Psychological and Gender Analysis of Frankenstein

*I was torn between critiquing Frankenstein through the schools of Psychological or Feminist criticism so I combined the two.*

I immediately saw Mary Shelley reflected in the character of the monster due to the fact that she, much like the monster, was an unwanted outcast from the moment she came into being. The death and horror that would come as a result of Victor’s blind creation of a being was nothing that he could have predicted. This was much like Shelley’s life in the sense that her birth resulted in the death of her mother and, in turn, her existence was held at a reduced value by her father because it came about at the expense of another. Shelley wrote herself into the monster because she understood what it felt like to be a flaw, something not meant to be. Shelley was born with complications and in the 1800s, with the very limited medical advancements, that was the equivalent to a death sentence as women then were having, on average, six children and were willing to give up one if it meant they could have more children in the future. The limited scientific advancements at the time and the birth complication that Shelley endured meant she, like the monster, was at a statistical improbability of existing.

Later on in Shelley’s life she attempted to have children, as that was the sole purpose of women at the time. Shelley’s experience with being a woman in the late 18th century and early 19th century are reflected in the women of Frankenstein. In the novel women are consistently belittled in comparison to men because in the 1700s-1800s women were destined to be wives and mothers; further, they were qualified by their ability to fulfill their roles.  In the novel they are portrayed as being useful for mundane tasks such as cooking, cleaning and serving their husbands, while men were breadwinners who were independent, educated, and capable of achieving anything! Not one of the female characters in the piece was individually strong enough to have an impact in their homes, let alone their society. They were in a perpetual state of need, be it in need of a husband to support them, or in need, for example, of a strong man to get things for the fire. They were never capable of doing things on their own. Not only were the large majority of the characters in the piece male, but their female counterparts were, in a sense, accessories to the men. The accessories inflated the men to a higher status than they already had because when they were introduced the men were now, in addition to their already desirable traits, supporting a dependent. Although through the eyes of modern women this would be chauvinistic and demeaning the characters in the piece were seemingly perfectly content with their statuses in civilization. Everyone, man and woman alike, was fine living in their misogynistic society.

Although Shelley is a female she wrote from the perspective of a man, something she would not have had any experience with first hand. This could have been because she never quite understood what it was like to feel as powerful as a man, the closest she could come to feeling as powerful as one was through her writing. Further, the men and women in the piece had relations in the cases of siblings, servants, or romantic interests. No elicit relations, such as being a mistress, were referred to as, perhaps, Shelley was attempting to repress the truth of her relationship. Moreover, women and men were not portrayed as being friends or equals, the men were always superior. One may once again argue that Shelley avoided relating to her own life in this aspect of her piece by not writing about the immense pressure put on women to have children. Shelley had several complications with her birth and the birth of her children and wouldn’t have wanted to be forced to recall those painful memories.  Although she did not depict women as strictly baby bearers she revealed that women were, at the time, incapable of achieving anything equivalent to a man. This did not necessarily create conflict, as the characters in the book were all content with how things were, but this did create a hierarchy among the genders with men being of a higher value than women.

Shelley and the monster are nearly synonymous, as opposed to Shelley and a female character, because being the monster gave her power but also reflected her truth. She never had any real power in the society that she lived in, and this was reflected through the female characters in the novel, so writing herself into the monster gave her the individual control she so gravely desired. Although the monster was an outcast, in the fictional society he had more power than Shelley ever could in her real society. He was free to make his own choices, had no one ruling over him, and was capable of achieving anything and everything a man could. Further, the monster revealed Shelley’s truth as they both were immediately disliked by the ones that were to love them the most – their creators. Through the monster and the few female characters in the piece Shelley allowed aspects of her life and herself to be reflected into her work while creating a powerful narrative.


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4 thoughts on “Psychological and Gender Analysis of Frankenstein

  1. Dear Ibuku,

    I truly am beyond elated to say that your writing truly astounded me within this piece. I love your immediate recognition of how the monster is comparable to Mary Shelley for I also find a truth within this statement. The monster is an “outcast” as you mention, almost immediately from his birth, and so is Mary Shelley. Mary caused the death of her mother through being brought into human life; therefore, her father in a capacity, can recognize her as a reason for her mother’s death. This emotion is rooted within the monster for he, from birth, is rooted within the innocence of a child that begins to slowly learn the cruelty associated with human society.

    I love how you mention that Shelley “wrote herself into the monster” because she was a “flaw”, but what astounded me was you definition of a flaw: “something not meant to be.” I have always noted a flaw to be something that limits our capacity as a human, and something that can be fixed. But you challenge my perception for it is almost as if a flaw is secure and unchanging, for it can present a real truth one may want to become ignorant towards. Mary understands this definition of a flaw through her father’s perception of her; notably the monster identifies this within himself through the rejection he faces by human society.

    It is also noted that the role of women represented within the 17th and 18th centuries were identified as a housewife and had the “weak” role of fulfilling their husband’s desires as you mention. This is almost identified within Elizabeth, and how her main purpose was to marry Victor and satisfy his need to attain a semblance of normalcy within her. She was someone that allowed Victor to forget the madness he had succumbed to and the evil creation he had bestowed upon humanity; due to the mundaneness and the certainty her role as a woman provided; it balanced Victor’s uncertainty within himself.

    I would like to question how you validate the monster is a representation Mary Shelley, but is Victor not also? I would love to know your thoughts.


    1. Dear Sadia,
      Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment on my piece. Your kind words have been very encouraging and I am quite glad that you got to think about the novel from a differing perspective after reading the piece.

      In relation to your question I do think that Victor, in a smaller capacity than the monster, was definitely a representation of Shelley’s desires. As we discussed in our Socratic discussions, she had an experience with what, at the time, looked like reanimation; however, was in reality was resuscitation with a make shift defibrillator . The wonder of such a grand idea, for the 1800s anyway, was something Shelley certainly could not have avoided feeling slightly curious about. As mentioned, women were not able to express their ideas openly in that time, but what boundaries can anyone set when you have the ability to write? Shelley may have projected aspects of herself, or rather who she wished to be, into Victor. The intense passion to understand the ungodliness and fantasy of reanimation was certainly indescribable for anyone of that time, most certainly for a women silenced by society. Victor Frankenstein gave her an uncensored ability to do so.

      I hope that that blurb made some sense. Once again thank you so much for leaving a comment.

      P.S. There is an n at the end of my name. “Ibukun”

  2. My dearest Ibukun,

    This is truly a proud moment for me as a Grade 12, when I finally get to read and process your intellect. And for that, I thank you for giving us your knowledge and words.

    Let me start off by saying that you are very well-articulated in this piece. This is apparent in the way your words flow together seamlessly and I appreciate the amount of thought devoted towards the history of the women in that century. I, also, loved how you weaved your thoughts and connected it with Frankenstein. Well done! I am in awe at your analysis of the female psyche back then, and I adore the way you were able to analyze Shelley’s writing pertaining to how females acted.

    However, there is room for growth. Honestly, the only thing I feel you need to work on is your grammar and syntax. So, make sure to keep an eye out on your punctuation!

    Once again, wonderful job and please continue to write!

    – With much love,
    Bryna Anne

    1. Dear Bryna,
      Thank you for your comment; further, I am glad you enjoyed reading the piece, that is quite an accomplishment I must say. You are welcome for my knowledge and words, the little I do have I am more than happy to share.

      Thank you for your criticism, I will be sure to more carefully edit my pieces looking for grammatical errors and attempt to continue improving my syntax. In all honesty, I am still struggling to understand what that would entail, but I promise not to give up.

      Thanks again for your words of encouragement, I will surely continue writing.

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