The Social Effects of Men Throughout the history of society, men and women have procured their own particular gender roles. Though it is true that in modern times, men and women are accepted as equals with generally impartial opportunities, there have been past eras that reflect the ultimate separation of gender. At the turn of the nineteenth century, women took on a more supportive and sympathetic role in the intimate privacy of personal life, while men went out into the working world as dominant forces in society.
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This distinct polarity between the roles of men and women distributed them into their separate social spheres, with men residing publicly and women in privacy. Over time, these gender roles grew increasingly polarized; women began to feel the social constraints being placed upon them as they conveyed the characteristics of being emotional and passive, while men were characterized by being rational, active, and aggressive. These gender roles influenced many feminist writers, including Mary Shelley.
Since women were expected to remain passive in a society dominated by men, writers such as Shelley used literature to represent the message of social female suppression as women attempted to emerge into the public sphere and make a feminine mark on society. For Shelley, this pertains to the struggle of establishing herself as a respected author in society and the repercussions posed by her audaciousness. In her novel Frankenstein, Shelley portrays the distinction between gender roles in society by personifying the creatures in the novel to illustrate the effects of a male-dominated world upon feminine interaction.
Throughout the story, it is evident that nearly all of the female characters encountered are depicted as passive and powerless. These females are all in relation to Victor Frankenstein, a controlling, self-centered male who desires to become the creator of a living being through scientific endeavors. While Victor is away pursuing opportunities and studying at a university, the women in his family are left to tend to one another and passively remain in the privacy of their home. His mother, Caroline, dies as she nurses her sweet Elizabeth, Victor’s cousin, back to health.
Elizabeth, though equally bright and promising, is not offered the opportunities that Victor receives simply because of her gender. Justine Moritz, the family servant, is accused of murder and executed despite her innocence. As these women remain submissive and defenseless at home, Victor reaches the climax of his studies and ultimately gives life to an inanimate collaboration of previously living parts. After this creation is brought to life, he is faced with the realization of the pain, loneliness, and deformity he has bestowed upon it.
The creature is eloquent and persuasive, and requests that Victor creates a female being to be his counterpart and grace him with a companion of his own species. He offers the compromise to vacate human society with his mate and never to face mankind again. Victor’s unease and apprehension toward the creature, as well as the established passiveness of the other female characters, foreshadows the unfortunate outcome for the new female creation. Victor initially obliges to the request and embarks on the same process in which he originally constructed the creature.
He takes a moment to reflect on the production of this female duplication of his original misfortune: “I was now about to form another being, of whose dispositions I was alike ignorant; she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate, and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness. He had sworn to quit the neighbourhood of man, and hide himself in deserts; but she had not; and she, who in all probability was to become a thinking and reasoning animal, might refuse to comply with a compact made before her creation.
They might even hate each other; the creature who already lived loathed his own deformity, and might not conceive a greater abhorrence for it when it came before his eyes in the female form? ” (Shelley 114). Victor second-guesses his actions as he evaluates the possible outcomes of creating a human female at the work of his own hands. He immediately expects the worst from the female creature, characterizing her with words such as “malignant”, “wretchedness”, and “abhorrence”. Unlike the creation of the male being, Victor considers every fatalistic scenario that could possibly occur with her creation.
He is fearful of the female, and the capabilities he may bestow upon her. He realizes that she may become a “thinking and reasoning animal”, and that she would refuse to leave mankind like the male creature had already predetermined. This signifies Victor’s fear of female independence, and his natural assumption that the female should oblige to the decisions made by the male. Victor’s hesitation, and ultimate abortion of the creation of the female is evident of the authoritative and dominant nature of men in society.
The female creature personifies the woman being released into society with the possibility of being independent and self empowered, while Victor’s cease of her creation shows the male dominance and suppression of her emergence. Victor’s choice to deprive the creature of his equal female counterpart is reflective of the world in which Mary Shelley produced the novel itself. Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, the feminist author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, voiced ideals of gender equality and eliminating separate gendered social spheres.
Literary critic Anne K. Mellor stated, “That unique phenomenon envisioned by Mary Wollstonecraft, the wife as the lifelong intellectual equal and companion of her husband, does not exist in the world of nineteenth-century Europe experienced by Mary Shelley” (Mellor 278). It is evident that Shelley was writing in a time that did not accept the views of feminism, which is what led her to utilize personification of characters in her story to allow her to portray the actual inequality and injustice of humankind that occurred between genders.
Because of the fear and lack of feminine significance felt by males of this time, Shelley uses the situation of Victor attempting to right his corruption of the natural reproductive process by creating a female counterpart for the creature, but instead aborting his solution, to exemplify the injustice of male dominance in society. In comparison to the personification of the female creature to portray the suppressing effects of men, Shelley explores an even more complex example of this concept with the original creature.
The creature himself, though established as a male, is of his own entirely distinct species that is feared and misunderstood by the rest of society. Upon encountering Victor, the creature describes his journey through his tangles of life and admits his realizations as he evaluated himself: “And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endowed with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man.
I was more agile than they, and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded their’s. When I looked around, I saw and heard of none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned? ” (Shelley 81). After being exposed to humans and mankind through observation, the creature questions himself and realizes that he cannot embody the expectations of a true male identity in society.
He is completely on his own, residing outside of the social code and normalcy of natural humans. He admits he is aware of his lack of social expectations; he has “no money, no friends, no kind of property”. His utter hideousness and deformity prevents him from being accepted into society, as his nature of being an entirely different species keeps him from identifying with either males or females. Overall, this personifies the disadvantages of a dominant male society as the creature embodies the displaced person that does not belong in the public sphere.
Through this idea, the essence of the creatures can be perceived as the lack of acceptance received by independent women departing from the private sphere and emerging into a world controlled by men. In her critical essay, Ashley J. Cross underlines the connection between the creature and a social female, stating “Excluded, misunderstood, deformed, and imposed on, the creature represents the heavy weight early nineteenth-century patriarchal society places on the woman writer who attempts to enter the public sphere and maintain her feminine propriety” (Cross 5).
Women who were bold enough to state their femininity and independence were rejected and misconstrued by the social expectations in place during their time. They are not viewed as normal, and may be said to be some sort of deformity of society. In direct relation to this, the creature is also an excluded, misunderstood deformity of a human society that fails to fit into its codes due to a lack of gendered identity, leaving him to fall victim to the costs posed by a male dominated society striving for normalcy.
Though the story of Frankenstein can be critically analyzed in many different ways, the establishment of gender roles and their places in society will always be prevalent through its reading. Shelley’s use of personification of the creatures allows the reader to understand their inferiority and misfortune, as well as how that correlates with a society dominated by males. Both creations are relatable to the distinctive characteristics of a female in this type of humankind, and how they exemplify the disadvantages that occur in result of male dominance.
By reading Shelley’s novel through this critical lens, it is evident to obtain the pertinence of the polarization of gender roles during her time as well as her choice to convey this through the distinct personification of separate creatures. The reader can then gain a better understanding of nineteenth century women and the struggle they faced as they attempted to make their mark on a society controlled and dominated by males in comparison to the equality and acceptance that women experience today. Word Count = 1679
Works Cited Cross, Ashley J. “‘Indelible Impressions’: Gender and Language in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. ” Women’s Studies 27. 6 (1998): 547. University Libraries. University of Arizona. Web. 2 Mar. 2010. . Mellor, Anne K. “Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein. ” Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. Print. Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. 274-86. Print.