Over time, the presence of patriarchal ideologies in the Western world has lessened drastically. Yet in the past, women have lived in brutal societal conditions that most people, especially men, cannot imagine. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the patriarchal society and its ideals are the reasoning behind many characters’ behavior. The daughter of a Turkish merchant unknowingly becomes involved in what is a commensalism-type relationship with Frankenstein’s monstrous creature. The monster takes advantage of Safie’s stereotypically passive nature by using her as a method of learning the De Lacey family’s language. However, academics are not the only thing he learns from the foreign woman, Safie and Felix’s close relationship forces the monster to recognize unforeseen emotions over his neglect. During Safie’s stay at the cottage, the monster continuously refers to her as “The Arabian,” and emphasizes her appearance showing that he views her as an object. Frankenstein’s monster objectifies Safie in order to further his academics, and advances his emotional intelligence along the way.
Language, institutions, and social power structures have reflected patriarchal interests throughout history, which results in a profound impact on women’s ability to express themselves. Through a feminist lens, men in literature use power to establish systems that naturalize power, and maintain dominance by making women’s inferior roles appear designed. In Frankenstein, Caroline Frankenstein portrays the ideal female character that works to support her father who has fallen ill and nurses him until his death. This exhibits the attributes associated with patriarchal domesticity because she is nurturing and self-sacrificing, as Caroline puts the needs of her father before her own. Traditionally, a woman’s usefulness to men is what defines them, thus the power exercised over women affects their experiences of selfhood. Within patriarchies, women are also typically objectified, and instead of being viewed as the male counterpart, she is the “other” or “that,” making women seem less than fully human. Also, instrumentality, when someone treats a woman as a tool for one’s purposes, is an underlying issue both rooted in patriarchal ideology and, most notably, Safie and the monster’s indirect relationship.
Despite the fact that Safie and the rest of the cottagers do not know the monster is watching them, he decides to form a relationship with Safie that only he benefits from. Though Safie, and the rest of the female characters in Frankenstein, are the products of a female author, Safie still has a demeaning characterization that is typical of the time. When Safie arrives at the cottage, Agatha and Felix begin to teach her English; the monster observes, and “the idea instantly occurred to [him] that [he] should make use of the same instructions to the same end” (Shelley 116). The concept of instrumentality is first introduced after Frankenstein’s monster realizes he can use Safie for his own benefit, which is the epitome of the objectification of women. For the rest of her stay at the cottage, Safie’s usefulness to the opposite gender becomes the monster’s main focus, and exemplifies the effects of patriarchal domesticity. As the monster continues his observances of the happy family, Safie’s lessons become his own as well. Thus, because of a passive female, the monster’s first academic education results: “[His] days were spent in close attention, that [he] might more speedily master the language; and [he] may boast that [he] improved more than the Arabian, who understood very little…” (Shelley 117). Because Safie only exists to serve the opposite gender, whether she is actually learning the language or not becomes irrelevant as she now signifies a means to the monster’s educational end. Although Felix and Agatha view her with much admiration, Safie’s role in the patriarchal society still remains as a passive and objectified female character.
Safie’s incorporation in the story is more than just creating an easy way for the monster to flourish academically and learn the language of Felix and Agatha; she also provides an important emotional channel. From observing Safie’s relations with the cottagers, especially her amorous connection with Felix, the monster realizes how alone he is. His recent education leads the monster to recognize that he does not know anyone like himself: “Other lessons were impressed upon me even more deeply…all the various relationships which bind one human being to another in mutual bonds…I had never yet seen a being resembling me” (Shelley 120). The monster now knows he is alone and despised by all who lay their eyes on him, and that even his creator has abandoned him. However, without Safie’s presence, the monster would not have the opportunity to discover the feelings of “indignation, delight, and wonder,” or become aware of the fact that his creator, Victor Frankenstein, seized his chances of forming bonds. The monster’s disappointment at his life is in response to the joyous demeanors of the cottagers, which are constantly displayed through their lighthearted lifestyle. After witnessing Felix’s admiration for Safie and learning about strong familial relationships, the monster thinks to himself: “But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses…” (Shelley 120). Even though Frankenstein’s monster did not intend to observe lessons outside the academic realm, his self-pity is unnecessary considering it was his decision to treat Safie, someone with humanity, as an object of merely instrumental worth to attain personal goals. Ultimately, the monster further develops his emotional intelligence by taking advantage of Safie’s interactions with Felix and Agatha, but the results were not in his favor. Even for a monstrous creature, the patriarchy still influences how Frankenstein’s monster regards women; by viewing Safie as an object, he reduces an entire gender to the status of mere tools for his own purposes. Based on the monster’s past observations and experience with other women, he believes they are by nature passive and object-like, to the extent of which he refers to
Even for a monstrous creature, the patriarchy still influences how Frankenstein’s monster regards women; by viewing Safie as an object, he reduces an entire gender to the status of mere tools for his own purposes. Based on the monster’s past observations and experience with other women, he believes they are by nature passive and object-like, to the extent of which he refers to Safie as “The Arabian.” Although instrumentality is already a present theme as the monster uses Safie to further his academics, he continues to belittle her existence by rarely using her given name: “While I listened to the instructions which Felix bestowed upon the Arabian, the strange system of human society was explained to me” (Shelley 118). In certain works, some women are not named because only the men or the few unconventional female characters have the privilege of names. Because the monster avoids calling her “Safie,” it represents his view of her as an object that exists for his own self-improvement and promotes male superiority, whether intentional or not. Even in the monster’s first observation of Safie, he places his focus on her physical attributes, fragmenting her body from her mind and personality. When she arrives at the cottage, he is excessively preoccupied with her appearance: “I beheld a countenance of angelic beauty and expression…her features of a regular proportion, and her complexion wondrously fair…” (Shelley 115). This fragmentation objectifies Safie; it separates Safie’s looks from the rest of her, and thus physical appearance becomes the sole representation of the woman. The monster’s conscious decision to degrade Safie’s importance by placing her in an inferior position depicts the predisposed sexist beliefs of patriarchies.
In Frankenstein, the monster’s objectification of the female stranger advances both his academic and emotional intelligence, which reinforces the patriarchal ideologies of the time. Almost none of the women in Frankenstein survive, and all of them live their fictional lives to serve a very specific function to impact a man’s life. The lack of assertive female characters in the novel shows how Mary Shelley emphasizes each gender’s societal constructs. In order to overcome the gender roles that are ultimately destructive for both men and women, people must first recognize the existence of patriarchal societies and gender inequalities. Recently, the public associates the feminist movement with a negative connotation because of radical feminists who advocate for female superiority, which is not the intended goal. Feminism recognizes the stereotypical ideals men are also expected to follow, but ignorance toward these significant issues will only hinder any progress made in attempt to move past patriarchal societies. Feminist activism is especially necessary in developing countries where women and girls are given few opportunities to receive an education or explore beyond society’s glass ceiling. Without the collective effort of the majority, women’s equality can never be achieved, and the patriarchy will forever reign.