*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.