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The moment in which Frankenstein attempts to conceive his own creation is a fundamental allegory within the novel. This passage – the conception of Frankenstein’s monster – in fact represents Victor’s botched attempt at bypassing the role of women in society. Similarly, his fear of the power which women wield is revealed through his dreams in which his beloved Elizabeth transforms into the corpse of his deceased mother. Victor’s immediate abandonment of the monster – his offspring – which is a theme recurrent throughout the book, delineates the detrimental effects of a solely patriarchal society. Ultimately through these scenes, Mary Shelley demonstrates that the removal of women would only lead to a world of “hell,” displaying to the audience the problems that would beset a patriarchal society, as well as the hidden desires of patriarchal figures in society through subtle allegories.
Firstly, the inception of Frankenstein’s monster is a transparent endeavor to supersede women. Although in the Victorian Era women were responsible for many domestic duties such as nurture and cooking, their most vital and seemingly irreplaceable role has always been giving birth. ‘On a dreary night’ in November, Victor accomplishes something incredible. He creates life, through a process wherein a male inventor (Victor) creates a male creature (Frankenstein’s monster), simultaneously omitting the previously imperative role of women in giving birth. This venture is a clear attempt at enforcing the power of a patriarchal society, to the extent of snatching away the quintessential role of women. However, we then see that after “the accomplishment of his toils”, he cannot describe his “emotions at this catastrophe,” and that the monster, who had it’s “limbs” chosen “in proportion” and made to be “beautiful” is instead wretched and unnatural. Victor, “who pursued nature to her hiding places,” employs a process with eliminates any maternal influence, yet it has only culminated into the creation of a “wretch.”
It is obvious to see the problems that would beset a male dominated society. It is a society which would inevitably produce demented offspring, who are fundamentally incomplete because of their overly dominant male qualities.
Let’s to a psychoanalytic lens. In 1817, there was a stratified partition between the genders, and it was during the Victorian Era that the roles of men and women became more clearly defined than any other time. Men continued to commute to work, whether that be at a factory, shop or the office, whereas the role of women gradually migrated towards overseeing domestic duties. Frankenstein’s dream of his deceased mother lends itself to viewing from a psychoanalytic perspective. Intertwined in this passage, is the unconscious fear of female sexuality that is harboured by members of Victorian England. This is shown when, Victor “thought” that he “saw Elizabeth” but instead held “the corpse of my [Victor’s] dead mother.” Unconsciously, the replacement of Victor’s dearly adored Elizabeth with deceased mother, shows that he only truly expresses love to his mother when she is dead, mirrored later in the book when Victor hugs Elizabeth in ardour after her death on their wedding night. Victor fears women and the untamable power they have. He keeps them at an arm’s length, careful not to involuntarily express his passion, even referring to Elizabeth – his wife – as ‘dear cousin’. However, after the passing of Victor’s mother, and later Elizabeth, Victor is freed from his fear of female sexuality, and truly begins to love them as they pose no further threat.
Here are some key quotes that express this fear of women. This perverted attitude is evidently a malady of the times.
We can compare the dream Victor has to the Oedipian complex, a psychoanalytic theory. It is a desire for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex and a concomitant sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex; something that occurs at a crucial stage in the developmental process. When Victor holds his mother in place of Elizabeth, the psychoanalytic complex reveals the true desires of those in the Elizabethan time; which is a desire to possess their mother.
There is a passage later that that also explicates the Oedipus Complex. When Victor is imprisoned and the ward announces a ‘friend’, Victor immediately assumes it is the monster, when in actuality, the visitor is his father. This odd connection is made twice in the novel. The Oedipus complex shines through these occurrences as well, instances where the immediate dislike and rivalry between Victor, the monster and Victor’s Father are made apparent. This unconscious demonstration of the Oedipus complex uncovers the true desires of the members of Victorian England.
Furthermore the problems that beset an overly patriarchal society are exposed through Victor’s abandonment of the monster, which makes apparent how women are essential in a society, or else the world turns to “hell”. A completely patriarchal society is destined to fail, reflected in Victor Frankenstein becoming filled with ‘breathless horror and disgust’ at the hideous monster, and Victor consequently taking ‘refuge in the courtyard’, where he ‘remained during the rest of the night.’ In this society where conception occurs without the assistance of a woman, the father is both unkind and unloving towards the offspring (the monster), shown through Victor’s instant abandonment of the monster, and capped off with Victor never even considering giving the monster a name. This action effectually prevents the monster from completing its own identity. Victor’s actions are representations of the problems that would plague a patriarchal society – a society with abandoned, nameless children.
Evidently, this passage is a clear criticism of the ignorance of man and their lack of essential maternal qualities, shown through the lack of a name which is an indicator of the lack of accountability that Frankenstein feels for his creation.
Looking at this psychoanalytically, we can reveal not only the hidden fears of Victor Frankenstein, but also those of the Victorian era. This incessant phobia is their apprehension of the idea that society requires women, or else becomes dysfunctional. Victor flees from his creation time after time, simultaneously refusing the truth in front of him; that women are just as powerful as men, if not more so, especially in upbringing. In the Victorian Era, the idea that women could be just as powerful as men would have been an opinion that people shied away from. We can see Frankenstein’s monster as the Truth, and Victor as the typical man who flees from the repressed but prevalent power of women.
Frankenstein is Mary Shelley’s outcry at the patriarchal society of Victorian England. It is a portrayal of repressed themes such as the oppression and fleeing of the truth, the Oedipus complex, and the inherent fear that men harbour of female sexuality. Shelley employs all this in order to show us the potholes in a patriarchal society, as well as the concealed fears and desires of those in the Victorian Era. Through the passage we have explored when Frankenstein gives life to his monster, we see first: his ‘unexpected’ reaction to the heinous monster (his own creation), followed by his psychologically challenging dream, and concluding with his abandonment of his child, his creation, his conception. Through these events, the story of Frankenstein aims to put the uncommon ideas in the common light. Shelley artfully protests against the patriarchal society of the 19th century, and emphasizes the need for women in any society.
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