In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, gender identity is foundthrough the creation of an unnatural monster’s search for a relationship withhis creator in an otherwise normal and natural society Victor Frankenstein’sfascination with the creation of birth as well as his following experiences showsthe focus on the significance of female gender roles and therefore suggeststhat instead of simply being companions to men, women instead play a major rolein contributing to the stability of stability throughout the novel.There are multipleexamples within Frankenstein thatshows the significance of women in the novel. One of the most significantexamples I found within the text is when Victor’s monster asks Victor to createhim a companion.
“I am alone, and miserable; man will not associate with me;but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. Mycompanion must be of the same species, and have the same defects” (Shelly 101).The monster continues by saying that he specifically wants his companion to bea female with “whom he can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessaryfor his being” (Shelly 101). To begindissecting this particular event in the story, something that stood out to methe most was how easily the monster was willing to put another creation throughthe destruction he believed to call his life. Not only that, but the monsterwanted a female creature to endure the same hardships so that he may be the oneto comfort her. Continuing on from the idea of physically experiencing thehardships, the monster requests that the new creation is “as deformed” as he is(Shelley 101).
This idea of a female monster brings up the idea that the idealpartner to creation would be feminine.Because of thecomparison between female gender roles with the ideas of love and affection,the monster’s statement of how he is “malicious because he is miserable” and “shalleach man… find a wife for his bosom… and I be alone” further explains hisactions as reactive responses as a result of an underlying desperation at thedearth of female tenderness and maternal figures in his life (Shelley 156). Themonster’s specific request of female companionship stresses the clear importanceof the female gender in its roles of mother and nurturer throughout the novel (Shelley156).
In her essaytitled Nature as Female, CarolynMerchant writes about the fact that nature is seen as female because of boththe “nurturing and dominion” that earth has over human beings (Merchant 11).This sense of nurturing and feminizing being related can also be foundoriginally during Victor’s creation of the monster and his lack of nurturing tothe monster. Because of this lack of a female-associated mother roll, themonster began in a world of seclusion. Thus, giving him a female companionwould not only fulfill that role of motherhood in his life but also a romanticrelationship. The monster imagines that this will bring him the stability thathe needs in his life in order to live in a somewhat pleasant atmosphere in hisugly and repulsive-believed world. Another importantmoment within Frankenstein that showsthe stability role of the female gender is when the monster kills the femalesin Victor’s life, both directly and indirectly. These killings are importantbecause the monster believes that killing the females close to Victor willcause him more pain and disorder than physically harming Victor himself. The first femalekill that Victor’s monster was a part of was indirectly the killing of Justine.
Frankenstein’s monster first sees Justine passing by him. “She was young, notindeed so beautiful as her whose portrait I held, but of an agreeable aspect,and blooming in the loveliness of youth and health. Here, I thought, is one ofthose whose smiles are bestowed on all but me; she shall not escape” (Shelly101). After killing William, the monster places the locket with Victor’s motheron Justine, placing evidence on her to be the killer of the young boy. Thisevent began Victor’s negative relationship with the monster, as Victor knowsthat his creation was behind this.
One thing thatsticks out in this scene is that the monster puts so much emphasis on thefemale physical appearance. Both Justine’s physical beauty and that of Victor’smother in the locket cause the monster pain because he knows that he will neverhave such beauty in his life. It seemsthat the beauty those of these women possessed were believed by the monster tobe a source of happiness or life-completion if in their presence.
This is alsoa reflection of how Victor reacted to the monster’s lack of physical beauty,showing the monster that affection begins directly with appearance. Also within thismindset, Merchant brings to light the idea that nature’s beauty “could betransformed into a garden to provide both material and spiritual food toenhance the comfort and soothe the anxiety’s of men distraught by the demandsof the world” (Merchant 12). To the monster, the “demands of the world” werethe physical looks that the monster lacked, thus causing other to be frightenedof him.
Shelly and Merchant both underline this importance of the femalephysical presence. In Frankenstein,the monster craves the beauty of people, especially women, throughout hiswandering. The second femalein this book that is killed is directly by the monster towards the end of thisnovel after Elizabeth and Victor are married. The monster follows them to theirhoneymoon and ends up killing Elizabeth after she has gone to bed. One of theimportant factors of this scene is the fact that the monster waits untilElizabeth and Victor are married until he ills Elizabeth. The significancebehind this is that the monster believed that this female in his life was thecentral source of the happiness he managed to find in life. While he did alsokills Victor’s best friend, his main kill in this section seemed to be focusedon Elizabeth. Finally, in theend of the novel, the monster did end up killing Victor, another feminizedcharacter in his life.
