Female Author; Male Narrative… Why?
The tale of Frankenstein is told through the narration of three different men: Walton, Victor, and the Monster. The novel is seen through their eyes, and comes from a masculine viewpoint. Without argument, we can agree that Shelley is “telling the story from a man’s point of view.” What is more important to recognize is that this is a deliberate move by Shelley. She is keenly aware of how she is weaving the story, and there are reasons behind the motive to tell the story using all men. An important point to note from the beginning is that Shelley comes from a liberal background, and is aware and questions gender roles found during the early 1800’s. Her presentation of the protagonist in the novel makes the book into a protest of patriarchy.
When Victor creates life by using science, he is effectively making women in society useless. At the most basic of levels, women are needed so that they make babies, and continue the human race. Victor bypasses this accepted truth of life, proving that women are not needed. Yet quickly this tragically backfires, and Victor’s life spins out of control. Because of Victor’s poor decision, the people in his life he loves the most are killed: William, Justine, Henry Clerval, and Elizabeth.
Victor is punished severely for his stupidity in creating a creature he cannot control and how he foolishly “cast [him] among mankind, and endowed [him] with the will and power to effect purposes of horror” (pg. 77). While Victor may be the main character, he is terribly flawed in both rationality and judgment. He is undeniably intelligent, but idiotic, and selfish at the same time.
In addition to making Victor suffer, Shelley also depicts his egocentric behavior. An example of this is when Victor visits Justine in jail. Although Victor’s monster is the reason Justine is on death row, Victor thinks that “the poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the awful boundary between life and earth, felt not as I did…” because he felt even more awful than she ever could (pg. 91). Also, constantly throughout the novel Victor also reminds us how “No one can conceive the anguish I suffer…” making his ego seem even more pronounced (pg. 77).
Even though there are no strong women characters in the novel who rise above anything besides a passive presence, Victor Frankenstein is not a hero. He is a foolish, selfish, man who’s ambitions and thoughtless actions cost him the lives of many he loved. Shelley is creating a fictitious account of what could happen when men dare to decide that women are not needed in society. The unfolding events lead to a broken, enervated man who has lost everything in life, and is waiting to die.
Women do not appear as frequently in the novel, but their presence is almost always positive. Elizabeth is described as a delightful girl whose adoption into the family “seemed a blessing” (pg. 26). Saphie brought joy to the de Lacy family, and is portrayed as intelligent as well as beautiful. Justine steadfastly accepted her fate on death row, while Victor frequently fell into hysterics, and random bouts of fever.
The dominant male character of Victor Frankenstein is farcical. Victor is able to create life without another women, yet destroys his entire life after the fact, and is directly responsible for the deaths of his family and friends. After showing his is emotionally stunted and unable to deal or relate to the creature he created, he goes on an egotistical journey where he accomplishes little. In the beginning, he believed himself “destined for some great enterprise” but now he “would not recognise [sic] [himself] in this state of degradation” (pg. 245). From these words it is clear that Victor did not learn any lesson from his ignorant experiments in creating human life. He still believes that “destiny” is at fault in his demise, and that it was nothing wrong with his “imagination….[or] powers of analysis and application” (pg. 244).
Shelley’s strategy in creating a foolish, and fatally flawed character is to poke a bit of fun at the patriarchal society, as well as to make readers question the all-male narrative. Would Elizabeth have dealt with Frankenstein in the same manner Victor did? Clearly not. Elizabeth, or any other the other women in the novel would have dealt with the situation with intelligence, compassion, and logic. These women would have also never been so egotistical and foolish with an attempt to create life in an unnatural way. While Frankenstein is seen generally as a tragic, gothic tale, in some ways it is a novel of protest that uses a male character to display the flaws found in men at that time.