February 6, 2015
English 301 In “Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein”, Anne K. Mellor observes the gender roles in Geneva in the nineteenth century and their impacting influence on the happenings in the novel. Mellor asserts that the events in Mary Shelley’s life play significant roles in determining the events, attitudes, and character limitations in Frankenstein. Mellor’s 3 most noteworthy claims are as follows: The restricting roles of the male and female are responsible for many of the problems that the characters in the novel face, most importantly Victor’s inability to love his creation. Second, Victor also fears women in such a way that it becomes hate – his emotions toward women are fueled mostly by the death of his mother. And lastly, the power of nature is one that cannot be underestimated. The roles of men and women in the 1800s in Geneva are extremely hindering. The men serve the public and the women serve the homes. Mellor contrasts Victor, who leaves home for years at a time to travel and indulge in science, with Elizabeth, whose life is devoted to the caretaking of her and Victor’s family. Victor is able to go without contacting his family for months at a time because he is unable to work sufficiently with any emotional distractions or involvement. Mellor claims that the masculinity in Victor’s job leaves him unable to make affectionate connections to his work: “Because Frankenstein cannot work and love at the same time, he fails to feel empathy for the creature he is constructing.” (p 357). These gender roles also play a large role in the execution of Justine and the murder of Elizabeth. Victor’s emotional separation and dysfunctional selfish concern keeps him from speaking up to save Justine from her unfair death. Justine, not equipped to function in Mellor’s said “public realm” is unable to save herself as well. The same is said for the murder of Elizabeth when Victor considers only himself in the creature’s threat and leaves Elizabeth vulnerable and alone. If Victor thought of the women as equals, included his family in his work, or was able to invest emotionally in his science, he could have prevented many of the misfortunes he became subject to. Mellor examines the flawed gender statuses in Victor’s family and compares them to the harmony that in the De Lacey family where everyone exists as equals: “In contrast to this pattern of political inequality and injustice, the De Lacey family represents an alternative ideology: a vision of a social group based on justice, equality, and mutual affection.” (p 358). The ideals centered in the De Lacey family align with those in a novel by Mary Shelley’s mother, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. If the Geneva society functioned like the De Lacey family than Justine’s fate may have been different, Victor may have loved Elizabeth unselfishly and been able to save her from the creature, and Victor also may have reciprocated the creature love for him and fulfilled his need for companionship. According to Mellor, this view of equality and acceptance would have spared Victor from all of the hardships his creation brought into his life making the De Lacey families purpose in the novel dynamic. Mellor also claims that the swift exit of the De Lacey’s who provided the only normalcy and humanity in the novel was a reflection of Mary Shelley’s role-model-less life due to her mother’s untimely death. Mellor’s second claim is that Victor has an obsession with sexual control. He is threatened by women and all of their capabilities, mostly their reproductive biology. By developing a creature Victor has eliminated what he sees as women’s only reason to exist. His unwillingness to create a female companion for the creature, Mellor claims, is a result of his fear fueled hatred of women: “…He is afraid of an independent female will, afraid that his female creature will have desires and opinions that cannot be controlled by his male creature.” (p 360).