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‘It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men” (Mary Wollstonecraft). Feminism regards the role of women in a patriarchal society in which women are often subjugated and even objectified. In the gothic fiction novel Frankenstein written by English author Mary Shelley, women are characterized as passive, weak, and beneficial objects. Even though Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a famous advocate for women’s rights, there is still a complete lack of feminism in Shelley’s novel. In Frankenstein, women are objectified and subjugated shown by the characters of Elizabeth, Justin, and Safie, thereby strengthening the stereotypes of women in a patriarchal society.
The predominant character Elizabeth is often described as a possession and judged on looks in the novel. She fulfills her duty as a woman in the household in a patriarchal society and completes what is expected of her in a household. She takes care of everyone, has a gentle and loving personality, and takes on the role of the mother figure later on in the book. Her characterization proves that during Shelley’s times, women were often looked at similarly. Elizabeth is also strongly objectified throughout the story by the narrator, Victor Frankenstein. Victor received Elizabeth as a “gift” from his mother, she said, “‘I have a pretty present for my Victor- tomorrow he shall have it” (Shelley 18). Elizabeth is objectified here as she is simply being called a “present.” This subjugates Elizabeth as she is shown as a weak object purely existing for Victor’s entertainment. Throughout the novel, Victor calls Elizabeth by “my sweet Elizabeth,” and “mine,” constantly taking possession of her. Even her death is because of her objectification by men. The monster only chose to kill Elizabeth because he knows how much of a catastrophe it would be for Victor as she is “his” most precious thing. His objectification of Elizabeth led to a disastrous outcome as her freedom is taken away. On Victor and Elizabeth’s wedding night, Victor left Elizabeth at home so that he could go outside and confront the monster. He assumed that the monster was there in order to take his life and therefore left Elizabeth merely as a second thought. However, the monster killed Elizabeth instead, proving how Victor had never thought Elizabeth was important enough for the monster to kill. He treats her as an inferior object ultimately causing Elizabeth’s death. Additionally, as the story is narrated by Victor, he also often objectifies her and defines her by his standards. He reacts to her looks by exclaiming, “her smile, her soft voice, the sweet glance of her celestial eyes, were ever there to bless and animate us” (Shelley 19). Victor treats her as an object throughout the book, he considers Elizabeth as something that is there purely for making him and Henry content. He and his mom, Caroline, both consider her beauty very important. If Victor truly loved Elizabeth like he claims he does, Victor would not care about her appearance. Caroline adopted Elizabeth because of her delicate looks among the other children. This proves the importance of the physical appearance of a woman back then in a patriarchal society. Elizabeth Lavenza is objectified throughout the story; through the words Victor uses to address Elizabeth, the objectification and subjugation of women can be shown as they fit into the stereotypical role that women conform to in a patriarchal society.
Women in the novel are also shown as weak and as objects through Justine and Safie, as both were used as either a scapegoat or a tool by men. Justine’s accusation and death plainly added on to the fact that women were portrayed as weak. Justine, who was completely innocent, could do nothing to protect herself in a trial that accuses her of murdering William, Victor’s youngest brother. Victor described, “She was tranquil, yet her tranquility was evidently constrained; and as her confusion had before been adduced as a proof of her guilt” (Shelley 54). This proves that Justine was in fact judged as guilty before her trial even began. However, nobody would believe or stand up for her even after Elizabeth helps Justine prove her innocence. Her accusation was fair as there were strong pieces of evidence against her; however, it was not just to assume her guilty before the trial took place. The trial would not result in the same way if a man was put into the situation. In fact, Victor’s case late in the novel never resulted in a life or death penalty, he was acquitted almost immediately. Innocence could not protect Justine, she was “used” by the monster and the public as a scapegoat. The outcome of the case only emphasized how helpless and weak women are portrayed in the novel. She was also portrayed as an object with little value. This explains how Victor did utterly nothing to help prove Justine’s innocence even though he knows the truth behind the case. He only laments about the public not knowing about the truth, he does absolutely nothing to try to make the public aware of it. It can be concluded that Justine is just not important enough for him to give up his “reputation” and reveal the fact to the public. This ignorance by Victor ultimately led to Justine’s death as she was helpless against the corrupt system of justice. Safie, similarly, was also treated as an object in the novel. The monster took her as an advantage and obtained knowledge of the language by using her. The monster realizes that he can use Safie for his own benefit, which is the epitome of the objectification of women. Safie’s dad also promised her to Felix as a gift of gratitude. This portrays Safie as an object once more, as her father “gifted” her as an object and later took the “gift” back when he changed his mind. This exemplifies how weak women were back then and how easy it is for men to manipulate women in that patriarchal society. Safie had no choice on who she could marry; even though she actually did fall in love with Felix, her happiness was due to luck rather than her own choice. Accusing Justine of murdering William, judging her as guilty before the trial began, and having the monster take advantage of Safie for his own benefit only add to the fact that women were treated as weak objects and were often subjugated in a patriarchal society. In a patriarchal society like in the novel, men are more powerful and important than women, women are merely there to help them.
In the novel Frankenstein, female characters were often treated as objects and subjugated to men. They all meet the stereotypical standards of what a woman should be like what she should do in a patriarchal society. Some female characters, Elizabeth and Justine, die from conforming to these standards. Elizabeth, Justine, and Safie are examples of victims of these stereotypes. Elizabeth is considered as a possession, ultimately killed due to having little value; she was an object of Victor, leading to the monster destroying her as if she was the “payment” for his pain. Justine is treated unfairly against the justice system but is too weak to protect herself, serving as a scapegoat of the monster. Safie, similar to Justine, serves merely as a “learning tool” for the monster and as a means to an end for the monster; she is viewed more as an opportunity than as a person. Women in this novel show complete allegiance to the typical expectations they are put up against in that society. However, the novel also proves the flaws in a patriarchal society as some female characters met their demise due to the conformation of the stereotypical roles of women in that society.
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