After I finished reading Frankenstein and started to figure out what prompt I was going to write on I had an interesting conversation with one of my friends. I told him that I was going to be writing on the passive role of women in the novel. His response, being he had read the novel, was “there were women in Frankenstein?” This intrigued me, for I knew in a moment he was joking, but in all sincerity it is hard to pick out many times that women can truly be recollected. Shelley must have done this as a form of silent protest, to show the stark reality how at the time most people thought of women as subservient.
This theory is rooted in the fact that, she was a progressive of her time, when it comes to women’s rights and feminism. The act of making the role of women in the novel, subtle and passive, is one that makes people actually think of how ridiculous it is to not have any women in the novel do much of anything.
The first person that we are introduced to is Walton’s sister, and even then we are truly not introduced to her. The extent of our knowledge is kept minimal of her, as though to silently shout at the reader, women in her time were being oppressed. The letter’s that Walton sends to his sister, can be analyzed in an interesting way. Where most people take it at face value that he is writing to his beloved sister, if one looks closer at what the letters entail, it gives us reason to believe she chose to have a man, Walton, write to his sister because of social norms. By social norms I mean, that Walton is in fact dictating the story to his sister. This is alike to the notion that men in that times, should be more dominate and tell their wives what to do. Walton writes “do you not feel your blood congeal with horror like that which even now curdles mine?”(p.242) This is a leading question to his sister; he wants to dictate that she is to feel this way. He also is concerned about her wellbeing as if he is the one who must take care of her. He feels that she will be “tortured by hope” yet “anxiously await” his return (p.246). This can be seen as Walton implying he is the one that keeps her sane, that she will never be able to get over his lose.
Then there is the character of Elizabeth, who is subservient to Victor. This is most evident in the letter that she writes to him upon his return from England and nearby islands. Even though Elizabeth must “confess” to Victor that she is in “love” with him, she leaves it up to him, whether or not they shall marry (p.216). She even went as far as to say that, their marriage would make her “eternally miserable” unless it was by his free choice (p.216). Once again, it is about his choice, and whether or not he wants to marry. She has fallen for her brother, but that was because she was kept in closed her whole life, not so much as to travel the world like Victor. Which brings up another injustice that she silently lays in the background of the novel, the male of the family was forced to take his studies abroad. The elder Frankenstein had “thought it necessary” for Victor to school in Ingolstadt (p.35), however there was not one mention of the family to send their daughter off to school. This once again is just another tool Shelley used to silently protest the notion of the inferior woman at the time she lived.
Elizabeth had plenty of doubt that Justine was in fact the murderer of dear William. At one point she exclaims “who is safe, if she be convicted of crime?” (p.81) However, after the trial, she believes what the courts tell her. She believes now that Justine was one who betrayed and “committed a murder” (p.89). Elizabeth so blindly abandons her thoughts of innocence of Justine, even after talking on her behalf; it shames her as a human being, but highlights the thought of women as just accepting and passive creatures. This is a shame, but sets up, what I believe, is the biggest protest in this book against what women were dealing with. Justine is the crucial playing in Shelley’s telling of feminism and the crimes of how women were treated. For Justine in essence became the martyr of the novel. Shelley used dramatic irony to tell this martyr sub plot. The reader knows through the monster’s account that Justine was set up. “I had learned now to work mischief,” the monster said (p.161), “and placed the portrait securely in one of the folds of her dress.” The monster represents mankind, and in Shelley’s views knowingly keeping women “in their place”. However, back on track of Justine, during her trial she does not break down as we would expect. Instead she stays composed and asks for a “favourable interpretation” however she is not granted one (p.85). The reader sits there in agony, watching an innocent young girl die, but sometimes the most innocent of them all must die for us to see the true light.
Justine is one of my favorite characters, because she reminds me of those people who I always grew up hearing about dying for Christianity. Never denouncing what they are, but dying for a cause. They had their life taken from them to bring about a wider thought on their stance. This is what Shelley wanted, she wanted Justine to die, not just to make Victor miserable, but to bring about thought of how a young girl could stand to lose everything, and silently accept the word of the courts as final. She would not put up a fight to try to get free, or even to talk them out of their decision, she was in fact the silent scream that this novel was to the feminist around the world.