In the eighteenth century, when Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ was written, there were many social restraints placed upon women, but where men were still relatively free. An example of this is from up until a few decades ago where the men were expected to go out and work while the women were to stay at home, doing the cooking and housework. In this essay, I am going to attempt to find out if Mary Shelley has demonstrated these social restraints in the book ‘Frankenstein’, and to discuss these restraints and their effects upon the characters.
During the time when ‘Frankenstein’ was written, the women were considered much less important than the men. This is also displayed in the book where when Justine was to be hanged. Elizabeth tried to save Justine Moritz although failed to save her and she was then hanged. Victor Frankenstein, however, knew that he could save Justine if he wanted to, but didn’t want to for fear of being prosecuted himself, as he would have to reveal that he let a monster, his own creation, into the world.
This also shows that men are supposedly higher than women because a woman at this time would give up her life to save a man, yet a man would not give up his life to save a woman, shown here, making the men seem of a higher class than the women. The fact that women were considered less important than men can also be displayed, where, near the beginning of the book Victor’s mother, Caroline Beaufort, spoke to Victor about the arrival of his adopted sister, Elizabeth: “I have a pretty present for my Victor, tomorrow he shall have it. ”
Here Elizabeth is being referred to as a present, not a human being, thus putting her lower down in the social status. If Victor were to be adopted then he would most probably be treated completely different to Elizabeth and Elizabeth would still be referred to as a present, like a welcoming present. Again, later, he speaks of Elizabeth as his possession, not a real human: “… Mine to Protect, love and Cherish” Showing that Victor took his mother’s words seriously and so he talks about her like his property, protecting her, loving her and cherishing her.
This also shows that the men are there to protect the women and that most of the women are the men’s most prized possessions, as nowhere else in the book does it say this, although the women would give up their life to save the men, yet probably still not vice versa, as the males still see themselves as the higher class. Another quote that could display this is where Victor’s father met Caroline Beaufort and he “He came like a protecting spirit to the poor girl, who committed herself to his care”
When Caroline had just become “an orphan and a beggar” after the recent death of her father, Victor’s father came as the man to save her, almost like the knight in shining armour: “He strove to shelter her, as a fair exotic is sheltered by the gardener, from every rougher wind… ” This was only performed by the men to the more beautiful, or at least more talented, of the beggars, that were once good friends or rich: “Caroline Beaufort possessed a mind of an uncommon mould; and her courage rose to support her in her adversity”
And her father was once a good friend of the Frankenstein’s, until he passed away. During the eighteenth century, another social ideal is that the men are supposed to hold to their opinions, about what they do, the religion they believe in etc. , although the women are supposed to follow what the man of the house (the husband or father) does. A good example of this in ‘Frankenstein’ is where Victor reads a book and his father replies to what he is reading: “Ah, Cornelius Agrippa!
My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash. ” Normally, a woman would be expected to stop reading this, but a man would have the decision to carry on reading, or to stop. In this case Victor acknowledged his father although continued to read: “And I continued to read with greatest avidity” Thus showing that the men can decide what they want but if this was changed around then Victor’s father would tell Elizabeth to stop reading the book, not just ask, showing the men to have more freedom than the women.