Feminism in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 9
Words: 2439
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: Master


Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein characterizes women as passive, disposable, and persons fulfilling a utilitarian purpose. Female characters such as Elizabeth, Agatha, Justin, Margaret, and Safie serve as a portal for the male characters in the story. They are frequently mentioned in the novel when they are used as instruments of love and devotion to teach men a lesson or provoke sentiments in men. Each woman introduced by the writer in Frankenstein has a certain role (Deborah). Mary Shelley registers proto-feminist views by showing the lives of six female characters through the eyes of three male narrators. By analyzing the treatment of these women using the theoretical perspective of gender studies, we can understand Shelley’s anti-patriarchal views on various women’s issues, such as marriage, motherhood, and gender roles.


While growing up in a toxic setting and surrounded by males such as his dad and spouse, Shelly’s difficulties led to her desiring feminine independence and the desire to be treated equally with men. Even though conventional causes were the primary impediment at the moment, Shelley’s ambition to live in a community where women are seen as humans were strong, necessitating the use of science and artwork to criticize patriarchy (Mellor and Mary 244). Shelly had personal contact with harmful and domineering masculinities as a result of her upbringing. She translated her personal experience into her work, in which she portrays the protagonists as anguished and self-tormented.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a science-fiction book that explores the idea of women’s roles being disregarded in society. The work adequately addresses the issue of toxic masculinity (Mellor and Mary 240). When the book was published, during the nineteenth century, women were seen as property to the degree that they might be swapped for property. It is a way of categorizing males as seen to be socially powerful. Men were homophobic and sexist, which is termed toxic masculinity.

Men integrate science and then use it to victimize women as they pursue greater heights in their pursuit of glory. The book is a science fiction in which men’s roles in society are characterized by valor (Mellor and Mary 240). The novel presents the concept of questioning the norms of society regarding gender roles for the first time. Victor Frankenstein sees women as nothing more than supporting characters. The disparity and absence of women in the community are well highlighted in Shelley’s book, laying the foundation for discussion about the prospective duties of women in society (Deborah). More particularly, Shelley’s work raises the question of what role science should play in masculinity, whether it perpetuates it or frees women from the bonds of toxic masculinity (Mellor and Mary 241). Men could incite violence against women in the nineteenth century without any disciplinary steps against them. Sexual harassment and domestic abuse are examples of this kind of violence. At its worst, society was patriarchal due to the normalization of violence against women, which resulted in bullying and aggressiveness against women.

Women’s contributions to society are always ignored, and they are seen as properties to further men’s cause and exalt men to the status of heroes. Even in the twenty-first century, males remain strongly defined by traditionally masculine characteristics such as commitment to work, pride in athletic prowess, and the capacity to care for their families (Mellor and Mary 240). These characteristics in the twenty-first century are primarily attributable to historical makers, such as novelists, who had always favored toxic masculinity, particularly during a period when science became a worldwide role in shaping cultural norms.

The novel has introduced the scientific period, which descriptively exposes toxic masculinity as the critical issue in the story. Men in the narrative are described as self-centered, while women are called gentle (London 255). The novel presents Frankenstein’s creation as created from numerous male bodies. Shelley develops the book by weaving together stories told by males, which permits the idea that it is just men who can tell scientific narratives. Shelley portrays the figure Victor Frankenstein as a narcissist who relates his past of unhappiness and how he made a spiteful monster (Deborah). Frankenstein’s character has offered adequate time to make choices and time to narrate his story of betrayal. The monster he makes is likewise allowed to share its account of how Frankenstein abused him. Introducing the story of patriarchy, women in this work are given limited acknowledgment; particularly, they are scarce as opposed to male characters.

In the book, Shelley employs the scientific discipline to concentrate on arrogant males who avoid physical or emotional attachment. The novel emphasizes this when the monster is present on Frankenstein and Elizabeth’s wedding bed (London 260). Frankenstein adopts an aggressive strategy on their wedding night with Elizabeth. In the book, all males are called masculine since they bear self-destructive effects on the people around them, particularly women. The work presents a setting where women are underestimated in society. Although Shelley’s story is intricately self-aware of patriarchy, she effectively shows how female characters endure masculine aggression (London 260). She connects similar female conflicts to the monster’s struggle against masculine prejudice and rejection, most notably from its creator, Frankenstein. The story illustrates the challenges of women in the era of scientific knowledge and how such scientific advances are bringing more significant discrimination to women in society, precisely as Frankenstein conjured his monster to create horrific repercussions for his wife (Deborah). The book depicts how women are fighting males who are called heroic in society. The story seeks to combine the desire for creating a caring and happy household with men’s striving mentality, which frequently becomes despotic and hazardous to such a family.

