Throughout the novel, Frankenstein, a feminist theme subtly pervades the novel, and is crucial to the characters of the story, the plot line and the setting of the novel. The reasons for the creation of the monster lie within Frankenstein’s own familial relationships, especially with the grief he experienced at the loss of his mother. Frankenstein is riddled with passive female characters who suffer throughout the novel. However, not one female character throughout the novel ever exhibits behaviour outside of the submissive female role.
Elizabeth, Victor’s love, dies at the hand of the male creature, while waiting for Victor to rescue her. Elizabeth is unable to do anything to defend herself without the help of a man. Equally, Justine Moritz is sentenced to death for a murder the creature also committed. Once again, she is unable to defend herself and prove her innocence and dies for it. Some may argue that Justine is a victim of circumstance however, but her docile role leaves her helpless to make her own destiny and defend herself against the false accusation.
Mary Shelley’s own family life affected contents of the novel as well. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, a strong activist in the feminist movement, had died shortly after her own birth, and both her and her sister did not take kindly to their Father’s second wife, Mary Clairmont. During the nineteenth century, within Genevan society, where the novel was first written, men dominated the social and intellectual employment, whilst women only occupied the domestic work/lifestyle.
Although the passivity of female characters is at a constant throughout the novel, perhaps coming to the conclusion that Frankenstein is simply a misogynistic text is unreasonable. Shelley’s feminist background, as a daughter of Wollstonecraft, questions the motives behind stereotyping traits of all of the female characters in the novel. Also, Elizabeth and Justine both died far before the end of the novel. It can be argued that by emphasising the conservative qualities of the characters, Shelley was able to also define the negative aspects of the static female ole by exterminating female characters that fit that role.
By linking the submissive women with the negative demises, Shelley was able to emphasise the negative outcomes of their behaviour, contrasting with feminist ideals that would have in turn saved the character in each case. It can be debated that Shelley’s presentation of women after Caroline Beaufort’s death is the irreplaceable place of a mother or the assumption of roles by other characters. In the novel, Shelley seems to portray Caroline’s death as society’s view of women.
Caroline is easily discarded, performs the role of the mother and then perishes. The women in Frankenstein could also be seen as virtuous and caring, as Caroline sacrifices her own health knowingly in order to look after Justine and Elizabeth; “Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver. ” Elizabeth appears to represent a replacement mother figure within the Frankenstein family, spurred on by dying request of Caroline for her to “supply” her place to her “younger children”.
Agatha, as well, supplies this need within the DeLacey family by playing the womanly role. However, it is argued by some that a mother can never be truly replaced, and according to the maternal and biblical symbolism throughout this novel, the reader could be inclined to believe this is Shelley’s true opinion. Mary Shelley’s own mother died only eleven days after her birth, and it could be seen that the absence of a maternal figure is clear in Frankenstein.
The absence of the maternal figure shows the apparent breakdown of a family unit and seems to inspire an oedipal complex within both Frankenstein and the monster. Like in Frankenstein, the role of men in Brave New World has a complete higher standing to women, both physically and psychologically. Also in comparison to Frankenstein, women have a better understanding of emotions and have more social roles. The portrayal of male superiority is uniform throughout the novel, and starts by introducing that overall dominance with the tour of the Hatchery.
All the students on the tour are male and although maybe a minor detail, this shows that women are restricted to the things they do at an early age. During the tour, the students learn about pregnancies and that women are sterilised, yet the men aren’t. This short and important fact by the author exclaims the physiological dominance of men over women. The book shows no clear objection to leaving the future of their offspring in the hands of males, even if it is unhealthy. A specific character to talk about in Brave New World is Linda.
Linda is the character in the novel who opposes the traditional role of women in the book (and that of women in Frankenstein). Like in a lot of Huxley’s pieces, this novel centres heavily around sex. In Brave New World, sex is no longer used for procreation but for distraction and pacification. The act has been dehumanised and devoid of human passion. I feel in this, Huxley tries to argue whether the future of our lifestyle is a subjugation of a natural inclination toward monogamy or the freedom of sleeping with many people.
Linda is portrayed as the person opposing to modern culture, and causes the reader to question whether Huxley’s portrayal of women in Brave New World is apt. For her opposition to the modern culture, Linda is isolated, condemning her and her son to a marginal existence because of this. Another female character worth mentioning in Brave New World is Lenina Crowne, the main female character in the novel. Foster, Bernard and John are in awe of this woman, and it is puzzling to see why. She lacks intelligence, and is not particularly creative, interesting or unique.
A word that Huxley uses constantly is “pneumatic”. The official definition of this is ‘full of air’, which seems to mean she is curvy and all-round sexy. It could be argued that Aldous Huxley purposely used this word as a double meaning, that she’s pneumatic mentally also; she’s vapid (lifeless and dull). In contrast to Linda in the novel, Huxley’s constant use of “pneumatic” implies that she’s the epitome of the World State female. I feel it is clear throughout the novel, and corresponding to her previous upbringing and family, Frankenstein works as an indication to the treatment of women during that time.
Her portrayal of inferior women is ironic given she is the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft. Elizabeth could be seen as a sign of mistreatment to women as she is portrayed as the perfect woman who represents domestic bliss and harmony, while rejected by Victor Frankenstein in his “pursuit of knowledge”. The role of Elizabeth during the novel could work as a feminist warning also, as she magnifies Victor’s selfish character; “my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only. Likewise, in Brave New World, Aldous Huxley could have written the novel in order to show the wrong attitude towards women during the story. This could trigger spite towards the limits that women are still treated at, or were treated at when the novel was written. In conclusion to the two texts, the theme of feminism is still very relevant to the plot line in this modern age, although both works have been continuously adapted into different stories, plays and movies.
Both Huxley and Shelley represent their female characters as inferior to and reliant on men, as well as more emotional in both texts. I feel both the authors represent their female roles like this, and in a negative light, to receive a reaction from the reader; in order to think of how women are still treated in today’s society and back then. The fact that Frankenstein is still present in literature, theatre, and cinema attests to the perpetuity of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and her views on feminism in society.
Courtney from Study Moose
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