Gender Criticism, Feminist Criticism, and Queer Theory in Frankenstein, a Novel by Mary Shelley
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, many aspects relate to gender criticism, feminist criticism and queer theory. These are the types of criticism that explain the novel the best. Feminist and gender are both big because the author is a female and in the time that the novel was written, female authors were not respected. Shelley had to overcome this restriction by keeping herself anonymous and writing a non»emotiona| piece. Gender criticism is related to feminist criticism and gay and lesbian criticism. Gender criticism is used, “to question the idea that gender is natural, inevitable, and innate,” (Lynn 1169). It is used to show that humans are notjust divided into masculine and feminine, but also human sexuality. All men are not strictly masculine and all women are not strictly feminine. Most of the characters in the book show qualities of the opposite sex at different times. Gender and sex are distinguished by sex being biology and gender being culture. Since gender is influenced by surroundings. men and women can have qualities of the opposite sex. This shows that men can write as women and women can write as men.
This was a key critique of Mary Shelley because her novel Frankenstein is written in a way that people would assume the author was male. Women are expected to write with emotion which is something that Frankenstein lacks. I will also apply the concept of feminist criticism. Feminist criticism proves that there is sexual oppression which is displayed in Frankenstein. There are not many female characters but the females that are in the story are portrayed as weaker characters that are there to take care of the male characters. The women in Frankenstein are not portrayed as important. Queer theory is also a good theory to be used to criticize this novel. Queer theory responds to the problems with the gay and lesbian theory. When there are hints of homosexuality in a novel it does not always mean that the character is gay.
This is the case between Victor and Henry and Victor and the creature. “Queer theory can be seen as the third step in the process of undoing sexual prejudice,” (Lynn 130). This means that queer theory helps keep readers from assuming a character is gay when it has not been directly said. Queer theory also exposes and challenges all assumptions about sexuality. Queer theory says that there is an interval between what the character does and is. Just because Victor is close with Clerval and says affectionate things about him does not mean that they are in a sexual relationship. Queer theory can be applied to the relationships that Victor has with Clerval and the creature. The relationships are not homosexual, but they are of a closeness that you would expect between a man and a woman. Victor is not this close to Elizabeth which is very odd. The male characters in the novel tend to favor the other males rather than the females. Gender criticism, feminist criticism and queer theory all apply to Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein and expose the best interpretations of the novel.
Gender criticism and feminist criticism are closely related and easy to apply to Frankenstein together. Feminist critics would take note of the fact that. “Frankenstein was published anonymously, and its woman author kept her identity hidden,” (Smith 313). This directly shows the oppression of women as authors because had people known that the author was a woman it would not have been as successful. Shelley had to write a novel that no one would expect had a woman author in order to be successful. Gender criticism proves that because Mary Shelley is female does not mean that she will write like a female is expected to write, Shelley has qualities in her style of writing that are believed to be male qualities. Sex and gender, however, are separate. Another aspect of the novel that is anti-feminist is that the female characters are not as big as their male counterparts. Johanna M. Smith wrote that. ”no women speak directly in the novel,” (Smith 313).
Because of the time, Shelley could not even make the female characters very big. Women are mostly seen and not heard in this novel. The women in the novel also have very stereotypical roles. Elizabeth is told to take care of Victor and his brothers when their mother dies. She is also supposed to be Victor’s wife. Elizabeth is supposed to take on all of these motherly roles at home and she does not go to school or work or ever really leave home. This is very oppressive towards women. Victor goes off to school and ends up creating life from death while Elizabeth sits at home and watches over Victor’s brothers. Also, Elizabeth is always waiting on Victor to come home like she cannot be without him. It makes women look weak and needy. It is also oppressive to women that Victor sees Elizabeth as property. He says multiple times that Elizabeth is his. Victor makes it seem that women are property and throughout the book he takes Elizabeth for granted. He says that he “looked upon Elizabeth as [his],” (Shelley 44). Finally, the most important female characters do not even make it to the end of the story. Victor’s mother dies taking care of Elizabeth. Justine dies because she was accused of killing William, and Elizabeth is murdered by the creature. This is also another way that women look weak. The creature kills both William. a small child, and Elizabeth, a grown woman, wonder if it would be possible to bring someone back from the dead. Although the creature he creates is male, the description of the creature seems to have some female qualities such as the lustrous flowing black hair.
This description of the creature’s hair is very feminine. If Victor missed his mother so much, then why did he create a male creature? The creature expresses throughout the novel that he wants a normal family. The creature wants someone to love him. Although the creature is male, he is trying to get attention from Victor, The creature knew that Victor was his creator and he was looking for any sort of emotion from him. The fact that the creature was looking for emotion would imply that he was looking for a woman figure, but according to gender criticism. emotion can also be a quality that a man has. Victor does not always have to be masculine. Since Victor was who the creature really wanted, this implies that Victor had womanly or motherly characteristics. This is an aspect of Victor’s gender. Queer theory can also illuminate different aspects of Frankenstein.