Shelley’s work explores the hideous nature of patriarchy. Frankenstein’s desire and ambition of being a hero brought him face to face-with his darkest reflection (London 254). Frankenstein regards the creature as an extension of himself. According to Shelley, humanity becomes hideous when they forsake human bonds and connections. Shelley’s work illustrates that males are constantly motivated by the urge to be mighty. To attain this goal, they must maintain a separation from the feminine to maintain domination. The book demonstrates how men get entangled in their sense of uniqueness to the point that they lose control of such illusions (London 255). However, such despicable illusions are focused exclusively on women, who bear the brunt of their repercussions. As in the story, Frankenstein’s monster quickly developed into his personality, and he started to lose his earlier character as a kind and caring family person.

Justine is represented as an extremely passive character who is hardly heard throughout the book. She is mostly inconsequential in the book, playing several roles in Frankenstein’s primary narrative and her family until she is accused of murdering William Frankenstein (Rubenstein 169). Shelley attempts to depict her demeanor as serene and placid despite the difficulties of being wrongly convicted of murder. Justine asserts, “God alone knows how completely innocent I am. However, I do not claim that my protests will result in my acquittal; rather, I base my righteousness on a straightforward summary of the facts” (Rubenstein 192). Justine’s remark is the story’s central vocal aspect, indicating that Shelley invented the character primarily to serve as an inert and passive victim of predicament throughout the novel.

Agatha, a youthful cottager, is another female character observed by the monster. She is seen as a lovely and compassionate female character whose primary goal is to demonstrate and embody all of the virtues and sensitivities of the human race (Rubenstein 169). The monster discovers these characteristics during his investigation since he has never encountered anybody with such sensitivity before. Agatha’s contact with her blind granddad shows her nature of empathy. “Agatha listened with reverence; her eyes occasionally full of tears” (Rubenstein 181). The monster describes that it is via the characteristics shown by Agatha, such as her inactivity and sensitive temperament, that the monster learns what it is to be in a good relationship and how to fall in love.

Additionally, the monster crosses paths with Safie, another female figure who is acquainted with Agatha. She arrived from Arabia and had to learn how to speak English. While the monster took pleasure in observing an existent family via her activities, he learned how to mimic the English phrases Safie was taught. The creature received his first academic instruction via her (Rubenstein 170). Safie serves as a platform for the author in this instance.

Her participation is intended to further the monster’s experiences. Safie’s character is inextricably related to the monster’s deeds. The text indicates that her education is acknowledged only after the monster declares, “My days were dedicated in intense scrutiny…and I can brag that I progressed faster than the Arabian… I was able to mimic almost every phrase that was uttered. Additionally, I studied the science of words” (Hodges, 162). This comment dismisses Safie’s character as irrelevant, particularly her acquisition of English since if her learning were not beneficial to the monster, her participation in the narrative would be meaningless. The author uses her as a conduit to advance her thesis and convey information. Safie’s role in the narrative is irrelevant to her since she is how the creature learns to communicate in English.

Elizabeth is presented as the engaged character of Frankenstein. From the start, she is a nice and subservient character. The monster regards her as property all through the story, as he writes, “I glanced at Elizabeth as mine – to guard, adore, and cherish.” I accepted all accolades upon her as though they were made to a treasure of mine” (London 261). Despite claiming to possess her, he kills her to make a message to his makers. When the creature learns of his maker’s love for Elizabeth, he becomes enraged and kills Elizabeth to inflict the greatest pain possible on his maker (London 262). They engaged in a battle with the monster as it pursued Elizabeth, while Frankenstein patrolled the grounds to protect his fiancée. Eventually, Elizabeth succumbs to the male-dominated chaos. Along with other female figures in the novel, she is degraded into an instrument of revenge. Simply put, she is seen as an object instead of a human being. She is represented as a weapon used to injure another individual, or rather as an instrument of vengeance.

