Mary Shelley is the second born daughter of a great feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, who is perhaps the earliest proponent of the feminist wave. Mary Wollstonecraft expressly makes her stand known in advocating for the rights of the women in her novel, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, but her daughter is a bit reluctant to curve a niche about women in Frankenstein; The Modern Prometheus.
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Did Mary Wollstonecraft have any influence on her daughter’s writing Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus? Does Mary Shelley have the same zeal as her mother regarding the rights of women in the novel? “Men, in general, seem to employ their reason to justify prejudices, (Wollstonecraft pp. 7)” Her mother’s advocacy of feminism is outright.
Feminism is regarded as women having equal rights and equating to men in social status, economic, financially, just to mention a few and shining attention to the thesis that Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus is not a feminist novel.
Female Characters in Frankenstein
Practical analysis of the theme of feminism in the novel requires the study of the female characters and the role they play or how they are portrayed in the novel. We meet Victor Frankenstein’s mother, who died, and her death affected Frankenstein to the extent that Frankenstein sought to come up with a creation that would defy nature’s laws, for instance, death.
Justine is accused of the murder of William, and she accepts the accusations placed on her for William’s death, and this leads to her death. She does not prove that she did not kill William, and this portrays her to the reader as very weak. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is murdered by the monster, and she does not defend herself as she was waiting on victor to protect her from the monster.
This is a pointer that, in the context of the novel, women did not have much of the rights, and they depended on men portraying a very patriarchal culture. Elizabeth’s act of waiting for Victor to save her from the monster shows the position of the woman in the society such that Elizabeth only sees Victor as her savior, and there was nothing she did to defend herself from the monster.
Another way in which the theme of feminism comes out is through the way Frankenstein destroys the female companion whom he had agreed to create for the monster. This further indicates the passiveness of women in the novel or rather in society as a whole, as if women have no rights in society.
To further support my point, Frankenstein easily destroys the female companion even before he brought life to her, yet he is unable to destroy the monster as easily as the female one even after the monster had killed everybody he loved (Shelley 42).
“I pursued nature to her hiding place.” (Shelley 60) In the novel, nature has been likened to women, and the qualities that women possess are the same ones that nature possesses. The woman is portrayed as beautiful, and Frankenstein used to find consolation in the natural world.
Frankenstein runs away from the monster, and what is a better place than the heart of nature, the forest, to relax and reflect on what he has done? Mother Nature also provides the monster with food, water, and the basics that the monster required to survive. It is also in the forest that the monster self educates himself. This is a pointer that women are caring just like nature itself.
Though Victor Frankenstein created the monster (Shelley 56), he is unable to cater to the monster just the way a woman natures her infant from birth to the time the infant grows to be self-independent. Mary Shelley passed her point across that even if science is to take away that right and feeling that a woman has of giving birth, it is only the woman who has motherly instincts for science does not possess these motherly instincts.
The monster’s demands on his creator to have a female companion also indicate that women are compassionate and loving, for the monster wanted a female companion so that it would disappear from humankind.
Here one can see that women were taken as companions to men, and maybe the act of Frankenstein destroying the monster’s female companion was Shelley’s way of refuting societal commonly held norms that women can only become companions to men.
Victor expresses genuine pain when his friend Clerval is murdered by the monster, but when the monster also kills Elizabeth and Justine, Frankenstein’s emotions are not easily deciphered, and this shows the position of women in the society through his reaction (Shelley 45).
Frankenstein; The Modern Prometheus is not really a feminist novel. My conclusion is drawn from the fact that Mary Shelley does not explicitly advocate for women’s equality to men.
For instance, her mother stands out as a great feminist even at an age when women were naturally taken to be inferior, so when we compare the work of Mary Shelley to the work of her mother, she does not stand out as advocating for women to be equal to men. One can justify that through the way, her female characters are passive in the novel and die even before the story ends.
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There is no strong indication that she is for the rights of women to be of equal standing to the men and only uses her characters to show the position of women in the 18th-century society. If Frankenstein, the Modern Prometheus, was a feminist novel, we would expect Mary Shelley to make her stand through her female characters, which is not the case in the novel.
Even the story itself starts with the death of Victor’s mother (Shelley 3), giving us a hint that she does not dwell so much on the characters of women. In short, she does not have a clear and definite stand on the equality of men and women.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s advocacy for feminism is very outstanding in her work as compared to her daughter’s. For instance, one does not have to critically analyze her work to know that she was advocating for women to be accorded the same rights as men; the theme is evident even to a layman.
For Mary Shelley, to write in narrative form is symbolic of a society where women are passive, where no woman in the novel speaks directly or openly. Shelley wanted to show that women were to stroll behind the shadows of men and that they had no say in the 18th-century society.
Women in the novel do not speak openly through the narrative, and this further illustrates their submissiveness in society and a great contribution to feminism concerns in the book.
