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"She Might Become Ten Times More Malignant than Her Mate": Feminism in Frankenstein

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A branch off of feminist movements gender criticism is a literary approach that explores ideas about men and women can be influenced by cultures that attempt to correct the impression of a paternal society. The novel Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley, provides numerous examples of gender injustices to communicate to her audience the blatant reality of inequalities between sexes during the 1800s.

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Mary Shelly used Frankenstein to reach out to her audience about the injustices that women encountered in her society. Women in the novel have stereotypical female roles. At its surface, Shelley depicts women as being dependent on men as a plant “…sheltered by the gardener from every rougher wind”, but the underlying message is to critique the domestic sphere that women are trapped in during this time period when Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Shelley uses several rhetorical devices and her own outlook on society to reproduce the inequalities between men and women seen throughout the nineteenth century.

Within the novel, Shelley demonstrates that women are meant to be fragile and in need of leadership by only having male-dominated roles, as well as using women as a support for them men. The women are portrayed as objects, advisers, and a filler for men’s lonely void. Shelley Incorporated the criticism of gender roles and the failure of them in the character’s domestic lives. When Elizabeth is introduced to Frankenstein at the beginning of his life, he claims her as a “possession of my own”. Also, with Frankenstein’s father, Alphonse, and Caroline Beaufort, when Shelley refers to Caroline as a fragile plant needing shelter. In the novel, both of these women are stripped of their lives and therefore unable to take care of the family, leaving the men without the “tranquility of domestic affections”. Shelley shows the women as weak and passive creatures, and men as being controlled by their ambitions to criticize the hierarchical nuclear family.

In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein creates a male monster to make an all-male world possible. Mary Shelley uses Victor’s fears to portray the consequences of a single-sex dystopia. Frankenstien does not consider the danger of the creature’s male sexuality until he considers creating a female version, thinking that “She might become ten times more malignant than her mate”. He goes on in thought, further imagining “a race of devils that will be propagated upon the earth”, foreshadowing that the women’s sexuality would be the one to blame for the downfall of the human race. It is then that Victor decides the female monster’s fate. This is a recurring motif that can be seen throughout the novel. Men repeatedly decide women’s fates and the women are left to accept these decisions without any objection. He destroys the “monsters” because he is frightened of the ideas of female independence, sadism, desire, power, and monstrosity.

Mary Shelley’s prose viewed as a sign of failure as the monster’s language always seems to be a disguise for something terrifying that remains unspoken. Since the gender anatomy of the creature is never spoken of, he is considered incomplete, and women can relate to the creature. Both women and the creature are categorized as “monstrous” and referred to and known as “the body”. Mary Shelley completes her role as a wife by referencing to her husband’s, Percy Shelley, poems throughout the novel. Both Women and the monster cannot be assimilated into society. Women in a patriarchal society are defined as an absence and a mutilated body that must be repressed to enable men to maintain their mastery. The female creature was created based on the desires of one male; and she was aborted due to the desires of another. Further revealing that women are helpless in a male society. It can be noted that Victor loathes and loves the monster and his mother in similar ways.

Within the novel it can be inferred that the female characters fulfill the object role. The female characters rely heavily on men for support and survival. Furthermore, society views the female characters as delicate beings that cannot survive by themselves. As a result, they need a man to protect, cherish, and provide for them. In fact, all of the female characters have a male character to which they depend on. Caroline is unable to survive after her father’s death and as a result, marries Alphonse. Alphonse “came in like a protecting spirit to the poor girl”. This simile compares Alphonse to a hero and Caroline to the weak and desperate women that she is portrayed as. Furthermore, Alphonse takes care of Caroline “as a fair exotic is sheltered by her gardener, from every rougher wind”. This metaphor describes Caroline to be a “fair exotic” who is treated like a possession rather than a capable human being. By making this comparison, Shelley alludes to the idea that the female characters are as delicate as flowers and that they cannot survive without the male characters.

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In conclusion, Mary Shelley’s female characters in Frankenstein lack life and detail. They are seen as “passive” because Shelley does not elaborate them in any way. The Females in the novel are quintessentially ambiguous figures: present but absent, morally animate angels, but physically and politically inanimate morals. Shelley seemed to go more in depth with her male characters, whereas the females seem to be there just for the benefit of the male characters.


  1. O’Shea, Ayla. “The Fear of Femaleness: How “Frankenstein” Acts as a Feminist Platform”. Medium. Nov. 2016.
  2. Williams, Deborah Lindsay. “Monstrosity and Feminism in Frankenstein.”Electra Street., Nov. 2014. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.
  3. Tan, Wayne. “The Female Gender and Its Significance in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”. Unseen. WordPress, April 2017.
  4. Camia. “Feminist Literary Criticism Is Active Since 19th Century: What Is The Main Theory Of It? What Do Feminist Critics Want? Let’s Look Through The Analysis”. Women’s., January. 2018
  5. The Writing Lab. “Feminists Criticism (1960’s-present)”. Owl. Purdue University, 1995-2019.
  6. Gwanet network. “History and theory of Feminism”.
  7. Hollingsworth, Alexis. “ Morality without God in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (presented at SWPACA 2017). Medium. January. 2019.
  8. Napikoski, Linda. “Feminist Literary Criticism”. Humanities, August. 2019.

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