Margaret’s character is inextricably linked to the others since she likewise plays a passive duty in the story. She serves as a foil to Walton, who is his brother (London 264). She remains silent throughout the story since she is not presented to the reader. Margret is the greatest passive individual in the whole novel. Her presence is critical since Walton would have nothing to portray as a tale without her. Although the reader has no connection with her and has no way of knowing whether she exists, she remains the book’s most passive female character if she reads the letters addressed to her by her brother (London 264). The author cleverly used her to demonstrate the value of women in men’s life. Men appreciate their women despite being degraded, which is why they perceive them as theirs to guard and nurture. Additionally, Margret is a symbol of kindness and care because her mark remains visible given the invisibility and distance.

The Female Monster is the most powerful female we encounter in Frankenstein. She informs her maker that she seeks the assistance of a monster of the other sex to join her on her missions and serve as a companion for herself (Hodges 160). She presents herself as a lonesome person, and she desires from her maker an equally horrible creature to accompany her. Frankenstein chooses not to finish the monster during the creation process after recognizing what it may lead to if the two dwell together for a long time. He considered the possibility that the thing was female and it will request to have offspring, which would be yet another calamity for Frankenstein and one that he might not be able to deal with on his own (Hodges 161). This is after considering what kind of race they may have if the animals evolve into a horde of monstrous creatures.

Frankenstein’s attitude toward females is shown by his creation of a female creature and subsequent destruction of the monster after detecting that she would bear offspring and the fact that the last fight might involve him and several demonic beings. Since he believed that the only goal that any female could have was to bear children, he saw women as instruments for producing children and assisting in the growth of families (Hodges 162). Women, in his opinion, are only designed for the fundamental role of reproduction, and if they become mothers, they should have no other interests.

In general, the novel Frankenstein portrays women as passive and obedient instruments that are supposed to satisfy the male characters. The author used the Female monster to demonstrate to the audience how women are perilous, attractive characters for who everyone should be on the lookout for danger (Hodges160). To deal with a bunch of demons, Frankenstein claims the female creature he murdered would cause a slew of difficulties if they started asking for offspring. He then goes on to annihilate the female monster. Mary Shelley shaped her work via the use of female characters, emphasizing their submission and showing their inadequacy in comparison to males (Hodges 162). Female empowerment was emphasized by the author, who discussed the difficulties women face daily. Furthermore, she used them to bring attention to the men’s perceptions of women. Females should be subservient to their male counterparts and comply with everything they are told.


Despite recent progress, gender roles in the community remain far from ideal. Domestic abuse is prevalent around the globe, and women have not yet achieved equality in the workplace or the home. It is evident from the story that male dominance is an issue that is presented to the reader’s notice consistently. In the novel, a supporting role is assigned to women, while heroic responsibilities are assigned to males. According to the novel, women are seen as possessions in Frankenstein, and men may dispose of them in their pursuit of glory and valor. As part of his quest for brilliance, Frankenstein designed the monster who, in the process, mistreated females in the story, particularly Elizabeth. A society plagued by males whose sole aims are to succeed at the cost of women and testimony that men mistreat women are shown by Shelley in her novel. The story depicts a scenario in which males utilize science to maintain their patriarchal dominance over women, denying them the ability to make decisions and have children.

Works Cited

Deborah Lindsay Williams. “Monstrosity and Feminism in Frankenstein.” Electra Street, Web.

Hodges, Devon. “Frankenstein and the feminine subversion of the novel.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature vol, 2, no. 2, 1983, p. 155-164.

London, Bette. “Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the spectacle of masculinity.” PMLA vol, 108, no. 2, 1993, p. 253-267.

Mellor, Anne K., and Mary Shelley. “Frankenstein, Gender, and Mother Nature.” Frankenstein: Annotated for scientists, engineers, and creators of all kinds, edited by Davis H. Guston et al., The MIT Press, 2017, p. 239–246, Web.

Rubenstein, Marc A. “My Accursed Origin”: The Search for the Mother in” Frankenstein.” Studies in Romanticism, vol, 15, no, 2, 1976, p. 165-194.