While Victor may not have been a female based on gender,he was a feminized father figure to the monster, as well as holding a motherrole because he was the original creator of the monster. Like Victor, nature, afeminized sort of figure, is the creator of all life and beings. Merchant alsodescribes this feminized idea of nature and her importance throughout heressay. She writes that the males in life are needed to create life, “the femalesupplied the nutriment on which the qualities of the male could operate”(Merchant 17). Merchant continues by writing how nature provides the nutrientsfor life while those humans, seen as the male in the relationship, use what isprovided to survive. However,Merchant also argues that the actions of man can be influenced by naturebecause of its mother-like aspects. “The image of the earth as a livingorganism and nurturing mother had served as a cultural constraint restrictingthe actions of human beings,” Merchant writes (11). “One does not readily slaya mother” (Merchant 11).
Merchant’s writing enforces the idea that while manmay often view nature and earth as a supplying mother, just as the monsterviews Victor, there are some restrictions that are naturally built. This can beseen when the monster is running from Victor and rather than simply losing him,he leaves food and clues behind as to not let Victor lose his trail. Merchant alsodiscusses in her essay that men in today’s society often forget that nature andthe earth are most commonly seen as alive as a whole and considered of thefemale gender and instead dull the word “mother” into an object. In centuriespast, the phrase “mother nature” was seen in high importance and the goal wasto cause little pain to something that man easily called “mother” (Merchant19). This continues when Merchant brings up how men have surpassed theexcitement of the natural world and are more fascinated by artificially createdobjects now. “A tree or a child shows growth, whereas a table had to beproduced by a builder” (Merchant 16). On the contrary,some may say that Frankenstein showsan emphasis on the male gender and their characteristics and importance.
Fromthis, it could be argued that the father figure was more important than themother figure throughout the book. While there were few father figures within Frankenstein, the most notable wasVictor himself as a father to his creation.During Victor’sresearch, he displays a careless disregard of his home and social commitments,and his confession of how he “knew his silence disquieted them” underlines acertain selfishness through his constant indifference to those closest to him (Shelley81). While looking at Victor as a father figure, he was immediate to dismisshis creation when it didn’t meet his expectation of both mindset and beauty.However, while Victor is the monster’s “father,” being his male creator, themonster still naturally looks for a mothering figure within Victor.Frankenstein’smonster similarly parallels his master’s obsessive nature through his own limitedfascination on acquiring a mate and subsequently, on revenge.
The lines, “Iwill work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart”, clearlydenote the monster’s prodigious determination and the depth of his devotion tothis aim, which he lives up to with the subsequent consecration of his life tothe lifelong torment of Frankenstein (Shelly 156). This masculine form ofobsession ultimately leads both Victor and the monster to their destructionbecause of their lack of interaction with the outside world. While I do see theimportance in recognizing the male gender throughout Frankenstein and the emphasized masculine attributes, I still findmyself leaning more towards the idea that in this novel, women are of more lifesignificance than men.
One thing that comes to mind often in this novel is theidea of nature versus nurture and how the effects of both vary. This can befound early on in the novel when Victor is determined to find the way to createlife and learn the secrets that nature uses everyday. However, the importanceof this is that Victor fails to realize how this incident is a majorforeshadowing event into what will happen to his creation, being the failedrecreation of natural creation. Victor ultimatelyrealizes his mistake in trying to take over the feminist characteristics thatnature has happens after he sees his creation.
What he believed was going to bean amazing discovery and work of beauty turned out to be something hideous tothe eye. “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteriesbeneath; his hair was of a lustrous black and flowing; his teeth of a pearlywhiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with hiswatery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets inwhich they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips” (Shelley35). This horrifying outcome of beautiful limbs shows that while man can pickand choose the beautiful parts of nature, their recreations will never be asperfect and delightful as the natural creation by both women and nature.Overall, Frankensteinuses events throughout the novel to show that females in the novel, both ingender and in characteristics, are not only companions but also the centralrole in contributing to the stability of the prevailing social order bothphysically and mentally. Shelley shows that the monster acts in relation to thewomen in Victor’s life and also desires a female companion in order to findstability in his life. Merchant reiterates this importance by discussing in herwriting how men visualizes and name nature as a female and the roles that”she,” being nature, have on a person’s everyday life.
Finally, Victor mirrorsthe monster’s desire for a female when he desires to control the female giftthat nature has. It would be easy to saythat Shelley’s use of all of these events emphasizes the importance of femaleswithin her novel.