ENG1012- Research paper
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein details a story about a creature that was unnaturally created, abandoned, and ostracized from society because of its nature. Just as Jeffrey Jerome Cohen argues in his “Seven Theses,” the monster is the “the other” and is designed to be shunned (7). However, Frankenstein is more than the story of a fictional monster. In fact, it is a metaphor for Mary Shelly’s life and exhibits that just like the monster, Shelly is never able to fit into society. Both Shelly and Frankenstein’s monster were created unnaturally and placed into a world that cannot accept them. The catalyst for the creation of both Shelley and Frankenstein was the over-possession of knowledge. Just like Mary Shelly was too intelligent because her parents decided to provide her with an education beyond her time, the creature was created because Victor used his knowledge without limits and pursued areas of research that were beyond his scope. This knowledge, in essence, prohibits both from existing within the realms of the “acceptable” within society and promotes a message of cautiousness in regards to pursuing knowledge. The real monster in Frankenstein is Mary Shelley, who, as a result of the education her parents provided her with, became a societal outcast; she writes “Frankenstein” as a coping mechanism for being an individual who was simply incapable of fitting into the domestic sphere of her time.
The nineteenth century societal expectations for women were largely domestic and Mary Shelley, through the pursuit of her advanced education, defies these very expectations.
“It is often argued that the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries witnessed a significant change in gender roles, which led to the emergence of “separate spheres” in the nineteenth century. The growing influence of evangelical ideology placed an increasing moral value on female domesticity, virtue, and religiosity. It is argued that increasingly public life and work was confined to men, while women were expected to stay at home” (Emsley)
Since society places an emphasis on female domesticity, Mary Shelley is educated unnaturally. Shelley is given an education that is solely acceptable for men—not women. Moreover, Mary Shelley may have used “Frankenstein” as a coping mechanism for being different and not being able to fit within the social expectations of the nineteenth century. This can be evidenced in the scene in Frankenstein when the monster reads from Victor’s journal about how he was created and realizes why everyone has turned away from him.
“’Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.’ (Shelley 126)
In this scene, the monster condemns victor for creating him in such a hideous manner and then leaving him to fend for himself. Shelley in this scene could be expressing, through the monster, how she felt about being the daughter of two radical thinkers who “overeducated” her. Mary Shelley becomes a societal outcast due to the vast amount of knowledge that she acquires through her education. Shelley may even see herself as a hideous creature who her parents, just like Victor, created in such a way that makes her incapable of being accepted into society. Furthermore, Mary Shelley’s parents triggered her feelings of isolation by educating her beyond what was considered normal for women in the nineteenth century.
Mary Shelley’s parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, were both leaders in intellectual schools of thought and were both influential, yet, somewhat radical scholars of their time who raised Shelley to be somewhat “radical” as well. “Like Godwin, and Locke before him, Mary [Wollstonecraft] was vigorously opposed to the notion that children should be restrained and checked…She believed that stimulating a child’s imagination was among the most important aspects of its upbringing” (Seymour 24). As Miranda Seymour explains, Mary Shelley’s parents promoted Shelley’s “unconventional” education by encouraging her to be immersed in works of literature. Just like Godwin and Wollstonecraft were well-read and able to come up with and publish “unconventional” ideas, Shelley similarly was free to let her mind explore the questions that she poses in her works such as Frankenstein. Furthermore, the topics that Shelley is able to articulate through her book underscore the extensive education that her parents had provided her with. This education, in essence, is what isolates Mary Shelley from the domestic sphere that she was “supposed to” be a part as a woman living in the nineteenth century. Due to the fact that both of Mary Shelley’s parents were strong proponents of education, Mary was educated on such a level that did not limit her thinking or constrain the boundaries that she could explore.
Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley’s mother, was deemed a societal outcast by defying the domestic expectations for women during the eighteenth century. As Betty Bennet points out, “her [Wollstonecraft’s] first child was born out of wedlock and she traveled unescorted to France and Scandinavia” (88). Additionally, Wollstonecraft surpassed the boundaries that society had set for women at the time by publishing her “radical” ideas regarding feminism in “A Vindication for the Rights of Women.” Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas and reputation most likely had an effect of Mary Shelley while she was growing up; not only did Shelley often reread and resonate with her mother’s writings, she also shared her name. Since Wollstonecraft was seen as the outsider for publishing her ideas regarding feminism, Mary Shelley may have also been associated with the ideologies of her mother and felt like an outsider. Furthermore, by reading her mother’s works, Shelley was most likely unable to resonate with the domestic and subservient characteristics that her society had placed on women. Therefore, Shelley’s mother plays a vital role in making Shelley feel isolated and unable to fit into the expected domestic sphere. Overall, being the daughter of an individual who challenged social authority made Shelley an outcast to a greater extent because it resulted in her inability to to merely be content with the status quo.
Mary Shelley grew up amongst a very intellectual sphere because of her parents; her marriage to Percy Shelley furthered her education. The more Mary Shelley become educated, the more she felt distanced from society. “Percy Shelley expanded Mary Shelley’s learning by introducing her to the knowledge he had acquired through privileged schooling and extensive study” (Bennett 90). Since Mary Shelley is educated beyond the parameters of “normal” for women of her time, she is “the other” and is designed not to fit in—she is the monster. After Frankenstein’s monster acquired the ability to read and was able able to learn how he came into existence by reading victor’s journals, he is able to comprehend why people are disgusted by him. The monster’s education allows him to understand why he is an outcast and makes him feel loneliness to a greater extent. “Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was…no Eve soothed my sorrows, or shared my thoughts; I was alone” (Shelley 127). The monster, just like Mary Shelley, is alone; he is shunned because of his hideous appearance. If this is analyzed through an anthropological perspective, it can be stated that anything that is foreign is deemed to be scary as argued in Sally Merry’s “Urban Danger.” Just like the monster’s appearance is not something common, Mary Shelley’s knowledge is similarly not something common for women during that time period. Therefore, she is considered different and is consequently shunned in the same way that Frankenstein’s monster is shunned. When Mary Shelley and Frankenstein’s monster are juxtaposed, it is clearly evident that they are parallels for one another; their education accentuates their loneliness.
Both Mary Shelley and Frankenstein’s monster had an absent nurturing parent: for Shelley this figure is her mother and for the monster this figure is Victor. “As a motherless child and a woman in a patriarchal culture, Mary Shelley shared the creature’s powerful sense of being born without an identity, without role models to emulate, without a history” (Mellor 45). Mary Shelley had no mother as a nurturing figure; the only thing she had was a dad that gave her the education of a man and threw her into a society that wouldn’t accept her. Shelley had to take her knowledge and her advanced education and figure out what it all meant and where she fits in without any sort of love and nurture that the mother figure could have provided. Similarly, Victor creates the monster and abandons him. Had both the creature and Shelley had nurturing figures, that would teach and ease them into society, they may not have become the monsters that they are perceived to be.
Mary Shelley surpasses the boundaries of her societal expectations and is therefore, just like the monster, an outsider. “The creature is inevitably viewed by society as foreign and unacceptable. The rationale behind that rejection is, of course that the monster represents a "species" of knowledge that has not been contextualized” (Rauch 253). Both the monster and Mary Shelley are rejected and are deemed as societal outcasts because they represent a sort of “monstrous” body of knowledge. Just like Mary Shelley is a symbol for what happens to women who are educated beyond her times, Frankenstein’s monster represents the consequence of the use of this knowledge without limits.