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The Gender Roles Instilled In Frankenstein And Candide

1642 words - 7 pages

For centuries women have been perceived as overshadowed figures who remain in a separate sphere from men. The term “separate spheres” refers to the distinct, conventional characteristics associated with gender differences. The public sphere of men is associated with commerce whereas the domestic sphere for women is linked with the household. However, there is more than just one perspective on feminism. The feminist view is influenced by three main voices: the French, American, and British. French feminists focus their attention on language; American feminists analyze the literary aspects; and British feminists examine the historical processes (Murfin 296-299). Using these perspectives, we ...view middle of the document...

This division of roles was very strict and men were valued over women who were perceived to be the weaker sex, inferior to men. It was a period in which a woman “was conditioned to think she needed a man's help” (Smith 275).Therefore, one of the reasons for Shelley’s desire of privacy was due to disapproval and criticism, especially with her various family relations. For instance, as a result of the
“contumely directed at her mother’s unconventional life and at both her parents for their radical writing, [as well as] her husband Percy and their friend Lord Byron… vilified for their lives and work…publishing anonymously, then, may have reduced the pressure of expectations on a ‘name so heavily intertextualized’ ” (p. 315).
In addition to these personal reasons for desiring privacy, there were also cultural pressures and gendered expectations about women’s writings. For instance, women writers had a bad reputation; their works were normally regarded as inarticulate because they were not allowed a good education that men were only allowed to have. At the time, “great natural abilities” were gendered as masculine, and obscure, weakened texts such as letters were conceived as feminized (Smith 315). Therefore, the “negotiations” between the public and private sphere can be identified through Shelley’s entrance into the male sphere and the compromises she made such as allowing her husband to edit the proofs. Hence, due to the many cultural as well as personal criticisms, Shelley decided to publish her novel unidentified in an attempt to evade harsh judgment from “men of letters” (p. 316). Shelley’s conformity to the notion that a woman needed a man's help was reflected in her novel through the passivity and oppression of the women.
It is thus logical why Shelley portrayed women in her most notable novel, Frankenstein, as passive beings inferior to their male counterparts. Through her pessimistic portrayal of women, Shelley exhibits the typical attitude of women in the Victorian era during the nineteenth century. These characteristics of woman are represented by Caroline's motherly self-sacrifice, the murder of Elizabeth by the monster, and Justine's unjustified execution. The women in Frankenstein play no role that directly influences the plot of the novel. They are described in little detail which inevitably reduces their importance in the story. Ultimately, they have no voice since no women in the novel speak directly; everything we hear from and about them are filtered through the three male narrators: Walton, Victor, and the monster (Smith 313). The only roles women play are those which accompany men. Caroline Beaufort, Victor’s mother, fulfills the roles as a wife, mother, and daughter, which were the typical and expected roles for women to play. When Elizabeth becomes seriously ill, Caroline assumes the role of nurse and caretaker. Through this, Shelley shows the reader the status of women in society and their role in the domestic sphere....

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