Women didn’t have the same rights as the male counterparts, and this is clear through the way Shelley clearly introduces her main characters in the narrative and leaves the women in the novel out of the narrative even Margaret to whom the letters are addressed to. In the novel, women are portrayed as if they would not exist if not for the men in their lives.
Even the way a monster female companion only comes into question when the monster demands to have her from his creator (Shelley 37) is a further illustration of feminism concerns in the novel, Frankenstein; The Modern Prometheus.
Another reason why Mary Shelley is not seen as a great feminist in comparison to her mother is the use of narrative in the novel. It does not convey the writers’ point rather than it gives the reader the freedom to interpret the novel in their own views.
Feminism as Frankenstein’s Theme
The theme of feminism as portrayed in the novel leaves a lot in the minds of the reader; it leaves the reader with questions such as whether Mary Shelley really wanted women to be equated to men in her novel and which message she wanted to pass by partially ignoring the female characters in the novel.
Was she really trying to bring out the feminism theme? The use of narrative in conveying the feminism theme leaves a lot to be answered by the reader, and it is only through careful explication of the novel that one can bring out the theme of feminism in the novel.
Through narration, it is clear that the female characters do not have a say in society to the extent that men are the only ones who can narrate the story to the audience. The female characters have the privilege of being the main characters, a further indication that women were subordinate to men.
This is a pointer as to the obscurity of women in the society for why Mary Shelley would not discuss the female characters in the novel, and yet they formed a significant part of the story?
Why would an author omit some characters in the novel, specifically the female characters, if not to show their submissiveness/oppression in the society? The use of narration clearly shows the surrounding environment that Mary Shelley was brought up in.
An environment where women were oppressed is perhaps the reason why Shelley chooses to use Captain Walton and Frankenstein in narrating her story. Men were heard more than the women for were women of equal standing to men, Mary Shelley’s narrator would have also been a woman, for instance, Margate to whom the letters were addressed to.
But women were taken to be unreliable and hence their implied characters in the novel.
“I collected bones from charnel – houses and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame….” (Shelley 12). Frankenstein used science to create a monster and therefore defied the natural process through which a woman gives birth to a baby.
Through this act, Frankenstein is having no respect for women, for it is a woman’s pride when she gives birth to a baby.
Frankenstein shows us that women have no value in the society in which he is living through his creation to the extent that he takes away the pleasure of women in giving birth through science. He believes that he can also possess the same powers that are possessed by women when they give birth to young ones. It further illustrates how women were degraded in the 18th century.
Feminism is among the many themes in the novel, Frankenstein; The Modern Prometheus though not that explicit as other themes like a quest for dangerous knowledge. Did Mary Wollstonecraft’s experiences have an impact on her daughter’s view of feminism?
Wollstonecraft’s background tells us something that relates to her being regarded as perhaps the earliest known feminism proponent.
Shelley’s mother grew up in a society that was dominated by men, and women were very submissive. However, Wollstonecraft defied the societal norms and became an outright activist of women’s rights that women are not inferior to men and only need equal chances in education that are accorded to men in her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
“What acquirement exalts one being above another?” (Wollstonecraft pp. 3). We would expect that Mary Shelley being the daughter of a great feminist, would voice the same concerns as her mother, but this is not the case as all her female characters are passive.
On the contrary, through the use of science, Mary Shelley is advocating that women’s problems in reproduction can be eradicated. For instance, through science, women who are known not to give birth can get solutions to their problems. I think Mary Shelley advocates for science in solving women’s reproduction problems because of what her mother went through when she was giving birth to her.
Perhaps Shelley, through Frankenstein’s creation of a creature (the monster) that would defy natural laws, was seeking a solution to women’s problems during birth, for instance, the way her mother died few days after giving birth to her due to some complications with the placenta.
We can also draw the conclusion that through the destruction of the female companion for the monster, Shelley wanted to show that nature could not allow a creature that was brought forth through science to procreate and populate the world, this can be a strong indication that society cannot do without women, that women are important and that men do not have the right to take away the pride of women in giving birth.
The women suffer at the hands of the monster. But from literary analysis, Mary Shelley’s negative perception of female characters through their passiveness maybe was to emphasize that women ought to be strong and not to only rely on men, for when they rely on men, they end up suffering. She wanted to illustrate the way women in society are weak as compared to men and often rely on men to solve their problems.
Shelley wanted to put the point across that women ought to stop that habit of conforming to societal norms of viewing men as the only ones who can solve problems, for were it not for their view of men, the characters that are Justine and Elizabeth would have survived.
Elizabeth would have fought the monster, and Justine would have defended herself that she did not kill William, bringing us to the conclusion that Mary Shelley wanted to caution women on their over-reliance on men and that women too are at the forefront in perpetuating the patriarchal dominance in the society.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein; the Modern Prometheus. 1816. London. Oxford University Press. 1971.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.