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View on Frankenstein

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has been characterized as feminine book with feminist agenda. Earlier feminist critics have attributed various feminist themes to Frankenstein. They analyzed the whole novel in the feminist framework and tried to interpret the various themes associated with feminism. These expressions of feminist view clearly manifest that Frankenstein is an epitome of Shelly’s concern for feminine status and stature in the 18th century patriarchal society.

The most illustrative work to locate the feminist themes in the Frankenstein is provided by Johanna Smith in her provocative work ‘Cooped up’: Feminine Domesticity in Frankenstein. Johanna M. Smith, a professor of English at the University of Texas, focussed on two major feminist themes. She is of the view that female and male sphere are separated and females are subjugate to males characters. She further tries to reinforce the view that the presence of female characters in the novel is only to replicate the male characters.

The very first part of Smith’s essay takes into accounts the historical perspective and tries to interpret the historical factors involved in the making of the novel. She is of the view that the socio-economic milieu of 19th century and the patriarchal social structure. She illustrates that this period of time was marked by subjugation of females and women were dependent on men socially, mentally, economically and psychologically. Smith further argued that in that era woman “was conditioned to think she needed a man’s help” (Smith 275).

Shelly depicted this dilemma in a very subtle way through her feminine characterization in the novel. No female character of the novel has a direct and persuasive communication. These female characters speak through their respective male characters. Their communication is overshadowed by their respective strong male characters i. e. Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and Frankenstein’s monster. Johanna Smith illustrates that these three male characters dominate the narration of the novel. Another feministic observation by Johanna Smith reveals that Women characters are frail and feeble.

She concentrates on the character of Elizabeth. Although her role in the family is larger than other characters in the novel but like other female characters, her role also lacks the essence of a powerful character. Smith manifested that the triviality of the female characters is further enhanced by the death episode of Elizabeth. Smith argues that Elizabeth death must be contrasted with Henry murder. When Henry is killed, Shelly arouses the sympathies of the readers toward Victor as he has lost a lifetime friend but when Elizabeth is murdered, readers find it hard to create a rapport with Frankenstein who feels for Elizabeth.

Professor Smith provides all these examples to prove her point that in the 18th century society was repressive and “women function not in their own right but rather as signals of and conduits for men’s relations with other men” (Smith, p283). The framework that Johanna Smith utilized to search out the feminist theme is both textual and extra-textual. She has analyzed the characterization, language, motifs and symbolic manifestation within the text to locate the feminist trends.

Smith analysis substantially manifests that Shelly uses the form of the novel i. e. weak characterization of the female characters and the plot to illustrate that how subtly and beautifully Shelly merged the feminist theme in the grand structure of her novel. The feminist framework work of criticism and interpretation of Frankenstein by Johanna Smith is in line with a long tradition of feminist criticism on the stated novel. Her first major assumption about the frailty and triviality of women characterization is valid and well supported. The text of Frankenstein is full of examples that establish the validity of Professor Smith’s arguments.

It [text] illustrates the fact that women characters are weak and their presence in the novel is merely to reflect the more domineering male characters. For example at each crisis episode, these women are unable to react promptly and properly. At the death of William, Elizabeth, the most elaborated female character of the novel, “fainted, and was restored with extreme difficulty” (Shelley 70). Justine behaves in the similar fashion,”[T]he morning on which the murder of poor William had been discovered, Justine had been taken ill, and confined to her bed for several days” (Shelley 76).

Their existence is overshadowed by male characters. They behave passively and try to comply with needs of their males. After the deaths of William and Justine, Elizabeth tells Victor, “These events have affected me, God knows how deeply; but I am not so wretched as you are… Have we lost the power of rendering you happy? ” (Shelley 90). Professor Smith’s argument that women characters are there to reflect the male characters is strong. Most of the feminine activities and thoughts are encircles by their concern for their men. Women are nothing in their own capacity but a mere facilitator and provider of male happiness and pleasures.

For example Caroline’s offering of Elizabeth is obviously an indication of such exercises in the novel. Caroline organizes the marriage of Victor and Elizabeth for the sole motive of soothing Alphonse in his miseries and pathos. Shelley state that “She [Elizabeth] joined the hands of Elizabeth and myself: “My children,” she said, “my firmest hope of future happiness were placed on the prospect of your union. This expectation will now be the consolation of your father. Elizabeth, my love, you must supply my place to my younger children. ” (Chapter3)

Professor Smith’s second major argument is related to the domestic span of the social life represented in Frankenstein. She is of the view that states Shelley has created a complete disparity in the domestic life of the two genders and separation of their spheres of activities. She asserts that Frankenstein family has a “bookkeeping mentality” about them. (Smith 279). She further states that this bookkeeping mentality can be discerned from the inappropriate and exaggerated thankfulness and gratitude shown by the each member of Frankenstein family.

She says, “Gratitude, no matter how heartfelt, implies obligation, which in turn implies the power of the person to whom one is grateful or obligated. The insistence on gratitude and obligation induces a bookkeeping mentality that permeates all the relations in this novel” (Smith 279). Johanna Smith provides examples to support his viewpoint. For example when Victor was suffering from flu and looked after by Henry, Victor’s first reaction was “How shall I ever repay you? ” (Smith 63). Although Professors Smith analysis provides an in-depth knowledge into the feminist realms of the novels but it overlooks certain aspects of novel.

The novel, as the genre most perceptibly provides an insight into the social and materials realities. For example she disregarded domestic restriction and enslavement. She further neglects an important theme that Shelley tried to relate artfully. The novel manifests that although females are separated from out male domain but they exercise their power within the domain of home. Child rearing activity and influence on their children is a manifestation of such power. The way in which she did this was through child rearing.

Her children were her means of expressing power. Such influence and power is manifested through the example of Caroline’s presentation of Elizabeth to her son Victor; On the evening previous to her being brought to my home, my mother had said playfully, “I have a pretty present for my Victor – tomorrow he shall have it. ” And when on the morrow, she presented Elizabeth to me as her promised gift, I, with childish seriousness, interpreted her words literally and looked upon Elizabeth as mine – mine to protect, love and cherish. (Chapter 1)

Smith negates some other important points like the education of the monster is symbolic manifestation of the education of women in 18th century. Frankenstein clearly illustrates that the struggle and activities of the monster to educate himself is a reflection of 18th century women’s activities to rely on their own resources to educate themselves. These symbolic parallels present the ideas of only option available to those women i. e. self education. All aspects of gender issues regarding Frankenstein are not taken in hand by Professor Smith.

I think that in addition to multi-faceted gender issues, broad social and cultural subject should be addressed i. e. the communication patterns learnt by monster, the fear of the unknown and a unique uncertainty that prevails in the novels, perversion of creative process etc. This will produce an all-encompassing analysis of the whole novel

References Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus. A Longman cultural ed. New York: Longman, 2003. Smith, Johanna M. “Cooped Up”: Feminine Domesticity in Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, Ed. Johanna M. Smith. St. Martin’s Press, 1989.

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