One aspect that queer theory can explain is the relationships between men in the novel. Victor is very close to his friend Clerval. Victor often refers to Clerval as his “beloved,” Victor explains that Clerval has always been a part of his life since birth and that he is never completely happy without him. This extreme closeness between them is often read as homosexual. I do not think that was Shelley’s intent. Another concept explained by queer theory would be what Victor intended the creature to be. Victor had been missing his mother and thought about bringing life from the dead. With this thought, the reader would assume that Victor would create a female creature as an extension of his mother. When the creature is created as male, the creature starts to seem more like another side of Victor. Suzanna Stormant wrote that, “Frankenstein and his creation may even represent one being — two sides of a single entity forming a doppelganger relationship,” (Stormant). This theory suggests that the creature is Victor’s ghost haunting him. This is exactly how the creature acts toward Victor. The creature takes away everyone that Victor loves. Another idea would be Victor hiding from his responsibility. Victor is hiding from his responsibility of creating the creature because he did not get his intended outcome. Victor became obsessed with becoming a great scientist since he was told the things he was studying were unnecessary.
He wanted to create life from dead and when he did not get his expected outcome he did not want to accept his failure. In a way, Victor did succeed in becoming a great scientist, but since his creature was not perfect, he gave up. Another queer concept is the short length of the creation scene. Shelley writes less than a paragraph and summarizes two years of working to the point that the creature opens his eyes. “By the glimmer of the half extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs,” (Shelley 60). This is the only description that is offered to explain how Victor created the monster that would haunt him in the rest of the novel. Shelley also writes a very brief description of Victor and Elizabeth’s wedding. These two events had been such important parts of the story. Shelley was building up the Victor and Elizabeth‘s wedding throughout the whole story as Victor kept putting off the wedding that would fulfill his mother‘s dying wish. To describe the wedding, Shelley writes, “after the ceremony was performed, a large party assembled at my father‘s,” (Shelley 165). This is the most description of the wedding festivities. It is odd that Shelley does not add much detail to this scene. Even after Victor is married he still does not show his full attention to Elizabeth. but to the creature. On their wedding night Victor and Elizabeth are in completely different rooms of the house and Victor sits downstairs with his gun. Victor knew that the creature was coming for him and Elizabeth but Victor did not offer his protection to her. Victor could have assumed that the creature would not kill him because the creature had been killing other people and just wanting Victor to chase him.
Queer theory, feminist criticism, and gender criticism can all be used throughout Frankenstein. The women in this novel were oppressed numerous times because of the time the book was written. The women did not have as important roles and they did not do any important things in the novel. The women stayed at home and took care of the children while the men, such as Victor, went to school and went on trips. Victor created life from the dead while the female characters only babysat. The women come off weak and unimportant in the novel. Feminist criticism brings out important features of the novel that really contribute to the interpretation of the novel. Gender criticism also explains important features such as why Shelley wrote the way she did. Just because she is a female does not mean that she could not write a story like Frankenstein. Shelley had to write this way at first in order for people to read the novel. Also, different qualities of the opposite sex were brought out in the characters. The creature sought out love from Victor when what he really wanted was what Victor had, something like Elizabeth.
The creature’s hair was described in a feminine way as an extension of Victor’s mother. The extreme closeness between the male characters is explained by queer theory. Their closeness is not intended to be interpreted as homosexuality. It is to show that Victor found companionship in men and ownership in women. Queer theory also addresses the idea of what Victor wanted the creature to be. He did not want to create a monster but he got such a big ego when the creature came to life. He did not want to accept responsibility for the monster but he also did not try to stop it. This is why Victor and the creature are often interpreted as the same being: one evil and one good. It is hard to tell which of them is evil and which is good. Some people say that true evil is when good men do nothing. This would prove Victor as evil. The creature murdering innocent people shows his true evil. Since Victor and the creature both have shown evil actions it is impossible to choose which is worse, This further proves that the creature is Victor’s ghost. like in the doppelganger theory.
These theories and types of criticism are what best describe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Feminist criticism, gender criticism, and queer theory provide many answers. Although Shelley‘s intent cannot be known. this is the best interpretation of the novel and answers to the questions that arise from reading the novel. The queer theory explains the lack of explanation of what would seem to be the most important parts of the novel. By not explaining the creation scene it proves that it is not important how Victor created a monster, but it is important what he did with the creature after. The main point is that Victor created something so dangerous and could not get over his ego to take responsibility for the creature. The message of Frankenstein was to show how women were oppressed. how men treated each other and to show what a big ego can really do. Shelley showed how men really thought of themselves and others in this day and time. Victor had such a big ego that he treated women as property and refused to accept failure, while the women were unable to make anything of themselves. Shelley ended up proving that women can be just as successful as men with her novel, Frankenstein.
- Lynn, Steven. Reading and Writing with Critical Strategies. South Carolina: Pearson Longman, 2004. 1213. Print.
- Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 1996. 189. Print.
- Stormem, Suzanne. “Frankenstein: The Man and the Monster,” Frankenstein Commentary. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr 2013. <http://pub|ic.wsu.edul~delahoyd/frank.com ment3.html>,