Women In Frankenstein

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein employs all of the literary standards of the gothic horror novel. Nightmares, murder, monsters, and madness are just some of the devices that rear their ugly heads within the narrative. But there is an added element which makes the doubly horrifying to any unsuspecting feminist who might decide to pick up this classic, and that is the strict division of gender roles that are assigned to the novel’s characters.

The domestic circle that the Frankenstein family represents might be more shocking to some feminists than Victor’s own hideous progeny itself. This is truly a novel of oppressive gender extremes. Sexuality is repressed and ambiguous. The women are cheerfully subordinate; the men blindly egotistical. A good feminist interpretation of this novel should be a required supplement to any first reading of the text because gender/sexual tension can be found at the heart of every major issue in this novel.

Veeder put it most succinctly by stating that “the male protagonist attempts to usurp woman’s place and produce offspring parthenogenetically” (Veeder 43). All six critics made reference to this objective in one form or another. It seemed as though the only disagreement among them was whether or not the act was consciously malicious in Victor’s mind. Again, Veeder best represent the critics who answer “yes” to this question when he states that sexual conflict highlights the entire scope of the novel: “Man and woman disagree in the very first sentence of Frankenstein: ‘With your leave, my sister, I will put some trust in the preceding navigators’” (Veeder 40).

Other critics, of course, disagree with the theory that Victor’s intent was purposefully destructive. Three of the critiques that I reviewed incorporated a portion of psychoanalytic interpretation of Victor. Unsurprisingly enough gender roles were still at the heart of their arguments: One attributed Victor’s actions to narcissism (Wolfson), one to an unbalanced male ego (Dickerson), and another to hysteria brought on by repressed ‘unmanly’ emotions (Lowe): “If Victor’s understanding of himself as a gendered being is determined on the basis of emotional control, then overpowering, hysterical symptoms revel the frailty of his gendered construction. A man without rational self control is what? A lunatic? A woman?” (Hobbs162). It seems that no matter what the true motivations behind Victor’s actions were, gender identity remains an inescapably crucial factor (even more so relevant when the sex of the monster he created is considered).

The terms of gender identity are even more pronounced when the novel’s female characters are examined.
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