In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein there are five main female characters, Safie, Elizabeth, Justine, Margaret and Agatha. It can be seen that the author characterizes each woman as passive, disposable and serving a utilitarian function. Female characters in the novel seem as though they merely provide a channel of action for the male characters in the novel. Events and actions happen to them, usually for the sake of teaching a male character a lesson or sparking an emotion within him. This is in accordance with the feminist criticism essay in the book. The author of the essay argues that women in 19th century literature served a specific purpose in literacy during this period and generally their purpose is in relation to a man’s actions. She essentially reasons that in earlier literature women were secondary characters used as instruments for the man’s actions. Likewise in Frankenstein each of Shelley’s women serves a very specific purpose in Frankenstein.
The female characters are stereotypical in such a way that they embody the idyllic, nurturing, loving, selfless and dutiful qualities so sought after during the time. These women are very passive and submissive, idealistic for the times, succumbing their own ideals in favor of the male characters. The construction of the female characters within the novel portrays them as stereotypical women who exist in such a way that their whole lives are either for, or revolving around, a man. This can be seen through the fact that “no woman in the novel speaks directly: everything we hear from and about them id filtered through the three male characters.”
The first of these characters we will examine is Justine. Justine’s character is a very passive, seldom vocal character in the novel that seems to be dragged along with the overall will of the rest of the characters. She is tossed back and forth between her family and the Frankensteins , until she is ultimately framed for the murder of William Frankenstein. Justine defies the expectations of one wrongfully accused of manslaughter, remaining tranquil and peaceful. Though this is uncanny for the situation it is ideal for the submissive female characteristic described by Smith and portrayed by Shelley. As Smith said “certain traits (such as aggression) were coded as “naturally” masculine.” Therefore we must conclude that “naturally” she must be passive in this situation because an act of aggression would not fit into the stereotypical role of a female. In her own words, Justine explains, “God knows how entirely I am innocent. But I do not pretend that my protestations should acquit me; I rest my innocence on a plain and simple explanation of the facts…” Not only do her speech and actions demonstrate passivity, but the simple act of being framed proves this to be the purpose behind her character: “But I have no power of explaining it…I am only left to conjecture concerning the probabilities by which it might have been placed in my pocket”. Justine’s wrongfully conviction and death are naught but a mere piece in the puzzle of the struggle between the creature and Victor. This is a critical thing to note because it further emphasizes the fact that her death was naught but one move in the game between Victor and the creature.
The murder of William Frankenstein was an act of revenge against Victor committed by the Creature. Unfortunately Justine is framed but it helps the plot of the two main male characters progress. Thus, Justine becomes an inactive, docile victim of circumstance but serving her submissive purpose for the novel. The next female character encountered is the young cottager’s daughter Agatha, whom the monster studies. Agatha’s purpose, as a kind and gentle female, is to exhibit and embody the stereotypical virtue and sensitivity of a woman from this time period. These are the first lessons learned by the monster; he has never seen such tenderness before now. The creature being a creation and not a product of…