Frankenstein, Nurturers, and Gender Roles, Oh My!

Frankenstein, Nurturers, and Gender Roles, Oh My!
Posted on 02/08/2021
Frankenstein, Nurturers, and Gender Roles, Oh My!Frankenstein, Nurturers, and Gender Roles, Oh My!
Alexis Stakem
Staff Writer
[email protected]

Hello and welcome back to my little corner of the internet where I can uninhibitedly shout about books whenever I please.

Now, if you remember the last “Let’s Discuss,” and how could you forget it, it was pinnacle of critical writing, we talked about the nonsensical ramblings of Mr. Bradbury and the passionate hatred my soul harbors for his dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451. Today, instead of discussing the elderly’s fear of technology, we will be talking about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and ever beloved topic of gender roles. If you have ever been in any English class, ever, I am assuming you have heard the words: gender roles tossed about when discussing any book to ever exist.

Usually, they are used to make a larger societal commentary about what sort of behavior society expects from each gender at the time. Since Frankenstein was written in 19th century, women were largely expected to be these docile creatures who were more or less emotional servants to the men in their lives, and Shelley embraces this ideal in her writing.

Shelley weaves her rather feministic, though perhaps not by today’s standards, views of gender roles in the story. Shelley’s development of the female characters and their subsequent gender roles enforces the idea that, yes, women embody the idea of maternal care and selflessness; however, instead of writing these traits to as weak or unnecessary to society, Shelley highlights how these traits, and thus women, are the most important component for maintaining social stability and are determined as the deciding factor when it comes to the creation of monsters. For example, Elizabeth Lavenza, Frankenstein’s adopted sister and future bride, is described as someone who embodies the idea of nurturing, most notably shown through her compassion and selflessness, at one point Frankenstein says that she is so dedicated to the happiness of others, she consistently forgets about herself.

Furthermore, as the main female character Elizabeth serves as evidence that the women throughout the novel will be representative of a rather impossible standard of benevolence. Similar characteristics can be seen in the other female characters such as Safie De Lacey whose selflessness is exemplified by her willingness to leave behind her wealth and riches in order to be reunited with her beloved, while her maternal aspects are highlighted by her ability to look beyond class divisions and nurse her servant back to health. Elizabeth and Safie are evidently symbolic of the societal role women were forced to play, and rather than craft her female characters to embody traits that actively work against this stereotype, Shelley indues her characters of the female sex with traits that help them encapsulate this standard.

Throughout Frankenstein all the women are reduced to one-dimensional figures who all share an inability to consider themselves rather than those who surround them.

However, while Shelley establishes the women in her novel as passive and timid, she continues to display that they are the most important component when it comes to preventing the creation of monsters. At this juncture in the novel, the Creature has been rejected by both Frankenstein and society and is desperately trying to convince Frankenstein to create him mate.

The Creature explains that when Adam and Eve, God's first man and woman, were kicked out of Paradise for allowing themselves to listen to Satan's lies and as a result, sin, God did not make them endure it alone. He goes on to explain that after his exile from society, he was without companionship, particularly that of a female.

The Creature, having never experienced care or compassion, both which are represented by the female sex, finds his life devoid of all hope and joy, stating that he is “malicious because he is miserable” (Shelley). Thus, the lack of female companionship is not only responsible for the creation of monsters, but their eventual downfalls as well. Furthermore, by the end of the novel the Creature has successfully killed nearly all of the women once present in the novel.

These two details seemingly coincide with one another. The women, representative of nurturing have now disappeared, leading to the devolution of both Frankenstein and the Creature, effectively destabilizing both of their world and ridding it of positive influences or aspects.

Women and their role as nurturers and caregivers have become crucial to ensuring the prevention of monsters, as the lack of maternal care will drive most insane which will ultimately lead to a dangerous imbalance of self absorption and selfishness, represented by the male sex, in society.

In conclusion, Shelley displays that women are a vital component when upholding social structure. She casts a favorable role amongst the women as those who embody maternal care and nurturing. By exploring this embodiment of maternal care, Shelley points out that their care can play a large role when regarding the creation of monsters and how societal structure becomes much more faulty when it is barren of those capable to nurture.

The women in this novel are passive, one-dimensional characters who do nothing more than showcase what man's ideal woman was, however, instead of this being a fascinating look at gender roles, when it is interwoven with the discovery of the secret to life, it becomes an even more interesting look the forgotten impact women leave on society.

Shelley combines a thoughtful look at the unfair treatment of women at the time with an even more speculative look at how they influence those around them, and to a greater extent society.

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