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The Different Images of Women

The Different Images of Women as Portrayed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Selected Stories, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Through the years, women have already been a popular topic and focus of literary works. Their ambiguity, complexity, naivety, sincerity, calmness, and peculiar moods have made them such amusing characters that people easily empathize with. However, over the years, there have also been a lot of controversies and issues associated with the usage of women as themes in literary works.

In the perspective of the feminists for example, the portrayal of women as weak, passive, and mere submissive companions and sex slaves will definitely be a violation of their concept of women’s true essence. Yet, a lot of other issues spring from the depiction of women in literary works. One of these would be the eternal issue of gender prejudice which entails a rather passive and inactive role for women in the society.

Another one would be the impression that women are but weak creatures that always fall short in impressing and proving their worth in the society. These are just some among all the many issues associated with the portrayal of women in literature. A lot of works have been cited which reflect these issues, and some of these works which have represented different notions about women are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Selected Stories, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

These works have been observed to present women in different ways in which they could be identified and described as members of the society, and as to how the society really sees and treats women. Thus, this paper intends to explore whether such portrayal of women in these three literary works is realistic or a mere reflection of how difficult it is to eradicate gender prejudice in the society. The Portrayal of Women in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

The initial impression and notion that readers would typically have on this work by Mary Shelley would be that it is a plain horror story which depicts a monstrous creature made from the physical remains of different people. However, if a reader would read more critically between the lines and analyze the characterizations of the story, he or she may notice that it actually mentions so little about women. As the story strongly portrays a lot of male characters, it apparently shows very little or basically no emphasis on female characters.

The only female characters mentioned are Walton’s sister, to whom he addressed his letters and who never had a dialogue in the original text; Elizabeth Lavenza, who never had much appearance in the text compared to the male protagonists; and the supposed female companion of the monster who was never even put to life and was thrown out into a river even before she breathed life just like the monster protagonist in the story. In a nutshell, Shelley’s Frankenstein appears to be an adventure and horror story of purely male characters alone.

This apparent difference in emphasizing characters may in several ways be associated with the perceived dominance of men in the society. Considering the decade when this work was published, it appears understandable why such bias in emphasizing male characters over the female characters was applied since the society during this time was basically male-dominated. During the time when Frankenstein was written, the world was surrounded with the notion that men are the stronger and more powerful counterparts of women.

They were always seen as more powerful and influential which might be one of the main reasons why they are also portrayed in the same manner in literary works, just like in this work by Shelley. Aside from the lack of strong characterization and emphasis, there appears to be a considerable amount of gender discrimination in Shelley’s work because apart from the weak portrayal of women in the said story, the women are also depicted to be merely passive and unreceptive, if not a totally insignificant part of the plot.

The story was filled with women who did not even have enough lines to prove their worth and relevance in the story. This portrayal may appear upsetting for sensitive feminists that, despite their honest effort of uplifting women, they are still portrayed in such weak, submissive, and passive manner along with the very strong, destructive, and even monstrous appearances that literary characters present. Thus, this could also be reflective of how Shelley perceived and regarded her own gender during her time of accomplishing Frankenstein.

In several ways, this novel appears not only as a “mere tale of specters and enchantment” (P. Shelley xxvi) but also as a manifestation of men’s dominance in terms of power and authority during the time it was completed. The Portrayal of Women in Kate Chopin’s, The Awakening and Selected Stories Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Selected Stories is a collection of short stories depicting women and their desires, struggles, triumphs, and dilemmas as caused by their role in the society and the impression the society imposes on them.

In this literary work, the inner most thoughts and ideas of women are reflected in such a way that readers would feel like they are bestowed the ability to read into women’s minds. This alone can be considered an apparent effort of the author and the novel itself to present and portray women’s views in the form of creative literature in order for them to be understood. During the earlier times, during the Victorian era for example, women were rarely made central a topic or focus of literary works. More often than not, the works during this time stressed on power and authority held by their more dominant counterpart: the men.

Aside from this, women were also often depicted as a mere submissive and passive creature that does not possess any choice but to remain as a simple housekeeper who does not have a say in any major decisions, which is men’s basic task. However, Chopin’s work is the exact opposite. It works on presenting women’s views as a trivia that is new to people’s consciousness. Chopin exposed the innermost thoughts and views of women which clearly explain the reason behind their seemingly complex and incomprehensible actions. One story which may appear remarkable in this collection is A Respectable Woman.

This is a story about Mrs. Baroda, a woman who is struggling to fight off her passionate attraction and feelings for her husband’s colleague, an emotion which is difficult for Mrs. Baroda to explain satisfactorily to herself (Chopin 229). In this modern and liberated society, people are used to hearing about women having extra-marital affairs. The typical impression that people would have about these women would be that they are weak, they are immoral, and they are violators of their marriage vows. However, when it comes to men’s affairs, the society will tend to remain lenient and tolerant.

This story appears to be the total explanation and exposition of what goes on in a woman’s mind whenever temptation attacks her. This story clarifies that rather than simply and weakly succumbing to the temptation at once, women are stronger than how society expects them to be and tries hard to avoid the temptations once they come and test them. The society has always had the notion that women are nothing but weak creatures when it comes to tests and temptations, but this story clearly portrays that the real strength of women comes from their minds as they try to fight temptation off their system through their mind power.

