Loss and Replacement of Motherhood in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
The detachment from a mother is evident in Mary Shelley’s life as well as the life she presents in Frankenstein. Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died only 10 days after giving birth to her daughter (“Frankenstein”). From the onset, Shelley did not have a maternal figure in her life to attach herself. Even for Victor Frankenstein, his mother dies early in the book, before he departs for the university, which he describes as “rent by that most irreparable evil; the void that presents itself to the soul” (Shelley 36). While Frankenstein presents women as passive with minor roles throughout the novel, it’s the desire to find stability in a mother that has a clear impact on the emotions of the characters. This is strongly exemplified in the case of Victor Frankenstein’s creation.
It’s immediately clear, and obvious, that at the onset, Frankenstein’s monster was not the product of motherhood. Frankenstein ponders what life is, and concludes that he must examine death, making him come to terms with the death of his mother. Frankenstein transforms motherhood into a mechanical process. Frankenstein creates a human being of “gigantic stature” after finally gathering all of the “materials.”
In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and suitcase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation … The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation. (Shelley 50).
The entire construction of Frankenstein’s monster while in the workshop is a substitute for the creation of an infant child in the womb of a woman.
Frankenstein’s monster comes to life as a fully-grown individual, his proportionately large frame contrasting with that of a weak, small human infant. Frankenstein’s monster loses the developmental period that human beings have before childbirth. And while a human infant is born, crying out for sustenance, Frankenstein’s child, desires an escape from his loneliness. As the monster begins to tell his story during his lengthy monologue, he tries with difficulty to explain what he remembers as his birth, “It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half-frightened, as it were instinctively, finding myself so desolate” (Shelley 110). A baby wants food, liquids and sleep, but Frankenstein’s mother is driven by his urge to create a connection with someone, which would have been Victor Frankenstein. As an infant would develop, dependent on others, Frankenstein ultimately finds himself wandering through lands he is unfamiliar with, longing to establish a dependency.
In addition to Frankenstein making the most obvious argument that it is a theory about the limits of technology, it also presents an argument about the theory of the importance of motherhood for its benefits in development. While Victor Frankenstein’s mother dies early in his life, he still experienced the developmental stage; however, he lost the dependency he once valued. Instead, he is not heard from for months from his family and Elizabeth, whom he loves. The monster is the prime example of the consequences of a lack of mother to depend on immediately for development. Harry Harlow’s experiments involving the rhesus monkeys provide a better reinforcement of parenthood when the infant monkey chose the surrogate mother covered in terry cloth over the wire construction (“Harry F. Harlow”). So while Frankenstein portrays the female characters as passive throughout the novel, the central problem around the monster involves him seeking out something viewed almost as something essentially feminine – a mother.
“Frankenstein: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.” duluth.lib.mn.us. Duluth Public Library. Web. 24
“Harry F. Harlow, Monkey Love Experiments.” uoregon.edu . The Adoption History Project.
Web. 11 July 2007.