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Presence Of Women In Frankenstein English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1402 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The feminine presences in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley are used as a device by Shelley to express her views on society and issues effecting women to her readers. That Shelley’s narrative is a feminist work is argued in Anne K. Mellor’s article, “Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein.” Shelley provides distinct social criticisms as well as a critique on the patriarchal society, which, at the time that Frankenstein was written, was the dominant political force and school of thinking. Shelley uses the feminine presences in the novel to make the reader reflect upon and question her judgments of society. Within the narrative, it is clear that the three male narrators oppress the voice of the female and perhaps it is Shelley’s intention to challenge her readers to think about the way that the feminine voices are left as powerless and almost redundant because the men are seen as the leading protagonists.

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The most noticeable of the powerless female voices within the narrative is Walton’s sister, Margaret Saville. Margret never replies to Walton’s letters and so the reader is left to question her thoughts and reactions to the events related to her through the letters. It can be said that she is used by Shelley to show the male’s need for companionship of a female to confide in: “I bitterly feel the want of a friend” (Shelley 10), gives us the feeling that the companionship of his sister is enough to satisfy this need for camaraderie. However, Walton also states “I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me” (Shelley 10). This statement makes the presence of Margaret redundant once more as it is the male presence he craves not her own (Mellor 281).

Shelley then goes on to examine the way women are portrayed within the novel with Elizabeth being described as “the most beautiful child… ever seen” (Shelley 19). Both Elizabeth and Caroline, Victor Frankenstein’s mother, are shown as the domestic angel of the home who do not have a voice but spend their time caring for others around them as this is how their role as a female has been defined, “house wives, childcare providers, and nurses” (Mellor 275). The submissiveness of the females to the male presence is again shown, highlighting their oppression under a patriarchal rule. Victor’s description of Elizabeth as “light and airy… the most fragile creature in the world” (Shelley 20) makes it sound as if her presence is something almost supernatural and she is not something that can be touched she is just something to be felt and held by men. The idea of her being held is expressed by Victor using the possessive pronoun ‘my’ when referring to Elizabeth suggesting that women are viewed as objects by men. Elizabeth is referred to as “a tie of domestic love… my future wife” (Shelley 19) which is seen to be oppressive, reiterating the powerlessness of the female presence.

The powerless voice of the female is presented to the reader again through Justine, who is found guilty even though she expresses her own innocence at her trial. This shows how the patriarchal system of the law is oppressing the female presence (Mellor 276). This is also a social criticism by Shelley of the way that the justice system of the time was run as Justine is accused without being able to defend herself as she shows “extreme confusion of manner” (Shelley 50). Justine’s confusion may be a way of showing how women were considered not to have knowledge of important social matters and how men thought they would only become confused if responsibility were to be given to them. The lack of female voice and the way females are supposed to put the feelings of men before their own are displayed in Elizabeth’s letter to Victor and it is one of the few times in the novel she is given a voice. “Be happy my friend; and if you obey me in this one request, remain satisfied that nothing on earth will have the power to interrupt my tranquility” (Shelley 130). Although the reader gains some insight into her feelings it is clear to see how she is willing to give up her happiness for Victor’s, even mentioning how she hopes not to increase his miseries by being “an obstacle”(Shelley 130) to his wishes, showing the feminine presence as weak and submissive to the dominant male, as she is really only viewed by Victor as a sister (Mellor 280).

The use of an independent feminine presence is a welcome relief for the reader from the domestic presences of Elizabeth and Caroline. The exotic outsider adds mystery as well as being a useful character for plot development as her introduction inspires the Creature to enter the De Lacey household, as they are welcoming of those who are different from themselves (Mellor 277). The Creature asks, “Could they turn from their door, one however monstrous, who solicited their compassion and friendship” (Shelley 88). As the narrative goes on however, it is seen that the family does drive the Creature away from their home. It can be observed that the feminine presence is what leads both the Creature and Victor to their downfalls as the death of Elizabeth causes Victor to seek revenge, the Creature being driven away in contrast to Safie causes him to act out of spite and turn away from being good.

The female creature is a presence that is merely hinted to in the novel as she never reaches completion, in a way it could be that a female who dares to be different is destroyed by the male influence. Here we see the mate for the Creature (who again shows the male need for a female presence for companionship) destroyed by the hands of Victor showing a lack of the feminine side of his character through his rejection of both the Creature and his female companion. Through Victor’s rejection of the female creature before her completion, Shelley is hinting that the female voice is rejected and alienated in society. The Creature is alone and abandoned by society, which shows social criticism of a lack of acceptance of otherness as the Creature describes fleeing the “barbarity of man” (Shelley 71). The use of a female creature questions what hope a female has of being different in such an oppressive society (Mellor 279). In this way Shelley is showing the reader the way the female writers voice is pushed aside by the male dominance in literature and how any hope a woman might have of being different has to be repressed to become what male society deems acceptable or find herself destroyed by her own ambition, such as the destruction of the Creature’s mate.

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Shelley is also using the lack of feminine presence to great effect; this is seen through the way the Creature is created without a mother figure. Victor places great importance on how “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley 32). This suggests that life is created by man and could be seen as Victor’s overreaching into presumption. “No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs” (Shelley 32) presses out the need for the Creature to have a mother figure and thus, Victor has eliminated the necessity of the female presence (Mellor 274) However, the Creature, in his own narrative, tells Victor how it was the force of nature, often referred to as the ‘mother,’ who raised him and taught him how to experience the world around him. This is a way of placing importance on the need for a child to have a mother figure to raise them. Shelley is showing how a woman has just as important a role to play in child rearing as well as in society as a whole to guide the child on a moral path, which is not achieved by patriarchy alone.

The feminine presences in the novel are of great significance to Shelley. They are her way of conveying to the readers her views on the way women are oppressed within her society. They also allow her to display social criticisms under a mild veil so that with a greater understanding and knowledge the reader is able to determine the true meaning of the inclusion of the female presences within the text.


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