Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blog 2, Prompt 1, Part a.)

A Woman Writing About Men in the Text in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

The Gothic novel Frankenstein is told through the voices of men from beginning to end, disregarding the small inclusions of letters from women and assuming that the monster can be characterized as a male. It is also focused around the allegory of the creation of a man by a man. However, Mary Shelley, a young female wrote the story, which begs the question of why she would choose to write a novel through the voices of men. Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a feminist philosopher and writer. He father was also similarly passionate about political topics, only he was an early proponent of anarchism. In the preface of the novel, Shelley writes, “How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?” (Shelley vi). The brings in gender expectations of that period, a “young girl” concocting a story that a man would be expected to produce. But feminist views on a woman writing this would find the effectiveness of Shelley extending feminism in her work. With a woman writing, Shelley writes in a voyeuristic way when she is behind a text dominated by men.

There is clearly a difference between a woman writing and a woman in the text. And the latter does not exist. However, that does not make the novel any less powerful. The former, Shelley being the author, does exist. And she uses her position to commentate on male dominance as women start to reevaluate their positions in society as the roots of feminism started to develop. The creation of the male monster is one such moment that Shelley uses to illustrate masculinity.

Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips. (Shelley 53).

The admiration of the monster’s parts by his male creator suggests an idealized image of masculinity. However, the female author is fully aware of the distorted masculinity that is idealized by a central male figure of the novel. Even though the letter transcribing Victor Frankenstein’s story is told by him to Robert Walton, who is transcribing it, you don’t get the sense that Walton acknowledges the grotesqueness of the creation either. But Shelley is able to convey the distorted idealization of the two men in the novel at that one sensational moment in Victor Frankenstein’s plot.

A moment that demonstrates the influence of women on the men in the novel is when Frankenstein’s monster murders Elizabeth while she is in bed on Victor and Elizabeth’s wedding night. Victor Frankenstein seemed to struggle comprehending the threat the monster was making: “It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding-night” (Shelley 192). Victor seemed to still believe that men are the threat and focus, which is why his distorted image of man misinterprets the threat as one saying the monster will claim Elizabeth’s life. It’s important to note that Mary Shelley presents women in a passive manner, not directly creating any influence that they want to intend. But it’s the sight of Elizabeth’s dead corpse that ignites Victor Frankenstein to seek out the monster and kill him. Upon seeing her, he said, “I threw down the oar, and leaning my head upon my hands gave way to every gloomy idea that arose … Tears streamed from my eyes” (Shelley 227). And we gaze at Victor as he reaches the lowest point that he imagined. Previously, William and Clerval sort of paralyzed him. And it was Victor’s denial of creating a female partner for the monster that resulted in him claiming a male victim close to Victor Frankenstein.

As someone raised in such a liberal household specifically in terms of feminism, it’s interesting that Shelley would choose to write Frankenstein from the points of view of three different men. However, the decision to frame the story in such a way delivers a powerful insight into the distorted mindset of men as a feminist idea. The readers are aware that a young woman has written a ghost story, so in a sense, she is gazing in upon the three different men. And the two parts in the novel about the creation of the monster and the murder of Elizabeth portray Victor Frankenstein as someone who has a distorted idea of man’s place in society.

1 comment:

Adam said...

This isn't as finished as I'd like - or in some ways, it almost lacks coherence, because you leap a little too easily from theme to theme, or topic to topic, without always orienting yourself around moments in the *text*.

That doubtless sounded critical, and it is. At the same time, though, there's a lot going on here in terms of ideas.

Even in the first paragraph, you remind us that the novel is gothic (Gothic novels were written mostly by and for women - with the ambiguous half-feminism of Ann Radcliffe in the background of this novel), and categorize Shelley as a voyeur, which is an interesting and compelling claim.

That is, in fact, a very strong potential argument. I also am impressed by your (unfinished) analysis of the extreme, idealized masculinity of the monster's initial description. Following this line of thought, we might argue that Victor idealizes masculinity, and tries to create ultimate masculinity, but that doing so is outrageous/horrific once it's actually there.

I wasn't really sure what you were doing with your analysis of Elizabeth's body - not that it was wrong-headed, I just didn't follow your direction.

In short: there is a lot of potential here, but it doesn't cohere as a whole, and you aren't yet doing everything you can to provide coherent, systematic evidence for your positions.