Anyone that has read, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has come across the lack of female representation in this novel. We are missing female narrators, a female monster and a mother figure for the new creation. Viewing texts through a feminist approach helps us close the gap in the inequalities of female misrepresentation. Although, some would argue that a feminist approach limits and overlooks many texts that do not take women into account. We can in fact do the opposite and openly analyze any text, especially those with the problem of a lack of female voice or portrayal and through a feminist perspective, expose these issues to bring about a change in the literary world.
We will use a feminist approach, in collaboration with Eleanor Salotto’s Frankenstein and Dis(re)membered Identity, which targets the notion of identity being composed of fragments in the text to understand the reasoning behind Shelley’s lack of female voice in Frankenstein. Shelley manages to use three male narrators, sabotage the creation of the female monster and give the mother figure over to the hands of a male scientist, which suggests that she purposely eliminates the female figure not only to reveal women repression but also to “disrupt… and call [it] into question” (207).
Where are the Woman Narrators?
It is no coincidence that Mary Shelley uses three narrators and that they are all males. The book begins with Robert Walter telling his sister the story about Victor’s journey in epistolary form. The second narrator is Victor Frankenstein who tells his point of view of the events and lastly, the monster recounts his trajectory to his creator. The monster in the text is described with pronouns that give him a masculine identity. So why does Mary Shelley use three males to complete her novel? Through the use of male authoritative figures, Shelley is mirroring the current status of females as seen by society. “Once one begins the work of self-representation, one is subject to another text, another story, and another self” (192). Through her work, Mary Shelley tries to create an image of herself but this image becomes fragments of male representations. She expresses this by the use of male narrators. They take over the voice of the female author. Shelley’s attempt to give herself a voice is over shadowed by the male dominance she has been subjected to. The novel itself becomes a reflection of society, since no woman is given any type of authority in the text. Shelley uses the “narrative [as an attempt] to sew up the text of [her] life” (198). Her text expresses a want for a female image that is not based on a male idealization. Shelley wants females to have their own identity, one that is not based on male representations.
We Don't Need a Female Monster
In the novel another way in which Shelley expresses the ways in which women are repressed is when Frankenstein declines to make the female monster. He was able to create the male and succeeded in doing so because he himself was man. On the other hand, when it's time to make the female he “reduces the creature to a catalogue of body parts that do not harmonize” and never finishes the job (195). This can be a metaphor for the fact that males are not capable or should not be allowed to create the image of a female in their own idealized way. “The repression of women and specifically, of female sexuality, contributes to the novel’s monstrousness” (201). Shelley uses the destruction of the female monster to represent the way in which society has destroyed the image of women by not allowing them to have their own identity. Their identity is just a combination on various ideals that men have set forth for them. A man is given the power to destroy and not allow a female to come to life and if the female monster did come to life it would only be as a result of the “horror of a man creating women in his own image” (203). Women have become the product of the image men have given them and nothing more, but Shelley's work seeks prove the opposite.
You Are NOT the Mother
In Frankenstein, Victor does not only represent an authoritative voice as a narrator and is given power to destroy the female creature, but is also given the ability to create. Victor as a male scientist has found the secret key to reproduce life, which in a natural state is a female’s capability. Shelley allows a man to be given the ability to create life as a means to “critique the masculine notion of identity based on power and ambition” (206). In the text, Frankenstein is proud to have found the secret to creating life but as soon as his creation comes to life he is perplexed by it. This is because he has taken on a role that is not made for males, he doesn’t know how to act or react as a mother figure. He runs away and leaves his creation to perish. Another instance in which the male figure tries to usurp the task of a mother is the removal of the mother figure at the beginning of the text. Frankenstein’s mother passes away early in the novel, leaving young Frankenstein without a mother figure. Shelley challenges the males to take on a female identity and in doing so proves that they are not fit or capable in doing so. Victor fails at parenting his creation and because of this Shelley is able to disrupt the idea of dominant “notions of masculin[ity]” (206).
You have destroyed the work which you began; what is it that you intend? - Monster
(Mary Shelley, Frankenstein)
Viewing Frankenstein from a feminist perspective allows us to take into consideration the factors that caused the author to structure the text in the way she did. Although, some critics would argue that a viewing Frankenstein from a feminist perspective "assumes that female writers will write texts that express their 'true' gender" (204). This therefore implies that the book has a well enough representation of females if the author was of that same gender. If this were true and if this were the case in Frankenstein, then there would not be an evident lack of female authority, which there is, as we have examined. Shelley had to "write behind the cover of a mask" to express herself, which is an "influential point for feminism". As feminist critics we seek to overturn the absence of female representation in Frankenstein and to shed light on how this problem can be avoided in future works.