Mary Shellys Frankenstein focuses on human nature and on the possibility of controlling experience in order to shape character and cultural values. Specifically, it focuses on the influence of education and experience in effecting behavior. In general, the characters are divided in to three groups by education and experience: passive rescued women, ambitious bourgeoisie men, and the self-taught lonesome creature. Through the female character group, Mary Shelly illustrates how the combination of education and experience shape attitudes and behaviors of women to be passive objects, which leads to their emise.
Mary Shelly spends the least time describing the education of women, repeating one version of female upbringing. The lack of time devoted to female characters in general is not a blatant disregard of women; rather, it is testimony to the limited role women exercised in public sphere of society. Caroline Beaufort is the model of virtuous femininity rescued from poverty to bourgeois passivity. Caroline, the daughter of a proud, failed businessman, follows her father into self-imposed exile to avoid the humiliation of failure where he falls into a terrible sickness of humiliation.
Completely dedicated to her father, Caroline attended him with the greatest tenderness; but she saw with despair that their little fund was rapidly decreasing (Shelly 32) Luckily Caroline possessed a mind of uncommon mould; and her courage rose to support her in her adversity… and by various means contrived to earn a pittance scarcely sufficient to support life (Shelly 32). She not only cares for him during his pathetic free fall from life, but she also actively procured work and single-handedly supported herself and her father.
It is obvious that as Caroline possesses the skills and tenacity to support not only herself, but her father as well. However, when her fathers falls victim to death she immediately transforms from a caring, productive women to an orphan and beggar (Shelly 32). There is nothing to note any changes in the attitude or actions of Caroline to warrant such a change. Rather, the change is a direct result of the death of her father. Despite the fact that Caroline possessed the ability to provide for herself, her description and social status remained tied to her father.
Even though women had the ability to act as free agents in society, their description, status was invariably tied to a male. Luckily, for Caroline, an associate of her fathers rescued her from her sudden socially imposed poverty. While mourning her fathers death, Alphonse Frankenstein came like a protecting spirit to the poor girl, who committed herself to his care (Shelly 32). Caroline translates her gratitude of being saved from a tough mans world into lifelong subservience. She immediately transfers her selfless dedication from one man, her father, to another, her new husband
Alpohnse Frankenstein demonstrating the females artificial dependence on men. Saved to the feminine life of passive servitude, Caroline similarly rescues other girls from poverty and educates them in the virtues of bourgeois domesticity. Thus, she finds Elizabeth, whose seemingly innate, upper class feminine virtue makes her shine amid a family of dark-eyed, hardy little vagrants (Shelly 34). Upon being rescued, Caroline presented Elizabeth to [Victor] as her promised gift (Shelly 34). Immediately following her introduction to bourgeois life, Elizabeth is transformed to possession of a ale.
Once in the Frankenstein household, Elizabeth learned to be the living spirit of love to soften and attract (Shelly 38). Once under proper middle class guidance, Elizabeth becomes the ideal female by providing comfort and support while becoming dependent on male energy and male provision. Thus, like her foster mother, she is the perfect domestic woman: daughter, sister, friend, and wife-to-be. Justine Moritz, a poor girl is also saved from her tyrant, exploitive mother by Caroline. Once introduced to the bourgeois Frankenstein family Justine trained to be a servant.
Just like Caroline and Elizabeth before her, Justine quickly learns the female role of serving others. Undoubtedly thankful for Caroline saving her from her tyrannical mother, Justine idealized her and considered her to be the model of all excellence, and endeavored to imitate her phraseology and manners (Shelly 65). Evidently, Justine attempted to emulate Carolines middle class virtues making her equally passive and obedient. Justine, along with Caroline and Elizabeth, are manifestations of how women fulfill and are fulfilled by their servitude dominated domestic lives.
Women once guided into what Mary Shellys mother Mary Wollstonecraft describes as [g]entleness, docility, and a spaniel-like affection, are less agents then they are objects acted upon (6) . This theme is evident by the early deaths of Caroline, Justine, and Elizabeth, which Mary Shelly implies are a logical outgrowth of the bourgeoisie ideal. This is especially evident in the death of Caroline. Elizabeth was severely ill due to a case of scarlet fever. Although she initially refrained from helping, Caroline attended Elizabeth who was aved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver (Shelly 42).
Knowing full well the potential consequences of her actions, Caroline choose to ignore the advice of others and choose to attend Elizabeth at her sick bed. Caroline died because of her selfless dedication to others. Essentially, Mary Shelly is implying that women who selflessly dedicate their lives to others are in danger of killing themselves. The death of Justine Moritz is an example not of women selflessly dedicating their lives to others, but rather, of passive women being acted upon. Justine was wrongfully accused of killing William Frankenstein due to circumstantial evidence.
A family servant, while washing clothes, found a locket that Elizabeth had given to William shortly before his death. Once on trial, Justine is unable to effectively argue her innocence due to a series of odd circumstances and questionable explanations for those circumstances. Upon this, Justine declares that she commit[s] [her] cause to the justices of [her] judges, yet [she] see[s] no room for hope (Shelly 54). Fully educated in the female bourgeois ideal of a passive female, he neither is unable to nor even effectively attempts to prove her innocence.
Rather, she calls on people to testify on her behalf, including Elizabeth. Elizabeth, like Justine, does not even attempt to effectively uncover the truth regarding Williams death. Instead, she focuses on how well Justine fulfilled the role of a bourgeois woman and had no reason to murder anybody. Elizabeth, like Justine, lacks the ability to effectively argue against Justine being the murderer. Instead, relying on their perceived goodness effectively making them assive to the entire ordeal.
Both Justine and Elizabeth have learned well the lessons of submissiveness and devotion that Caroline Beaufort epitomized for them. Similarly, their model behavoir lowers their resistance to the forces that kill them. The death of Elizabeth is the final example of the implication of passivity leading to the death of a female. In this case, Elizabeth is attacked and killed by the creature due entirely to the actions of Victor. This is another, though extreme, example of women being completely acted upon. Elizabeth id nothing at all to warrant this death except follow bourgeois virtues.
Those virtues told her to be dedicated to a man whose actions cause her death. Thus, she was entirely acted upon and had absolutely no agency or freedom from a man ever in her life. Mary Shelly uses the female characters of Frankenstein to demonstrate the ridiculous manner in which women were educated in the bourgeois ideal. These ideals taught women to be passive and in turn were acted up instead of being active agents. Thus, Frankenstein is a call for a method of educating women, one that does not limit and weaken women.