Over the years, the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has become universally portrayed in one way: a tall, green-skinned, dumb brute with no language or reasoning abilities. Society has turned the story of Frankenstein into a mere horror story, dehumanizing the monster more than was intended in Shelley’s novel. However, the message of Frankenstein is a far cry from the freak show displayed by the media. While many people may only see Frankenstein as a grotesque story meant to thrill its audience, its purpose goes much deeper as it advocates for the equal rights of women in society.
Perhaps the strongest evidence of feminism in Frankenstein stems from what happens when Victor Frankenstein tries to create life without the help of a woman. In the nineteenth century and before, a woman’s ability to bear children was the one thing that gave her power over man—the one thing women could do that men could not. However, Frankenstein, inadvertently or not, usurps this power from women as he “gives birth” to a living thing. In “Frankenstein and a Critique of Imperialism,” Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak states that “Frankenstein’s apparent antagonist is God himself as Maker of Man, but his real competitor is also woman as the maker of children…In Shelley’s view, man’s hubris as soul maker both usurps the place of God and attempts—vainly—to sublate woman’s physiological prerogative” (263). This interpretation of Frankenstein’s work suggests that in creating a new life, he has taken man’s power a step further by taking the one thing women could be proud to be able to do—childbearing—and turning it into something that was no longer unique to them.
Unfortunately, an action as extraordinary as creating life backfires harshly on Frankenstein. Instead of creating a masterpiece through his scientific work, he created a monster that terrorized him and his loved ones for the rest of his life. It is because of this that Shelley seems to suggest that Frankenstein overstepped his boundaries as a man by trying to create life. In the critique, “Female Gothic: The Monster’s Mother,” Ellen Moers points out that “Frankenstein’s exploration of the forbidden boundaries of human science does not cause the prolongation and extension of his own life, but the creation of a new one. He defies mortality not by living forever, but by giving birth” (220). Clearly Frankenstein realizes he has overstepped his boundaries as a man as those to whom he is closest are killed one by one as a result of the creation of the monster: first his brother William, then Justine, Clerval, Elizabeth, his father, and, ultimately, himself. This could be seen as analogous to men in society during the nineteenth century and before: overstepping their boundaries by creating a patriarchal society. Shelley seems to suggest that if men were to continue to take as much control away from women as they were back then, society would eventually become a “monster” that would destroy everyone.