radical novel and alowing the female characters to be of equal standing to the men Mary Shelley constructs her novel in such a way as to show how things ought not to be. The construction of the female characters within the novel positions them as stereotypical women who exist in such a way that their whole lives are either for or revolving around a man. This representation of women is an avenue that Shelley explores in order to communicate the severe disadvatage to which it puts women in relation to men.
The two most extensive examples of women whos charcter puts them in this position are that of Caroline Beaufort and Elizabeth Lavenza. Caroline Beaufort is very much the embodiment of the womanly figure, a true angel. Amidst this was her constant gratitude towards Alphonse for resquing her from a life of poverty and squalour. This life she was saved from now encourages her to help those who are less frtunate than her thus further confirming her posistion an a truly idylic woman. “It was a necessity, a passion – remembering what she had suffered, and how she had been relieved, - for her to act her turn as the guardian angel to the afflicted”.
This inturn makes her solely dependant on Alphonse which is in great contrast to the young woman who was attempting to afford her own life and support herself. This inability to suppor oneself is a reminder of the common belief that women could not possibly support themselves without the aid of men. Elizabeth is first presented as a gift for Victor “my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only” and from that moment on their lives are inexplicably intertwined. Her nature to be concerned for the welfare of those around her was often paramount to her own feelings anddesires. She indeed vieled her grief, and strove to act as the comforter to us all. She looked steadily on life, and assumed its duties with courage and zeal. ” It is this that makes her the epitimy of all women as she ebodies everything that a women was expected to be. Despite her admirable qualities Elizabeth is still considered less than her ale counterparts. There are obvious gender inqualities that surface during an analysis of the gender representations of the female characters in Frankenstein and themselves help to enlighte the reader as the the disadvantage of women and inspire action to induce change.
The correspondance between Robert Walton and his sister Margret is both an example of the gender representation of women but also a reflection of the relationship between Victor and Elizabeth. The attitude of Walton towards his sister concerning his current occupation and her concerns regarding this venture is eveident in his letters to her. “An enterprise which you have regarded with such eveil forebodeings”. This attitute suggests Walton does not consider the opinion of his sister to be worthy of consideration. This is due to his belief that she is wholly ignorant of the force that drives him to carry out such goals.
Accompanying this is the absence of any information regarding Margret's life aside from the fact that she lives in London and is married with children. Walton does not show concern for his sister's life or that of his crew as he seems fully egrosed in his quest to make it to the “land of ice and snow” and does not so much as think of others. “I would sacrifice my fortune, my existance, my every hope, to the furtherance of my enterprise. One man's life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which i sought”.
This draws a very strong parallel to the mind of a young Victor Frankenstein who was also consumed with work, neglected not only his family as Walton does but also his health. Victor does not even consider sharing the existance of his creation until he is convinced he will face and surely die at the hands of the monster on his wedding night. Both Walton and Frankenstein do not consider their female counterparts capeable of fully comprehending their ventures and as a result do not disclose them. The similarities between these two relationships is a device through which we are elightened to the universal position of women within the novel.
Gender representations present within the novel are able to clearly illustrate the differing standards of judgment placed upon male and female. This is expressed through a variety of examples, the one that draws upon similar circumstances in order to clearly show the fatal flaws of the elevated status of men is the sentancing and subsequent death of Justine for the murder of William Frankenstein. This can be compared closely with the trial of Victor later in the novel for the murder of Henry Clerval. Despite many similarities there are several aspects of both trials that determine the course of events.
During the proession of the trial Justine remians adamant of her complete innocence in spite of the evidence that is mounted against her. Elizabeh who is stirred by the obious injusice that is occuring speaks out in favour of Justine. “I believe and rely on her perfect innocence. She had no temptation for such an action: as to the bauble on which the chief proof rests, if she had earnestly desired it, i should have willingly given it to her; so much do i esteem and value her”. Elizabeth's courageous act to fight for Justine, however, falls on deaf ears and is ultimatly not sufficient enough to save her from death.
In contrast to this the trial of Victor for the murder of Henry Clerval results him being found innocent. During the trial Victor admits to being the one who murdered Henry even though he was not guilty of the crime. “I called myself the murderer of William, Justine and of Clerval. ” Vicor had admittted to just as Justine had, however, instead of the words of Elizabeth to fight for his aquital they are he words of Mr. Kirwin. He is an influential member of society and as a result is able to use his position to form a case that will set Victor free. “Mr. Kirwin charged himself with every care of collecting witnesses, andarrangin my defence.. . The decisive moment in each trial is the defence of the accused by those arround them. However, due to the preconseived gender boundaries elizabeth's word is not enough to save her. The two very different decisions made were refective of the influence of the representatives of those accused. Due largely to Elizabeth's gender her pleas are not heard and Justine is found guilty. The presence of gender inequalities causes the death in part of an innocent party whilst reinoforicing the innocent pleas of a man. A true and comprehensive gender reading will encompas all aspects of the novel, this includes the male characters.
They are able to exercise great inflence over the women in the novel and this further reiforces the common belief in society that men are superior to women. The arrogance and self centered nature of man is exposed in contrast to the representation of the angelic female in order to reinforce the message that there should be no distinction. Victor is a prime example of this, he embodies this figure, adventurous, arrogant and knowledgeable. “If i could banish disease from he human frame and render man invulnerableto any but a violent death”.
Victor believes he can accomplish this task and in doing so he goes against the laws of nature, defying God and this is what truly brings about the demise of Victor and by connection those arround him. Through his identity the author is able to communicate the insolent nature of man an his flaws whilst encouraging feminine growth and the elevation of women from a position beneath men to one of equal standing. The representations of gender that are examined in the novel Fankenstein are both complex and vitally important to the social structure and harmony of society.
Mary Shelley has successullyconstructed a text that sheds a blinding light on the drastic difference in gender equality within the world at this time. By portraying the charcters so, she has opened the readers eyes to a world that exists without equality but rather a rigid class system. An effective analysis of this structure enlighens the reader to a situation that should not exist and so they should take away that message and be inspired to eradicate any form of inequality and pomote a society free from the social constraints of gender expecations.