Social Disapproval in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”


Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein raises a number of social issues such as the disapproval of the female gender in society. The social class, as depicted in the novel, is split along gender lines that marginalize women as a result of the existence of a predominant patriarchal structure. Also, a division among social-political status highlights the consequences of society’s reaction to class selection and social order. Hence, this paper seeks to undertake an analysis of Shelley’s novel from two perspectives of social disapproval, namely socio-political and feminist disapproval. The first part of the paper addresses the problem of gender role division as well as the devaluation of women as depicted in the text. The second section describes ethical and social-political issues brought about by society’s perception of Frankenstein the monster, the social order, and class selection.

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The division of gender roles in 19th-century society as illustrated in the book resulted in the segregation of women. The female gender was confined to domestic duties while men performed their work obligations outside the home and in public. As such, the upper social tier was reserved for the seemingly public and hardworking male gender while women performed traditional housewife duties such as housekeeping, nursing, and babysitting. Contrary to this reality, Elizabeth, Victor’s wife, and foster sister lacks any special task and simply lingers without a purpose in her life (Shelley 11).

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Men, on the other hand, perform their work obligations away from their families, as explorers, scientists, and merchants. When Victor denies Elizabeth the opportunity to travel with him to England, she expresses disappointment for missing out on the chance to broaden her horizons. This occurrence is distinctly the separation of intellectual and emotional work. As a consequence, sexual division of work responsibilities results in a situation where masculine work stays out of the home; thus intellectual work becomes separated from emotional duties. This stern separation causes Victor’s narcissism and his incapability to show empathy. For example, he detaches his work from his family duties: “The same emotions that caused me to disregard the scenery everywhere also made me forget my family members” (Shelley 13). Victor’s emotionless state causes him to abandon his creature, leading to a chaotic and destructive situation.

Therefore, women end up lacking the will to stand up for themselves as illustrated in Justine Moritz’s – a servant at the Frankenstein household – inability to defend herself: “I am well aware of the severity of the accusation leveled against me but I am not sure why anyone would do this to me” (Shelley 15). Justine laments because the creature had placed a locket in her pocket, which was the only evidence that could tie her to the murder. Although she is innocent, Justine ignores the only logical explanation that someone had falsely incriminated her. Rather than using her intellect to realize this fact, she relies on emotions that tell her no individual could be this malicious. This example clearly depicts Shelley’s perspective about the confinement of women to the homestead in the 19th century, which deprived them of the opportunity to learn how to use their intellect and disengage emotional reasoning. Hence, women ought to be active in the public domain, rather than staying confined to the traditional social class roles, assigned to them by the patriarchal society. The third section discusses the devaluation of feminine sexuality.

The author demonstrates the devaluation of feminine desire through Victor’s actions. Victor tries to create a female creature, and even though he later abandons the plan, it is evident that he wants to establish a male-controlled society that deliberately omits the female gender. Bearing children is a natural prerogative of women, and thus, depriving them of this function adversely affects their social standing. However, Shelley illustrates the penalties of the social formation of gender that regards the men with greater importance than the female gender, after Victor’s monstrous creature murders his entire family.

Finally, Shelley’s novel illuminates the socio-political constraints within the 19th-century social class. In Frankenstein, the social order is made up of several social classes. The monster, however, does not fit in any class and people call him an “uncivilized occupant of some remote island” (Shelley 26). Frankenstein considers himself as inherently good until he gets an opportunity to see his face for the first time, “How was I petrified, when I saw my face in a t pool and I became aware of my monstrous nature” (Shelley 29). Only then does the creature realize that he truly is the monster and understands why he is disliked by society. Ultimately, Frankenstein gets rejected by his father and society as well. For this reason, he develops an evil soul which was originally devoted, good, and sympathetic. Hence, the monster initially hails from an upper-class, aristocratic family up until the point when his father rejects him.

The aristocratic upper class continuously works to maintain its power in society by practicing incest. Victor marries his sister Elizabeth and, even though he praises her loving spirit, the incestuous disgrace causes him to leave home. Both Elizabeth and Justine come from poor rural families and are essentially selected because of their fair skin and beautiful appearance. Incest consequentially leads to the fall of the Frankenstein household which partially brings to light the prevalent issue of class selection with the 19th-century society. Victor explains his family’s ancestries: “My forefathers had been for many decades honorable and reputable men regarded with high esteem” (Shelley 29). Nonetheless, Justine, a servant at the Frankenstein house, is deceitfully accused of murder and after confessing, she is publicly executed. This contrast is a clear indication of the social injustice experienced by the lower class community of the 19th century. The disparity in social class is also evident outside the Frankenstein family as depicted in Victor’s encounter with Henry Clerval, the son of a merchant. Victor is quick to point out that he does not concern himself with merchant troubles, rather he is more concerned with liberal arts. An extremely low-class community is represented in the text. Victor labels them as “cottagers unsettled by want and filthy poverty” (Shelley 28). This clearly shows the deep division and animosity between a privileged and low class of people.

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In conclusion, Shelley clearly disagrees with the oppressive social class structures that prevailed during the 19th century. These structures are the separation of intellectual and emotional work consistent with the devaluation of feminine sexuality and gender role expectations. As far as social-political disapproval is concerned, Shelly expresses apprehension over the aristocratic class that maintains its influence through class selection. Hence, the malicious social class structure leads to the demise of every single character.

Work Cited

Shelley, Mary, et al. “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Dundee Edition.” (2018).

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Social Disapproval in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”'. 14 September.

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