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The Women's Role in Frankenstein

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein only includes four characters of the female sex, one of which is destroyed before she is alive. De Beauvoir in The Second Sex claims that women are fundamentally oppressed, characterising them as the Other. This form of oppression is not dependent on their biology, psychology or economic status, but simply by men, which was clearly demonstrated in the four female characters of Frankenstein. This means that women gain a lack of significance due to being seen as a sex between a man and eunuch, rather than their own sex.

The role of Elizabeth Lavenza is to simply embody the novel’s motif of passive women who rely on men to make them someone noticeable. This can be seen as the attention she receives from Victor is seen to be possessive and domestic; ‘all praises bestowed on her, I received as made to a possession of my own’. The noun ‘possession’ not only objectifies Elizabeth, but indicates the idea of ownership and control that Victor has over Elizabeth. Where for Victor this shows his love for Elizabeth, in the novel this is how he took her for granted and made her into a target for the Monster by essentially causing her death. This idea that Elizabeth embodies women having to rely on men to make them noticeable is shown to be an unconscious effort, according to de Beauvoir. She claims that ‘a well-known woman writer refused to have her portrait appear in a series of photographs devoted specifically to women writers. She wanted to be included in the mens category; but… she used her husbands influence’. This shows that women can only be someone known because of their husband, again proving to be possessions of their husbands. This then creates the effect that women become intermediate between male and eunuch rather than their own sex, due to their lack of control. Greer’s The Female Eunuch could be seen as a response to de Beauvoir where she draws on this idea, but claims that women are overall eunuch due to their passivity, which can also be seen in Justine.

Another way where de Beauvoir’s idea of women being passive due to men can be applied is where Elizabeth is killed; ‘the murderous mask of the fiend’s grasp was on her neck, and the breath had ceased to issue from her lips’. The repetition of the third person pronoun ‘her’ makes Elizabeth’s death impersonal and almost silences her. Elizabeth’s death being described by Frankenstein shows how he is essential and of power which allows him to control Elizabeth. In opposition, this rules Elizabeth as inessential and disposable. Furthermore, the monster’s method of murder is designed to silence Elizabeth as when she screams, he strangles her ensuring that neither words nor breath can ‘issue from her lips’. Frankenstein referring to Elizabeth’s ‘lips’ rather than her mouth sexualises Elizabeth. This links de Beauvoir’s idea that ‘for him she is sex’. Ultimately, this shows how The Second Sex helps us understand Frankenstein as we see the novel’s motif and why Elizabeth is treated in a passive manner.

Another female character that is better understood due to de Beauvoir’s statement is Justine Moritz. Justine started off in the novel as a young adopted little girl who was taken in by the Frankenstein household. It I Slater learnt that Justine is blamed for William’s death, and was executed for the murder. However, it is known by the reader that the murderer was actually the monster. This shows how women are only labelled what men allow them to be labelled. De Beauvoir claims that ‘man defines woman… In relation to himself’. Where the monster gets away with the murder, Justine is accused in return, which shows how men judge women in direct opposition to themselves, which is what de Beauvoir’s primary thesis is about. This suggests that as Justine is wrongly ruled guilty of William’s death, she is defined as a murderer due to a man’s actions, which can be seen in This is further emphasised as Justine is not really spoken about in the novel until she is accused of the murder and executed. Although Justine pleads not guilty, she is not believed due to the fact that she is a woman, and therefore has no place in society. De Beauvoir expresses this thought in her book where she claims that ‘it is the woman who is in the wrong’. This is simply because they are shown and believed to be inferior in comparison to men.

De Beauvoir’s statement helps us to read Frankenstein as the character of Caroline Beaufort, Frankenstein’s mum. When reading about Caroline’s story, we learn that her dad dies when she was very young. Immediately, she is taken on by Alphonse, almost to say that she was unable to cope with the demands of life without a man in her life. Furthermore, she then became married to Alphonse, who was her fathers friend. This puts into question whether Caroline is capable of taking care of herself, as Alphonse symbolises the idea that women need protecting; ‘he came like a protecting spirit to the poor girl’. The simile refers to Alphonse being Caroline’s ‘guardian angel’, which suggests that Caroline needs caring for.

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The Women’s Role In Frankenstein. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-womens-role-in-frankenstein/
“The Women’s Role In Frankenstein.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-womens-role-in-frankenstein/
The Women’s Role In Frankenstein. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-womens-role-in-frankenstein/> [Accessed 17 May 2022].
The Women’s Role In Frankenstein [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2022 May 17]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-womens-role-in-frankenstein/
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