During the 18th and 19th centuries, women were seen as inferior to men by society. Similarly in the novel, Frankenstein, women lacked any leading roles. Throughout “Frankenstein”, the audience hears from three main perspectives, all of which are men. At first glance, it appears that the female characters in the story have no role in its development, which is ironic, seeing as Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft is known as one of the first feminists of her time and fully believed women should be treated as the equals of men. However, the theme of feminism in Frankenstein could come from the fact that each of these men are agreeably morally and ethically flawed. So although during this time period, Women were seen as weak possessions for and protected by men, as the inferior sex, Shelley is actually making a feminist point to defy their stereotypical roles as women, and display her opinions regarding feminism. Her novel, Frankenstein unveils these problems that were and still are relevant in the world, regarding women.
In “Frankenstein”, Caroline Beaufort (later Caroline Frankenstein), is illustrated as the perfect daughter, wife and eventual mother. She worked when her father became ill, and as his symptoms grew worse she stayed home to take care of her father, because that seems to be what was expected of her (Shelley 40). When her father died, she was left to fend for herself, and was soon taken in by her father’s best friend,Alphonse Frankenstein and “placed under [his protection]” (Shelley 40). Women were are still are considered by many to be the protected sex. For example, men are thought of as the head and protector of a household. Alphonse “rescues” Caroline , suggesting that she was incapable of surviving and taking care of herself and fulfilling her purpose without a man in her life. This act of protection, makes Caroline out to be the damsel in distress, that past and present society can often view women as, after something traumatic occurs She was never really given a substantial role because she went from being a daughter to a wife, and then mother. Mary Shelley sort of mocks society’s views on a woman’s place in the household by elaborating on the idea that women are good for being daughters, wives, and mothers, with no other role in community.
Additionally it can be seen in Frankenstein that women are viewed as possessions. This is particularly evident in the relationship between Elizabeth and Victor. Elizabeth Lavenza was adopted by the Frankenstein Family as a young girl and when brought home to Geneva, Caroline addressed her as “a pretty present for [her] dear Victor”. This just shows that from the beginning, Elizabeth was seen as a gift and possession for the male character, Victor. It is evident to the audience that Victor does admire Elizabeth, however it is arguable that he does view her as a submissive sex. He does not do this with blunt offense, though, he just belittles her existence by viewing her as “his”object, which he does throughout the story.
Victor spoke of Elizabeth in saying like “she will be mine only” (Shelley 23), “my sweet” (Shelly 46). Mary Shelley’s intention in using these words of ownership, further demonstrate how Victor perceived Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s main role in the text seems to expose the way women are/were treated and seen by men and society. This claim is further demonstrated when Frankenstein’s creature uses Elizabeth as a prop to seek revenge against Victor, which reveals the extent to which she was seen as Victor’s possession (Shelley 168). All of this combined in the text, just validates Mary Shelley’s point that men, and in this case, Victor, did not view women as their equals, and instead their possessions.
As the story develops, Mary Shelley reveals some on her views on marriage and relationships. On Caroline Frankenstein’s death bed, she begs Victor and Elizabeth to be married as all her “hopes of future happiness were placed on [this] prospect” (Shelley 49). During the 19th century, arranged marriages were common, and yet again, the women were given no say about the matters of their marital affairs. Elizabeth’s role in the text is further advanced when she dies the night she and Victor are wed; her death may be a direct reflection on how Mary Shelley feels about relationships like Victor and Elizabeth’s, and possibly marriage in general.
The audience can imply that Shelley does display the ideal relationship in the story as well, though, through the characters, Safie and Felix. Safie is displayed as the model woman, as Mary Shelley talks about her as being brave, independent, and strong -willed. Safie’s “generous nature” and “outrage to commands” made her the perfect combination of sweet but strong (Shelley 113). This strong-willed nature was unheard of for women at this time, which makes her admirable to feminists, like Mary Shelley. Safie defied her father’s instructions and fled Paris to search for her lover, Felix. Although Safie’s existence and story lasts only for a few pages, her womanhood is desirable and ideal, women like this were close to non-existent during this time, because of what society said was the norm.
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