Character Analysis: Androgyny in Mary Shelleys "Frankenstein"

Term Paper, 2010

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Cristina Flores (Author)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Men’s Androgyny
2.1 Victor Frankenstein
2.2 Henri Clerval

3. Women’s Androgyny
3.1 Elizabeth Lavenza
3.2 Safie

4. The Monster’s Androgyny

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Families in the 19th century mostly lived in a patriarchal society. Growing up during this time, Mary Shelley used this society “ruled or controlled by men”[1] as the basis for the population of her novel Frankenstein. On the first sight, the characters appear to fulfill their gender roles perfectly. Women occupy the domestic sphere, men work outside home. In addition, women are only of marginal importance whereas men appear as the strong protagonists who are able to influence the storyline.

Even if this first overview is correct, Mary Shelley does not maintain this severe separation of sexes and their characteristics but proves that both women and men own some features of the other sex. Therefore, one could state that the women in Frankenstein have an important role as well, as, at second sight, they share a lot of similarities with men and vice versa which contributes to analyze the topic of androgyny.

In my term paper I will therefore concentrate on this androgyny of men and women in Frankenstein. Being androgynous, which can be defined as the state of “having both male and female characteristics”[2], is an essential element of the novel. Analyzing the male characters one discovers that the male characteristics are important but that it is especially the femaleness which leads to the course of the novel and not typically male behavior. With regard to women, the androgyny shows the beginning of emancipation and hence, women as contemporary heroines, able to escape from a male-dominated society.

Furthermore, it is important to analyze the monster that shows androgynous traits so that it cannot be classified as either male or female. These features show that the monster possesses general human qualities as it shares a lot of similarities with the characters of the novel.

2. Men’s Androgyny

Regarding men’s androgyny in Frankenstein, the focus will be on the main male characters Victor and his best friend Henri Clerval. These two characters prove that only the combination of female and male character traits results in the course of the story but that the female behavior is of prime importance.

2.1 Victor Frankenstein

Victor can be stated one of the main characters in Frankenstein. He is the narrator and creates the monster, which then takes revenge for his solitude and life as an outcast. At the beginning, he completely attains male characteristics. Exploring the world as a scientist, studying abroad and behaving self-confidently, Victor is the exact opposite to the women in his surrounding, who spend their time at home. The change happens with the creation. With regard to his character one can affirm that “in creating the monster, Victor projects outward the ‘male’ half of his psyche: he then becomes ‘female’”[3]. Therefore, he shows androgynous traits, which can be proved in several situations.

His manly features contain the fact that he gets the opportunity to study abroad. In patriarchal society only men had the privilege to broaden their minds. For this reason he also travels around Europe and learns several different languages. He also confirms the prejudice that men are more interested in obtaining knowledge than women. While the female characters keep the house, Frankenstein starts early to read difficult non-fictional works, such as “the whole works of [Agrippa] and afterwards of Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus”[4] with “the greatest avidity”[5] and begins his studies. These male advantages finally lead to the creation, as he learned the theory how matter comes alive and puts it into practice.

Imagining that his femaleness would have started since birth, the creation would not have taken place. Only because of his thirst for knowledge, his father Alphonse sent him away from home to Ingolstadt, so that he could enter upon a career in science instead of studying in Geneva, which Victor himself interpreted as “an omen […] of his future misery”[6]. Behaving in a female way, he probably would not be as interested in science, so that he would have stayed at home or at least in Geneva near his family.

Nevertheless, at the point in time when Victor creates the monster, he takes the most traditional part of a woman’s role. In other words: “[…] what can be more androgynous that a man having, or making a baby?”[7] Interestingly enough, his “baby” seems to be visually a grown-up man. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for a man to create a female being, which then could serve as a companion? One answer to this question could be that Victor felt more attracted to men, so that he preferred a male companion to a female one.

From that time on, his femininity increases, until he realizes himself that he “became timid as a love-sick girl”[8]. Since then, this occurring femaleness including stereotypical behavior influences the whole plot. A typical believed female behavior in these times was for instance nervousness.

Scientists in the early 19th century stated that “[t]he female nervous system was finer, ‘more irritable’, prone to overstimulation and resulting exhaustion”[9]. This kind of symptoms can also be found in Frankenstein. After the creation he falls ill of “nervous fever which confined [him] for several months”[10]. According to the statement that only women have neural problems, Frankenstein reacts in a feminine way to his problematic and exceptional situation. From this time on, Frankenstein behaves in a nervous way permanently, as he is always afraid of meeting the monster or being asked about his work in the laboratory. “[H]e felt the palpitation of every artery; at others, [he] nearly sank to the ground through languor and extreme weakness”[11]. According to Veeder, the words “palpitation” and “languor” are a symbol of “traditional […] female passion and its aftermath”[12], proving the changing of roles and thus an effeminate Victor.


[1] “Patriarchy.“ The Oxford English Dictionary. 7th ed. 2005.

[2] “Androgynous.“ The Oxford English Dictionary. 7th ed. 2005.

[3] William Veeder, “Gender and Pedagogy: The Question of Frankenstein.” Approaches to Teaching Shelley’s Frankenstein, ed.Stephen C. Behrendt (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1990) 44.

[4] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. (London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994) 38.

[5] Shelley 38.

[6] Shelley 41.

[7] Steven Lehman, “The Motherless Child in Science Fiction: Frankenstein and Moreau,“ Science Fiction Studies 19 (1992): 52.

[8] Bette London, “Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the Spectacle of Masculinity.“ PMLA. 108 (1993): 261.

[9] Carroll Smith-Rosenberg and Charles Rosenberg, “The Female Animal: Medical and Biological Views of Woman and Her Role in Nineteenth-Century America.“ The Journal of American History 60 (1973): 334.

[10] Shelley 53.

[11] Shelley 56.

[12] Veeder, Approaches to Teaching Shelley’s Frankenstein 44.

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Character Analysis: Androgyny in Mary Shelleys "Frankenstein"
University of Paderborn
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Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, Androgyny, Character Analysis
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Cristina Flores (Author), 2010, Character Analysis: Androgyny in Mary Shelleys "Frankenstein", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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