Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Prompt 4: Frankenstein

Most people think of Frankenstein as a giant, green, stupid monster that terrorizes small cities. However, the novel written by Mary Shelley is a well developed piece of literature with many overarching themes. One of the themes in the modern interpretation of Frankenstein is the passiveness of the female characters. Events and actions happen to them, usually for the sake of teaching a male character a lesson or sparking an emotion within him. Each of Shelly’s women serves a specific purpose in Frankenstein.
On the surface the women appear obedient and submissive; Caroline obeying her husband Alphonse and Elizabeth supporting her beloved Victor. If one were to look more closely, these women are controlling the plot line. They are constantly taking it upon themselves to make the first move during a crisis. The female characters in this novel are truly stuck between a rock and a hard place constantly faced with catch 22 moments. These women are selflessness, always putting family and their loved ones ahead of themselves. Midst all the tragedy they can not escape, the women manage to leave a distinguishable mark in the novel but most importantly on the male characters. The significance of their passiveness is pure intellect and compassion.  
To begin, let us start with Caroline Frankenstein who is portrayed as the most passive female in the first half of the novel. The first sign of obedience is noted when she marries her late father’s close friend Alphonse. It is easy to classify her marriage to an elder man an obedient act but it should also be viewed as foreshadowing. Caroline’s marriage to her father’s friend demonstrates her feelings about marrying inside the family. This action foretells the dynamic relationship between Victor and Elizabeth later on in the story
.     Another situation where Caroline’s actions can be viewed or mistaken as passive involves the adoption of Elizabeth. Victor’s mother rescues Elizabeth from a destitute peasant cottage while she and Alphonse visit Italy. On page 26 the text portrays this scene as Alphonse the heroic savior who makes the decision to provide shelter and protection to Elizabeth. Alphonse gets credit for rescuing the orphan when in reality it was Caroline who initiated the adoption. She was instantly drawn to the little blue eyed child and grew extremely fond of the child. Her initial interest in Elizabeth led Alphonse to accept her into the family. Had Caroline not shown interest from the beginning Alphonse would not have felt obliged to adopt the child. Once again Caroline made the first move igniting and displaying the warmth of her husband.
            Caroline’s selflessness is most evidently seen when she jeopardizes her own life to care for her adoptive daughter Elizabeth as she suffers from scarlet fever. Ultimately Elizabeth regained her health as her Caroline contracted the sickness and died. Staying true to her maternal duties, Caroline’s last wish was for Elizabeth and Victor to marry (keeping marriage within the family, similar to her marriage to Alphonse). Physically Caroline is removed from the earth but her dying words continue to live inside Victor and Elizabeth. Caroline may seem to be a minor character, but she’s actually hugely important in explaining Victor’s motivations and psyche.
The text portrays Elizabeth Lavenza as a passive female patiently awaiting the attention of Victor. Under the surface I believe she is just buying her time. Aware of Victor’s sensitivity and frequent trips out of reality Elizabeth supports him from the sideline. Consistence is what Victor lacks so she took it upon herself to fill that void of always remaining by his side. She supports him and hopes he makes the right decisions; she’s gaining his trust as a companion so one day they will eventually work as a unit. For example, she joins Victor’s side and tries to support Justine’s case of innocence when she is charged for the murder of their brother William. It’s important for her to remain by Victor’s side.
Admitting to a murder while knowing one is innocent is a headline that every journalist would love to print. Justine Moritz, also adopted into the Frankenstein family willingly confesses to the murder of William, Victor’s younger brother. The text states she confesses to the murder seeking salvation. Her confession was purely meant to relive her family. She knew her loved ones would feel at ease if there was a name and face attached to the murder. “God knows how entirely I am innocent. But I do not pretend that my protestations should acquit me; I rest my innocence on a plain and simple explanation of the facts…” (65). This quote demonstrates her peacefulness throughout all the murder chaos, God knows she is innocent and that allows her to be executed peacefully. Justine’s execution does damage on many levels; the Frankenstein family is devastated by another death while Victor feels twice the guilt for his secret monster creation has now resulted in two family members deaths.
The women featured in Frankenstein demonstrate characteristics that allow the story plot to flow. Not only are they responsible for their own personal duties but more importantly they allow the audience to see the multi-layers of the male characters that would have been overlooked if the females were not present. Their coy actions have purpose and should not be underestimated.


Matthew Schroeder said...

Firstly, you should proof-read your essay more closely; there are a few grammatical errors. As for the content, I don't really understand what your thesis is. Are you saying that their passivity is intentional and beneficial? Or are you saying that they may seem passive superficially, but in actuality are subtly acting? It seems like you're arguing both points throughout your essay. You bring up that Caroline spearheaded the adoption of Elizabeth, which backs the latter argument. Then you mention how Justine is acting peacefully and passively during her trial in order to ease the minds of those she cares about, which backs the former. Overall, your point seems to be that the women in this novel are important. My suggestion is that you specify this further. Are they actually being passive? Or do they only seem passive? Are they important because of their passivity? Or are they important because they are in actuality not passive? These two possible arguments are contradictory, and as such you should focus on one only. I think it would add some unity and direction to your essay.

Adam said...

Really, but the first two paragraphs are introductory - they could have been combined and shortened. The approach sounds good, but you want to move quickly from generalizations to details.

Your detailed reading of Caroline is good. You elaborate on her selflessness as length; one could also say more about how she cared for his father on his sickbed here. Where this discussion is weakest, though, is rather significant: you really don't say much about her marriage to Alphonse, and whether it is part of her selflessness, or an enabler of it (giving her power to help other people), etc. Your analysis of her character *is* strong, but it fumbles at perhaps the most critical point.

Re: Elizabeth, this line stuck out to me. "It’s important for her to remain by Victor’s side." Doesn't this mean that she *is* passive, especially since Caroline is the one who told her what she should desire? Or is it truly her own desire, which she is pursuing as actively as she can? Again, I don't disagree with your reading of her overall, but I feel like you're fumbling a little at precisely the central question of passivity: why does she put Victor first? Where does that desire come from? Is it her own, or is it dictated to her?

In the case of Justine, I think you are actively showing how passivity and selflessness can be the same thing, but you are (maybe) trying to treat them as antonyms. I think you're trying to make them antonyms when they aren't. Unless passivity means something different to you, of course, in which case you should make clear what it does mean.

Overall: Your readings of the characters are smart and detailed - Caroline especially. You do a good job of showing the *importance* of the female characters. But especially by the end, I think you have grown ambiguous and unclear about whether you see them as passive - about whether passivity = selflessness, or whether they are actively selfless rather than passive, for instance. There is a lot of room here to clarify your overall argument, while developing your already strong readings of the individual characters.

Note that Matt says many of the same things as I do, if in different ways - we both have the same reaction to your overall argument.