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"Gender identity entraps and limits us."
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's, Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus.
Shelley's Frankenstein a mix of the gothic and romanticism genre presents gender-related entrapments of the era, from the socially excepted at the time and additionally the representation of the inflexible society in which criticised choice relating to gender and social status. Although the role of the female characters maintains a constant, in the role of nurturer and a place of ensuring care for the patriarchal husband and children. Shelley does not provide a strong female protagonist in Frankenstein the reference made to the women in this novel presents an insight to Frankenstein himself as an obsessive man with a masculinity which differs to the other male characters. Vlasopolos, suggests 'Men in Frankenstein need less rescuing from obscurity; but they too are scrutinised according to class standards of deportment, attitudes towards money, and language before they are accepted as companions of aristocrats.' (Vlasopolos:127). In this essay, Frankenstein's rejection of masculinity, his struggle with social demands and his creature as an extension of his manhood will be explored.
The reader is introduced to Frankenstein's childhood and family structure. He is a talented man who departs for further education soon after the death of his mother, from scarlet fever which she contracted from Frankenstein's arranged betrothed, Elizabeth. Frankenstein's mother described as much younger than his father and adored by Frankenstein. The reader is witness to the mother's last moments. This moment is reiterated later in the novel concerning Elizabeth herself. As Frankenstein's creature is complete, in fear filled dreams of Elizabeth, she died in his arms and resumed the form of his mother, the first love, before waking to the creature, which is desiring the attention of his creator. The reader, witnessing the dream finds confirmation of Frankenstein's Oedipus complex. Again, Elizabeth's death on the wedding night at the hands of the monster, Frankenstein himself finds comfort in holding the lifeless body of his bride.
Veeder goes as far to suggest that 'Although Frankenstein's desire to become Fitz-victor is achieved partially by giving birth to himself as a monster, he remains a son so long as he: has a father. Alphonse must die.'(Veeder:380) By the removal of the father, Frankenstein could, therefore, become the role of father, through self-creation by, the underlying desire of creator and father as achievable. The role of the monster, therefore, becomes an extension of the creator to achieve his desire. The ugliness of the creation and the fear from the creator may represent all that Frankenstein was hiding from himself. As both the creator and the created had a desire to belong as they are; not by a role which society had thrust upon them. The monster appeared for the most part when the creator was in distress suggesting that; Frankenstein himself is the monster. As the creation desired belonging, love and to be accepted not as the monster at a physical level replaced by the rage to which drove the monster to eliminate the relatives of his creator, in the hope that the bond between the creator and the created would blossom as there would be no other.
Firstly the death of William the youngest brother, the love of the father. The death at the hands of the monster is the first step to destroying Alphonse. Justine's death may represent the lack of choices the monster denied the love of a woman and Victor unable to choose the life companion. The death of Justine, the rage of the monster realisation of not belonging and Victor's self-internal guilt for her death extends the grief of William. Followed by the death of Clerval, Frankenstein's closest friend, ' a magnanimous person who gives generously of himself to others,' (Badalamenti:430) described as the perfect male form of beauty. The obsession of Frankenstein and the monster of the beautiful made Clerval a target due to the ideal of masculinity both the creator and the created both desired. Clerval's death represents the loss of the super-ego and self-consciousness within Frankenstein. Elizabeth's death on the wedding night. The monster wanted to have his creator to himself and removed Elizabeth as Frankenstein did to the monster after requesting he make a companion, but also making Frankenstein's dream a reality. The ultimate death is the one of Alphonse the hierarchical superior, the grief of loss onto the family brought death to this figure. The loss of which Frankenstein knows the actions of his monster resulted in the passing of the father became the turning point in the plot. Instead of a bedridden madness which plagued Frankenstein at times of distress, he becomes the father he desired. To hunt down his creation and destroy the part of himself now all that enforced the male role had no influence. To which Frankenstein before his death finds a companion in Walton who sees him as he wishes to be viewed, consequently the monster himself resides to death as his desire to bond with his creator was denied. Resulting in the passing of the creator and the created, without achieving the social acceptance they desired.
Shelley offers a journey of Frankenstein's social expectations and avoidance to become the masculine norm of his class. Frankenstein feared the expected role which waited for him. Hence, the history and family structure are essential to understanding Frankenstein. The monster eliminates the woes of Frankenstein's life; therefore the creature could represent an extension of self, an unconscious primitive nature expressing unrestricted impulsiveness. Walton's letter to his sister of Frankenstein's warnings; Shelley suggests sex and class norms associated with gender should be followed to prosper in life. Frankenstein's documented words;
'Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.' (Shelley:43)
Hence, Frankenstein concludes his self-made ambiguity against his expected gender role, became the destroyer of all that he thought he did not desire but ultimately required for survival.
Badalamenti, Anthony F. 'Why Did Mary Shelley Write Frankenstein?' Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 45, no. 3, (2006) 419-439.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus. Camberwell, Vic: Penguin, 2006. Print. [Originally published London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, c1818.]
Veeder, William. 'The Negative Oedipus: Father, "Frankenstein", and the Shelleys.' 12, no. 2, (1986) 365-90.
Vlasopolos, Anca. 'Frankenstein's Hidden Skeleton: The Psycho-Politics of Oppression (Le Squelette Caché De Frankenstein: La Psycho-politique De Poppression).' Science Fiction Studies 10, no. 2. Web. 1983
Bissonette, Melissa Bloom. 'Teaching the Monster: Critical Thinking.' College Literature, vol. 37, no. 3, The John Hopkins
University Press (2010) 106-120.
London, Bette. 'Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the Spectacle of Masculinity.' PMLA, vol. 108, no.2, Modern Language
Association (1993) 253-267 < http://www.jstor.org/stable/462596.>
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