Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prompt #1.a.

**I commented on the second part of the question to support my argument for the prompt I intended to respond to**

Julia Carpey

Adam Johns

Narrative and Technology

19 January 2012

It comes as no surprise that Frankenstein is written through a man’s point of view, in every aspect. It is a collection of narratives passed down, almost completely orally. And just like greek legends, stories and myths in mythology are distorted through the retelling, Shelley masters this effect with the biases of Walton towards the various parts of the story. Shelley, although growing up in a home contrary to what society believed and taught, must have understood what was necessary to publish her novel and have people read it. To have a female heroine-based novel in any time period except within the past 100 years, was a risk for any author, but adding into the equation that the author was also female was like asking for a death sentence for the novel. Shelley capitalized on this and painted the novel in a more masculine light.

However, while she paints the female characters as being passive, I don’t necessarily think she paints the female role as being 100% passive. The distinction between the two, the role versus the character, is slight and borderline trivial, but there is enough of a distinction to comment on it. The characters themselves, Justine and Elizabeth specifically, do submit themselves to the male’s dominance. They cook, clean, tend to the house and the needs of the members of the household in the absence of a female with more of a hierarchy. They are gratuitous towards Victor and Victor’s father for taking them in and essentially submit their ability to think for themselves to allowing the men to make the decision for them, most obviously seen in Elizabeth’s resignation to Justine’s innocence as soon as Victor proclaims it so. Everything about this screams passivity.

Yet the female role Shelley paints in other characters varies from this. Victor is painted as a feminine, motherly figure, as I pointed out in my last essay. While Victor is the creator, and we can only assume he intends to nurture the creature like a mother as well, he quickly shies away from this classic feminine role as his disgust for the creature grows. Yes, he reverts back to this at times, one of which is most clearly seen on page 109 when Victor and the creature meet on the mountain, “For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and I thought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness,” (Shelley p. 109) While this feeling was fleeting, it was a motherly feeling nonetheless. This can be viewed as passive because he is submitting himself to his child, essentially. Yet, Victor’s role in the creature’s life remains fairly masculine, at least for the time period in which this was written. In the 18th and 19th centuries (and for most of history for that matter) it was considered the woman’s duty to raise the child into adulthood and the man’s job to work outside of the house to cover the family’s living expenses. Shelley comments on this with Victor rejecting his child and refusing to raise it.

Although not named and studied until the 20th century, we additionally see the “male gaze” at multiple points throughout the novel. As we noted in class, Walton’s obvious affinity for Victor Frankenstein is most noted through the description of Frankenstein as we can imagine Walton slowly panning over Victor’s body to describe him, as we often see in media with the male gaze towards the object of the man’s affection.

Shelley’s decision to portray the characters in the novel as she did, through the male’s perspective could be seen as acute commentary for how she viewed her society, with the women passively fawning at the men’s feet and the men egotistically inflating themselves. This was radical, for a woman to be noticing the injustices, commenting on them, and furthermore making somewhat of a mockery of them. The novel initially leads the reader to believe that the creature is an evil monster meant to destroy the society, which the readers' society mirrors. Yet, when looking into the story, one begins to question who the real monster is: the society which paints the creature this way for lack of knowledge about it and thus fear of it, or the creature for not being integrated into society on somebody else's accord and thus unintentionally wreaking havoc? While my question was obviously biased, so was Shelley's novel, which in turn, would have created more controversy and potentially had cultivated a completely different tone had she written it in a female voice. She had a particularly interesting perspective as she was not immersed in that culture the way society aimed for her to be, and instead laughed at it with plain disgust. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is satyrical commentary on how she views her society, but it is certainly teetering that border. Another thing to consider, is whether we can really consider Shelley writing in a male's voice, or whether this was the voice she was raised to speak, think and write in, as her father raised her in a strong feminist and equal home.


Kira Scammell said...


First I would like to say that I think you have a great draft of this essay, very concise and well written, and I like the arguments that you made here. They were clear and easy to understand but not at all obvious.

Your distinction between role and character was a very smart argument to make, and opened up more doors for discussion. I think if you were going to revise and expand on your paper, you could take each of the role analyses further, providing more examples of femininity in male characters to give more strength to your argument.

It also might be an interesting idea to find a way to connect those role analyses and Mary Shelley's writing to Shelley's upbringing with her feminist mother and the influence that had on her writing. I think it would compliment your last paragraph and the feeling the audience is left with by the end of your essay.

Overall, I really enjoyed this and I think you did a wonderful job!

Adam said...

Your first paragraph *sounds* good, but generalizations are dangerous. Numerous gothic novels written by women, starring women, and with a female-slanting audience were very popular in the decades before Frankenstein (see especially Ann Radcliffe). Beware of assumptions!

That doesn't really do much damage to the essay, though, because it's not central to what you're really doing. What I see as central here is explicating the novel's use of male narrators as a critique of the male gaze.

The argument is excellent, and put in interesting terms. Your example of Walton gazing at Frankenstein as he does is excellent (although one might suggest that he almost wants to be the object of Victor's male gaze - that is, to be objectified and subservient), but if you had trimmed down on some of the inessentials, especially the weak introduction, you could have have more, and more detailed, examples of the male gaze, and how it is critiqued (or parodied) simply through being shown.

Short version: excellent premise, but the execution falls short of excellence, especially because of the flawed introduction, but more generally because of a shortage of details about the core of your argument.