The Portraiture of Women in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

mary shelley frankenstein
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How are women portrayed in this 1818 novel?

If you have not read Frankenstein yet, for sure you have already heard about the novel. Written by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein is a novel that brings to the surface some of the most important themes. And even though it was originally published in 1818, we can say that its themes are still actual. The novel depicts a scientist who gives birth to his own creation. But, of course, the creation is not as he imagined it to be and everything got out of hand.

It is a novel about knowledge, birth, and creation, about alienation, but about the portraiture of women during that century too. Many female characters are present in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. However, they are depicted in a specific way that shows the conditions of females during the XIX century.

This is one of the books that can challenge your beliefs, but also expand your knowledge of the history of how women were treated. It might be, along with other books, one that helps you find out who you are and what your values are. So, let’s see the portraiture of women Mary Shelley did in her novel.

Women Have a Utilitarian Function

One of the views on women is that they serve a utilitarian function. What does this mean? That they are there only to serve another purpose, usually to help men fulfill their goals. Women are seen as tools, not as human beings, that are there only to help others do what they want. This means that they do not have any personal goals or wishes. Or if they have, they need to silence them because this is not the function of women.

They are not seen as human beings that are equal to men and can have their own goals, dreams, or ideas. Each of the female characters that appear in Frankenstein novel has a very specific scope, the one to serve a specific function to someone else. This is an interesting topic and theme that is present in this novel. It might even be one of the essay topics for students.

Many examples sustain this point of view in the novel, but you should look at every female character and you will surely identify their function. For example, Agatha’s function is to teach the monster what love is or what healthy human relationships look like.

Women Are Passive

Frankenstein is a novel that is studied in college as it comes with some food for thought, but it also sheds more light on the condition of women in the XIX century. Students might have to write an essay on a topic related to this novel and there are many themes you can take a look at. However, the condition of women is an interesting one to analyze.

Women are passive. They do not do something special; they only exist. And most of the time and this is the case of all female characters in this novel, they are there to serve someone else’s purpose. In this case, the purpose of Frankenstein is to learn what humans do and what they are. For example, Justine is maybe the best example of this.

She is passive even when she is framed for the murder of William Frankenstein. Everything that happens to her, even this framing which is not correct, she remains passive. She knows she is innocent but does not even attempt to try to prove her innocence or convince the accusers that she is not the murderer. The same is valid for all the other female characters of the novel.

Women Are Viewed as Possessions

Maybe the best example of this is Elizabeth, the fiancée of William Frankenstein, the creator of the monster. There are many parts in the novel where he describes his views on his fiancée. And all we can understand is that he sees her as a possession.

However, his male ego will not let him even protect her from danger. Instead of making sure she is safe during their wedding night, he chooses to patrol the house. Elizabeth is described from the beginning as a nice and soft woman. However, her fiancé sees her as a possession and is used for revenge, rather than appreciated for her value.

Final Thoughts

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel is an iconic one. If you want to learn more about the condition of women in the XIX century, this is a book you should read. The portraiture of women in this novel is a rather simplistic one. It does not see women as human beings but as possessions. They are passive and serve a utilitarian function, helping men fulfill their end goals.

About the Author

Kathy Mercado is a content writer. She is passionate about literature and is always on the hunt for iconic books. Kathy’s favorite author is Hermann Hesse.