Gender Roles in Frankenstein Essay Sample
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Gender Roles in Frankenstein Essay Sample
The gender roles of males and females is the most blatantly expressed theme in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. It is as if Mary Shelley saw the theoretical horse that represents gender archetypes laying alive and well in the middle of a exquisite field of grass, and then proceeded to repeatedly strike the poor animal, with a hammer made of ink filled quills, until there was an unrecognizable mesh of blood, fur, and tissue lying before her. In Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus almost every level in the character tree there is a dominant male character that plays a significant role in the plot. In contrast, while there are some women that are main characters, the roles they play are often passively docile and supportive roles. For the most part the women in Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus act as tools for the men to interact with one another and for some of the women in this story, the main purpose of their role is their death. It is clear that Mary Shelley is projecting through Frankenstein what she thought the typical man of the early 1800s thinks about when it came to women.
When trying to make some sort of interpretation of male and female character roles in Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, it is important to understand the life of its author Mary Shelley and the period the book was written. Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died 10 days after giving birth to Mary Shelley so she did not play a major role in Mary’s life, despite her mother being a women’s rights activist that authored the book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Instead of having a strong motherly figure, like the character Caroline Beaufort from Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, she had her father, William Godwin.
Mr. Godwin was a well read man that had some radical political anarchist views for his time much like the character Victor Frankenstein who had radical scientific views. Godwin was one of the very few men during this time that was okay with giving a good education to his daughter, such an education that males of time also received. Mary felt that her father did not love her enough, and so had a strong sense of devotion to him. The same sort of devotion seen in the book with Elizabeth who was still okay with getting married with Frankenstein even though he excluded her from his life for a few years and after which he postponed a wedding with her. Godwin knowing that he could not raise two children on his own eventually married another woman named Mary Jane Clairmont who already had two children on her own. Mary Shelley came to detest this woman most likely because she was quick tempered and liked to argue with people. The ideas that she did not like her stepmother and believed that her father hated her adds to the dynamics of the characters in the story.
I think it is a safe assertion that because of the lack of a strong female in her life, the intellectual prowess of her father, and a desire of affection from her father all cultivates into a rational that men of the time do not treat women well. She draws on this by choosing all the narrators to be male and making it seem that all the females in the story are passive and unimportant. The book begins with the letters from the arctic seafarer, Robert Walton, to his sister and former caretaker Margaret Saville. This relationship is the epitome of all the roles of males and females throughout the book. Walton is an adventurous explorer who is willing to put his life on the line for the sake of being the first to make a great scientific discovery about the way the north pole works. He is willing to make this great discovery because if he did make it he would gain a massive amount of fame, something which women of time would had no opportunity for.
In the ship of the line era of naval history women on the high seas were non-existent, so it can be seen as a masculine act for Walton to be captain of the ship, which he is. The ideas of exploration and discovery are also tremendously masculine ideas that go as far back as the days of Nomadic and hunter gathering societies. Margaret’s female traits of being a caretaker of Walton also can be traced back to prehistoric times. With Walton we hear of much of things that make up his life such as his difficulties with his father, his struggles he has with planning for his journey to the north pole, and the lack of a male companion in his life. With Margaret on the other hand we hear very little about her life and what her dreams and ambitions are. In fact, rather than his letters being a two way conversation between him and his sister, he seems to only care about his own undertakings. This shows how little of importance Margaret is to the novel, despite being one of the main characters and the most important female figure in his life. The little importance of Margaret also sets the theme of looking at women through the eye of the early 19th century males.
Another aspect that Walton’s story has in regards to the gender roles of the characters in this novel is his desire to have a male companion to share his life with. When writing to his sister in the beginning of the story he mentions that “I have no friend Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection.” (Mary Shelley, 4) in this remark it shows Walton’s ideal friend which is someone who will be there for him through the good times and bad, through sickness and health. Walton’s “true friend” is much like what would be considered a wife, yet he explicitly yearns for a male friend rather than a female mate.
When Walton finally meets Victor Frankenstein he is heavily infatuated with him and seems to have a certain bond with him. Through Walton’s own words he expresses his infatuation with Victor Frankenstein “…I begin to love him as a brother; and his constant and deep grief fills me with sympathy and compassion. He must have been a noble creature in his better days, being even now in wreck so attractive and amiable.” ( 22). This “brotherly love” is seen not only through Walton’s eyes but it is also expressed by Victor through his relationship with Henry Clerval.
Mary Shelley uses the love that the males in her story have for each other as another way to exclude women from the story. There are women who play a dominant role in all three of these men’s lives, yet the story still shows a bias toward the male relationship. Gender roles in Frankenstein are one of the most apparent themes in Frankenstein and can lead to a multitude of interpretations of what it means. I feel that what Mary Shelley shows by her exclusion of important women in the Novel is that she herself feels excluded by the men of early 19th century England. The ways she sets up this interpretation is by having all the the story tellers in the Novel be male and look at things through their eyes.