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As a relatively new form of accepted literary criticism, gender studies can’t help but to incorporate aspects of multiple other forms of criticism. Gender criticism depends on the distinction, or the lack thereof, between constructed dichotomies in society; It focuses on both perceived and inherent traits of sex and sexuality, and why these differences are revelatory of the society that produces them. In summary, gender criticism relies on the nature, a biological set of traits or values, versus nurture, a social set of traits or values. Two forms of pre-existing criticisms favor each side of this debate. Feminist criticism focuses on the social roles that gender conforms to in society, and examines the differences produced in literature by the differences of the genders. Psychoanalytic criticism incorporates the innate desires and traits present across the entirety of humanity, regardless of social roles and assumptions. In Frankenstein, the interaction between these three lenses can be examined by viewing three integral factors to the plot: the monster, the role of men, and the role of the mother.
The monster, especially when viewed in context of his relationship with Victor, reveals a myriad of assumptions about human society and human nature. Through a psychoanalytic lens, the terror of their relationship is explored, through Victor’s inability to escape his own undesirable self-image, and through his failure to fulfill his Lacanian desire of replacing the role of his mother. Through a feminist lens, the terror of their relationship could be explained by the gender roles present, or more specifically the lack of a feminine influence in a process so similar to birth; the monster reveals the necessity of the female role in society. Gender criticism somewhat incorporates and somewhat diverges from these two perspectives, claiming that Victor’s relationship with his monster can be explained in terms of homosexuality, and that “Frankenstein’s creature can also be read as the embodiment of lesbian panic” and is exploratory of the social terror that lesbianism elicits.
Male desire also invites three similar but divergent perspectives. In psychoanalytic criticism, desire is more broadly defined as the dissatisfaction present after departing from the womb, ultimately only solved in the moment of sexual intercourse, or in death. Psychoanalytic criticism may explain the destruction and pursuit of dominance that occurs as Victor’s way of coping with failing to satisfy his desire. Feminist criticism, in contrast, may define male desire “as a complex construct producing and reproducing a constellation of behaviors and goals, many of them destructive”. It then explains the tragedy that occurs in Frankenstein by the lack of a predominant feminine influence. Gender criticism takes these concepts of male desire and male destruction, and presents the idea that men are conditioned to exhibit destructive behaviors, and the social expectation of Victor to conform to a traditionally heterosexual role is the cause of tragedy.
Lastly, the presence of a maternal role is integral to these lenses when analyzing Frankenstein. In psychoanalysis, the maternal role is a vessel of desire, the way Victor attempts to find satisfaction, both by bringing his mother back from the dead and becoming the birth-giver in creating life. The impossibility of success in both of these cases is indicative of the ever-present human state of dissatisfaction. In feminist criticism, the domesticity of the maternal role is examined and criticized, exploring the restrictions to freedom that it presents, and the unrealistic expectation of total conformation. Gender criticism explores the idea of this identification of conformation, based on the idea that “the primacy of relations between women and the differences between the women involved can signal an improperly erotic bond”. This idea is then interpreted as veiling the emotional relationships between women of the text, and eventually revealing the lesbian undertones present.
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