Frankenstein Feminist Criticism
Feminism in literature has existed as early as the 16th century, the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities (Shneir, Miram). Throughout history, women have portrayed the idea of feminism in literature, with one of the most famous feminist writers being Mary Shelley. Shelley was born in 1797 into a notable family, with her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, being a renowned feminist writer herself (Biogram). Her novel Frankenstein was published in 1818, a time when most women were extremely conservative, and were deprived of the rights and opportunities that men held. In the novel, Shelley portrays feminism by essentially mocking women and giving them a lack of power -- showing how women "should not" be.
One way Shelley mocks women in Frankenstein is the societal role she gives her female characters. This is first seen in the beginning of the novel, when young Elizabeth is presented to Victor Frankenstein in the form of a "pretty present" (Shelley 7), portraying Elizabeth as being in a sense a gift to Victor, causing her to be seen as inferior to him. Elizabeth's physical appearance is also frequently referred to: her golden hair, blue eyes, and thin body; but rarely are her non-
superficial attributes, assuming that those hold little value. The focus on only the physicality of women is also portrayed in The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The short story discusses a husband, Alymer's, wishes to have his wife's facial birthmark removed, due to it preventing her in reaching physical "perfection" (Hawthorne). Throughout the short story, the wife's birthmark is consistently mentioned, and how it is so appalling and unsatisfying to Alymer. Yet, his wife's emotions, thoughts, or beliefs are never discussed.
As Shelley's Frankenstein progresses, Victor goes on to pursue his dreams of studying science; meanwhile, Elizabeth is never mentioned of pursuing much of anything. For men to go on to accomplish their goals while women stayed home was the social norm during this time period. In Virginia Woolf's speech given in 1931, she describes "The Angel in the House" -- that "selfless, sacrificial woman…whose sole purpose in life was to soothe, to flatter, and to comfort the male" (Laeska 1). It can be inferred that Elizabeth is one of those women, with her sole purpose only being to satisfy Victor. By Shelley giving little importance to Elizabeth's character, she is essentially showing how women should have importance and create themselves a purpose other than that of benefiting the male population. Although during this time period there were not many opportunities for women in the work force, Shelley and Virginia Woolf both are...