However, once they prove that their desire is indeed stronger than their will, they know better than to deny such desire and deprive themselves of the happiness and contentment which go with succumbing to such desires. At the end of the story, Mrs. Baroda seems to have given up to her passionate liking for her husband’s colleague. The lines and dialogues that Mrs. Baroda exchanged with her husband clearly show that Chopin sees women as people who know that they are not worthy of deprivation and of rules, regulations, and impressions that the society imposes on them which hinder their true happiness and content.

This story hence appears to be the total representation of how women become strong—enough to withstand temptation and at the same time know what is good for them or not. The Portrayal of Women in Joseph Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad’s work, The Heart of Darkness, is a complex presentation of the cruelty and madness which can be associated with prejudice and discrimination brought by ethnic and racial bias. At first reading, one could immediately observe the story’s main theme: the injustice from all the hostility and abuse brought by racial prejudice.

However, upon a critical and analytical reading of the text, a reader may notice that this story has a peculiar way of portraying women and their perceived image in the society, as reflected through Kurtz character which has the most complex and ambiguous characterization in the story. He also has that unique way of dealing with women as he had a fiance waiting in another country and another ethnic mistress in the land where he was in. In this story, women as mistresses and sex slaves are typical portrayals. Most of the main protagonists in the story are the men who dominated most of the plot.

On the other hand, women are presented as mere heir of one’s ivory or a mistress who acts as a slave to her male master. Very little or almost none is mentioned in the story which can help emphasize the perceived role and significance of women in the society. This implies that in this story, men appear to be indisputably the more dominant members of the society as compared to their female counterparts. Just like many of the works that delve into issues about women, Heart of Darkness also seems to focus on subordination and repression of women.

In this story, aside from being a mere heir of wealth or mistress, women did not have any more professional or respectable roles. They were not presented as authoritative and powerful as men, which suggests that they do not have much perceived supremacy over men, at least as how the author of this book tells the readers. Thus, in a lot of ways, other than being a story about racial prejudice and madness, Heart of Darkness is also proof that there really existed a time in the world’s history when the suppression and repression of women have been very evident even in the field of literature.

Unlike the power and authority played by the male characters in most works, women seem to be mere slaves and passive housekeepers whom their male counterparts can just depend on anytime. This story is just one of those works which portray women as submissive and meek members of the society who do not possess much ability to do decisions, to fight in a battle, to work, and to earn herself a life of her own. Aside from this, based on how they were depicted in this story, it can be inferred show that their perspectives and thoughts do not matter at all in this male-dominated world—only their physical presence and the services they can do.

Comparing the Theme of the Image of Women as Portrayed in the Three Abovementioned Books If there is one thing that the three aforementioned books established about the significance of women as a thematic focus of literature, it is that women are characters which give color and complete the seemingly monotonous and lonely tone of male-dominated texts. These three stories prove that without talking about women or without incorporating women into the plots of the stories, the tales will nonetheless remain as plain and dull epics of seemingly similar male heroes and protagonists.

Indeed, female characters and their images serve as the finishing detail which adds color and dynamics to the seemingly tiresome epics of men. However, these three stories have different applications of the image of women. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, women appear to have tiny roles and seem to be a rather insignificant part of the plot. Literally, women serve as mere completion to the empty spots which needed some characterization. In this story, women appear to have been portrayed as mere submissive and unopinionated individuals who can never match men’s power, authority, and ability.

In several ways, this story suggests that as men continue to become more powerful and dominant in the society, they will also remain as more influential in literary works than women. On the other hand, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and Selected Stories appears to be in contrast with Frankenstein’s depiction of women. Chopin’s work became an ultimate portrayal and representation of women’s real thoughts and opinions about their individualities and the roles that they play. Chopin’s work also serves as an exposition of how women really feel about the rule, limitations, and suppressions that the society has imposed on them since time immemorial.

The innermost thoughts and views presented in this work counter the insignificant portrayal of women in Frankenstein, since in this work, women appear to be more empowered and opinionated. They seem to be strong and willful in their desires and goals regardless of all the limitations and repressions the society puts on them. Lastly, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is another representation of how commonly suppressed and repressed women are to the point that they are typically perceived as mere mistresses who are as low as slaves.

In many ways, this portrayal appears to be similar to and supportive of the depiction of women in Shelley’s Frankenstein. No matter how much effort women today may exert in fighting for their equal rights and considerations with men, even literature itself will prove that their goal seems to be a very difficult and seemingly impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, regardless of how women are portrayed in literature, whether such depiction will upset and appall feminists or not, what these representations basically prove is that women will always be the color which paints the dull world of men.

Just like the monster in Frankenstein and Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, it appears that each man will end up lonesome and desperate without a woman to stand as their companion and better and equal half rather than his subordinate or slave. Works Cited Chopin, Kate. The Awakening and Selected Stories. Filiquarian Publishing, LLC, 2007. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: with the Congo Diary. New York: Penguin Classics, 1995. Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. New York: Oxford University press, 1998.

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