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The Gender Battle In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

1840 words - 8 pages

The Gender Battle in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

The fight for domination amongst the sexes is a battle as old as civilization, where the ideas of gender hierarchies first began. These conflicts often manifest themselves unwittingly through literature, showing subtle signs of deeper tension that has ensued for centuries. The struggle between masculine and feminine becomes apparent through Frankenstein, a battle that results in the death of the potentially most powerful figure in the book. Frankenstein yields characters motivated by complicated thinking, specifically the title character, Victor Frankenstein. Victor is a brilliant 19th century Swiss scientist who succeeds in generating ...view middle of the document...

Because Victor Frankenstein fears the existence of a female free of restrictions that he cannot impose, he destroys her, thus eliminating the female’s options of becoming either completely feminine through becoming a mother and mate, or totally unfeminine by opting to leave her partner and face the world alone.

One of the threats of creating a mate for the monster lies in the female’s physical ability to procreate. Victor is afraid that the female and the monster will produce children, with or without his approval. Through her feminine body, the female could unleash "a race of devils … who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror" (Shelley 144). She is the crucial element in naturally bringing about such offspring, for without the female, the monster is rendered impotent, unable to cause any more harm than he alone can inflict. If the female chooses to accept the role as mother and mate, together she and the monster can produce a generation of offspring taught to despise mankind as deeply as their predecessors. Victor recognizes the power the female has over man solely through her ability to bear children, because through this ability the female can do just as Victor does -- create life, naturally fostering it in contrast with how Victor must do so unnaturally. The mantle of procreation will now fall upon the female. He is no longer needed to ensure the survival of his engineered species. His rebellion against nature and the limits of his own body as a male have amounted to nothing. The efforts to “usurp the power of women…[and] eliminate women in the creative act" are thwarted (Kiely 294). Victor’s glory in learning the secrets of life and death will be undermined, for he will now be merely a catalyst in the future procreation of this new race. Though Victor does serve as a parent figure for the monster and his mate, he will not have such influence over their children, for he will have been only indirectly responsible for their existence by not creating them himself. Etienne and Rebecca Benson explain that from this concern, "his anxiety leads him to project a stereotypically male activeness onto the female creature; his decision to destroy her ensures her absolute passivity." The only way to ensure that the female is given no chance to use her maternal body for domination is to eliminate her.

Victor’s argument against the initial commission to create a mate rests on the premise that she will match the monster in force, and the monster alone already poses a threat because of his might. The female would therefore be able to inflict harm upon mankind not only through her children, but also as an individual with abnormal strength. Frankenstein says, "Shall I create another like yourself, whose joint wickedness might desolate the world?" (Shelley 128). Although Victor does especially note the female’s equation to a male, he also acts out of fear of what he believes are her...

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