Gender and Sexuality in Handmaids Tale and Frankenstein (Male characters…
Gender and Sexuality in Handmaids Tale and Frankenstein
Serena Joy used to make speeches about how "women should stay home" (CH8) and now is living in the reality she constructed, oppressed by a system of her own construction
Victor also constructed his own demise and then has to live with the consequences
CH8- "She doesn't make speeches any more. She has become speechless"
Possible link to Thatcherism
The Handmaids are stripped of individuality- no names, can't read, can't go anywhere, controlling and oppression
Handmaids are deprived of the right to look at themselves and value themselves as individuals CH2- "As in a nunnery too, there are few mirrors"
Sexuality of women is completely demonized within the novel, restricted as a means of control/surpression- perpetuated by the other women as well as men due to societal brainwashing
Everyone has restricted rights in the regime e.g. Men and women are not allowed to masturbate- CH4- "They have no outlets now except themselves, and that's a sacrilege", shows how sexuality is used as a form for control for everyone
CH13- "telling about how she was gang raped at 14 and had an abortion...she seemed almost
This may also be seen in Frankenstein as Victor completely ignores sexuality, possibly controlling Elizabeth? Also includes him creating an entire human being from scratch instead of having sex
CH13- "her fault, we chant in unison. 'Who led them on?"
CH2- "it's the red dress she disapproves of, and what it stands for. She thinks I may be catching, like a disease" (male sexual guilt projected onto women)
CH2- "Go to the Colonies…
they have the choice
"= expectation for women to rather die than have sex and they are "debase"ing themselves if not
Women are treated as possessions within the Handmaids Tale to be acquired by men as they make their way up the oligarchy
CH12- "the small tattoo on my ankle. Four digits and an eye", much like how jewish people were identified in nazi camps as they used to be placed on clothes (red dress) yet when they are killed it is harder to tell who they were
Handmaids are called "Of___" their Commander, identity removed and replaced with a man's
CH4- "if they are able to gain enough power and live to be old enough, of being allotted a Handmaid of their own"
Victor's strange relationship with sexuality and women may be explained by the early death of his mother, whom he idealised as the perfect woman
V1C1- "Caroline Beaufort possessed a mind of an uncommon mold", V1C3- "this best of women"
• Victor suppresses emotion as a result of patriarchal convention
V1C4- "I wished…to
all that related to my feelings of affection" (angry that he cares for people as it gets in the way of his progress)
This may also be like Nick or even the Commander, who superficially says he likes the system yet defies it and doesn't even enjoy the ceremony "It's as if he's somewhere else, waiting for himself to come"
After William's death V1C7 "He
can no longer be a subject for pity
; we must reserve that for his miserable survivors"
This is supported by the coldness of Victor's father- V1C7 "I
will not attempt to console you,
but will simply relate the circumstances of the transaction", "She was very earnest to see the
V1C3- "grief is rather an
than a necessity"
Victor's ego is constantly reaffirmed by many including himself, with nearly no challenges or assertions that he is not 'God like'- yet the women are constantly beaten down (male privilege)
○ V1C4- "it may be easily conceived that my progress was rapid"
Mainly, Victor subverts the female and attempts to eradicate the need for women in society
Within handmaids roles of women are subverted by allocating one only to each woman, for example Handmaids can only carry out the birthing role but not mothering- eradicating the 'need' for women to be multifaceted/whole women and complete all of them
workshop of filthy creation
" and "midnight
" display his workshop as the womb
Labour also referenced in V1C4- "After so much time spent in painful labour"
Little mention of sex in the novel may be a continuation of Victor's subversion of the female
Potentially sexy dream about Elizabeth interrupted by
his dead mother "grave worms crawling in the folds of flannel"
"the idea of an immediate union… was one of horror and dismay" = his disgust for sex
V1C1- "my more than sister" (repeated twice) has incestuous connotations, but could also mean more as in unlike a sister he has complete control over her
'Nature' in the novel is personified as a woman and then gruesomely dehumanized, sometimes even violated with language having connotations of rape
This focus upon the seperation/isolation of the female body is also seen in Handmaids, could also say this is supported by only describing women in looks
into the recesses of nature, and show how
works in her
"- descriptions sort of like rape and violate the woman
V1C2- "He might
"- 'dissect' is vividly gruesome imagery, creating a mental image of the woman as a scientific subject
Daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women and was a leading feminist activist- the monster may reflect her mother's novel as it argued that women were just as smart as men but just not educated due to sexist conventions at the time, just as the Monster is oppressed based on appearance/state yet just hasn't been taught right and wrong
The fact that Elizabeth's death was so violent and careless perpetuates the treatment of women as lower, showing that they cared about her that little despite all her efforts to be the perfect woman
Shown also in Handmaids as Offred mainly only rebels internally yet is still targeted by the Commander and basically forced to violate the regime
"lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed"
"her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair"
displays that even if women succumb to the conventions of society they are still oppressed, much like in Handmaids
Elizabeth is a low priority in Victor's life and takes all of his mistreatment welcomingly and passively, contrasting Walton's relationship with his sister
