Frankenstein’s women are, as a rule, extremely passive. Their role is generally only to further the plot and be an accessory to the male leads, which from a modern perspective immediately gives the novel a sexist undertone. Safie’s only real importance is as a vessel for the English lessons that the monster learns from; Justine is framed for a male character’s crimes; Elizabeth waits for Victor until her eventual murder.
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Even Margaret, who the letters telling the story were addressed to, exists only to be told the events that Victor has lived through, not to really play a role in them herself. Put together, these facts paint a rather ugly picture.
If Frankenstein had been written by a man, perhaps we could argue that the lack of central female characters was due to ingrained sexism and an inability to really consider women as important. However, Mary Shelley was most definitely a woman, and that forces us to take a deeper look. Although there is a lack of prominent female characters, the emphasis on the mistakes and hubris of the male characters hints more feminist interpretations. The adherence to conventional gender roles and the general sidelining of female characters, instead of being sexist, serves to call attention to the negative qualities of the male characters, illustrate the reliance that men had on women, and highlight real issues that women of the time faced.
While Shelley did not include any major female characters, that isn’t necessarily such a bad thing in this particular story. Frankenstein places a heavy focus on the mistakes of men, and certainly doesn’t paint many important male characters in a positive light. Victor’s hubris, pursuit of glory, and lack of consideration for moral boundaries are among the primary themes in the novel. This places him as a stark opposite to the women in his life. The author doesn’t give female characters much attention, but we’re left with a better impression of them than of most of the male characters. In fact, all of the female characters seem to embody high moral standards. The selfless, patience, and kindness that these characters live by are important characteristics of the ideal Victorian woman,
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