Mary Shelley makes use of the contrasting landscape to critique the prejudice of her contemporary society in Frankenstein through demonstrating the Creature’s alienation from society and exploring women’s independence.
Shelley uses the contrasting imagery of the landscape of the Orkneys and Victor’s native country Switzerland to represent the major conflict between civilization and its values on the way the Creature is treated. It is significant because by a description of the Orkneys where Victor has chosen to create the companion for the Creature as being “miserable”, “barren”, and “rough” (Shelley, 119), Shelley succeeds in portraying the Creature to be mistreated and rejected, ultimately suggesting her contemporary society to be prejudiced and immoral towards the different that is a social outcast.
The cause of prejudice comes from an instinctive response shaped into our minds by society. Her critique is of people who judge people by his or her physical appearance. It is evident in the manner that the worlds where Victor and his Creature live.
Victor and his family occupy a world that has beauty, colorfulness, and liveliness as Victor recalls “Switzerland[’s] hills are covered with vines” (Shelley, 119) and the landscape is teeming with blue lakes reflecting the brilliant blue and gentle sky, yet Victor’s monster occupies a world that is only bleak and attacked on all sides.
In addition to the contrasting landscapes, Victor points out the winds of each place are distinct. The winds are “as the play of a lively infant” (Shelley, 119) in Switzerland, while the tormented sea squalls like battering the rock face in the Orkneys. These contrasts between the two places are as stark and distinct as the differences between the Creature and the human world which reinforces Shelley’s critique of social injustice being an unbreakable stereotype individual must follow to be accepted. Those who do not fit into the “standard” of that era are hated and tragically banned for the reason of being different.
Also, Shelley uses more contrasting imagery of the landscape to convey that enormous, sublime yet terrific rather than beautiful, peaceful, and calm nature is the only relief that may soothe Victor’s remorse. This revelation is particularly relevant through Frankenstein because nature is presented as a feminine principle and these distinct landscapes represent the conventionally passive, weak female character and a strong, powerful female, thereby formalizing Shelley’s veneration of strong, independent women challenging the prejudice towards female.
First, Shelley uses the beautiful, tender, restorative qualities of the landscape where Victor turns into yet finds little comfort, to portray the conventional women of that time as weak, subservient beings who live for and depend on the men in their lives. It is evident through the fact that Victor exclaims “Dear mountains! My […] beautiful lake! […] Your summits are clear; the sky and lake are blue and placid. Is this to prognosticate peace, or to mock at my unhappiness?” (Shelley, 49).
Language in this passage such as “beautiful”, “clear” and “peace” suggests the passive and soothing quality that is typically describing those females who at the time perfectly fit the pre-Victorian standard of dependence and selflessness. They cannot give off any possible feelings of absolute hope or fear.
However, these submissive female figures in this novel are all end up with tragic conclusions as Frankenstein progresses, such as Elizabeth, a full-fledged Victorian “Angel in the House”, who is murdered on her marriage bed. This reinforces Shelley’s critique of social sexist that female is passive to male will only result in tragedy.
However, Shelley also chooses to use the powerful, awe-inspiring, and sublime landscape as her representation of an ideal female, as opposed to the conventional women. For example, the thunder Victor encounters on his journey back is described as “burst[ing] with a terrific crash over [his] head” (Shelley, 49-50).
He finds the “vivid flashes of lighting” to be “so beautiful yet terrific” and is stuck by nature’s powerfulness characteristic. Similar scenery appears when Victor and his family visit Aveyron. Victor recalls “these sublime and magnificent scenes afforded me the greatest consolation […].
They elevated me from littleness of feeling, and although they did not remove my grief, they subdued and tranquilized it” (Shelley, 66). Similarly, Victor remembers “the sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed […] solemniz[ed] my mind and causing me to forget the passing cares of life” (Shelley, 66). Here, “Sublime”, “magnificent”, “awful” and “majestic” give a much more powerful and stronger meaning than “peace” and “beautiful” suggesting a quite distinct feminine quality compared to the social standard that women are asked to follow.
Ironically, only in these sublime, extreme landscapes instead of those peaceful and beautiful landscapes, Victor can find himself “filled with a sublime ecstasy that gave wings to the soul, and allowed it to soar from the obscure world to light and joy” (Shelley, 66). These contrasts show the advantage of being a strong and independent female, ultimately subverting the traditional stereotype of the female being a domestic servant as weak, passive, and tragic.
In conclusion, Shelley’s use of the contrasting landscape in Frankenstein helps demonstrate the social prejudice towards anything being different from the “standard” (social conventions), either physical appearance or gender expectations, suggesting the society of that time being irrational and less self-conscious.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. Dover Thrift Edition. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.
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