How could you suppose
that my first thought would not fly towards those dear, dear friends…who are so deserving of my love?"- Victor lashes back at Henry when he asks him to write to his family and tries to deny this treatment, possibly showing a poor mental state/silo mentality- inability to understand his own actions
V1C6 "Get well- and return to us. You will find a happy, cheerful home, and friends who love you dearly"
"do not be alarmed for my safety" (LII), a direct juxtaposition/possible foreshadowing
"two years passed…during which I paid no visit to Geneva", he even refuses to tell her his secret (perpetuates the ideal of women being untrustworthy)
The women blame themselves for all the deaths and misfortunes- burdening themselves with the weight of guilt of the actions of men
Elizabeth blames herself for the death of William V1C7- "to cease her
and tormenting self-accusations", adjective 'vain' used by her dad displays an inability to comfort
V1C6- "accused her of having caused the deaths of her brothers and sisters"- Justine is repeatedly blamed and beaten down despite doing nothing wrong
much like in Handmaids with the epigraph of Jacob/Bilhah
Women's roles in Frankenstein are typically pathetic, having other people depend on them and being ones of suffering, as objects of revenge for the men (Monster killing Elizabeth and Victor destroying the female monster) and then death , and are never given the opportunity to act on their own
Justine is displayed as a pure martyr, furthering the notion that women serve men (especially as her demise is directly Victor's fault). Victor also has many opportunities to stop her death yet does not, yet again showing his lack of respect/care for women
V1C6- "The conscience of the woman was troubled; she began to think that the deaths of her favorites were a judgement from heaven to chastise her partiality", unlike Victor who places the blame on everyone but him Justine places all blame upon herself (as the woman and also due to religious guilt)
Commits herself to the "will of heaven" much like the Aunts/complacent girls in Handmaids, oppression seen as justified by religion
"I feel as if I could die in peace, now that my innocence is acknowledged"- does not mind she is being unjustly killed
Caroline represents female weakness in her death by scarlet fever (a child's illness, said she 'died
'), self sacrificing nature, marriage to a much older man and in her immediate remarriage after being widowed (dependence)
V1C1- "considerable difference between the ages of my parents, but this circumstance seemed to unite them only closer in bonds of devoted affection"
V1C7- "painted at my father's
, and represented Caroline Beaufort in an
agony of despair
, kneeling by the coffin of her dead father"
V1C1- "He came like a protecting spirit to the
, who committed herself to his care" his father is at first shown to be a guardian figure to his mother but then becomes romantic with her, much like Victor and Caroline
V1C6- "This benefit was fully repaid; Justine was the most
grateful little creature
in the world"
V1C3- "She forgot even her own regret in her endeavors to make us forget"
The same in Handmaids even though it doesn't seem like it superficially- men need the women to comply with their system so to bring them power and to sustain their way of life
V1C1- "more than a duty; it was a
, a passion" (for his mother to help orphans)
Male characters are often described by intelligence whereas women are described mostly by looks, even in a non sexual context, with small hints at women being untelligent (heightened by lack of resistance/focus on looks)
• Women sometimes even described as sub-human in comparison to men
○ V1C6- "This benefit was fully repaid; Justine was the most grateful little creature in the world"
V1C1- Elizabeth is described as a "distinct species"
V1C2- "He had partially unveiled the face of Nature, but her immortal lineaments were still a wonder and a mystery." (lineaments means characteristics, even Nature as 'she' is a woman is described in terms of attractiveness/looks)
When women attempt to become educated they are demonzied and made fun of (safie), and are called fastidious rather than intelligent (Walton's sister Margaret) V1LIV- "You have been tutored and refined by books…and you are therefore somewhat
V1C2- "I was capable of a more intense application…more deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge" (compared to Elizabeth)
"I improved more rapidly than
"- ironic that the monster strips Safie of her identity while he doesn't have one either
V1C8- "rendered, by the solemnity of her feelings, exquisitely beautiful" - Justine described as beautiful because she is so solemn, docility/submission/complacency attractive as she was not fighting back
occupations take up my time and
me" Elizabeth tries to diminish her jobs and comes across as less intelligent, trying to retain her image as docile and suppress her urge to grow
V1C1- "one which attracted my mother far above all the rest. She appeared
of a different stock
Within both texts women are displayed as posessions to be acquired, for example Elizabeth is constantly referred to as a prisoner or present
Even the monster in his short span of life has been taught that woman are this way through observations of society-"shall
…find a wife for his bosom"
a creature of another sex"
Even William is said to own women displaying how ingrained these societal conventions of women as a commodity are- V1C6 "He has already had one or two
, but Luisa Biron is his favorite, a
little girl of five years of age"
Justine is also shown similarly V1C6- "she
V1C1- "I have
a pretty present
for my Victor"
to love, protect and cherish" (repetition)
V1C1- "became the
of my parents house"
Safie (much like Moira) represents a challenge towards the conventional norms of the feminine, in her intelligence
"taught her to aspire to higher powers of
intellect and an independence of spirit forbidden to the female
followers of Mahomet"- within this she is displaying masculine traits and showing the monster that women can be powerful