Orientalism and Frankenstein

Over the last week I began to notice how intertwined our digital studies class is with a history seminar I am taking. In the history seminar we have looked at the “other” in terms of race and religion and how the “other” is represented, studied and talked about. While the topics of the two classes are different, the themes and theories are quite similar – interestingly, both have made use of Michel Foucault’s theories.

In the history seminar we read Orientalism by Edward Said. The idea of Orientalism that Said puts forth can best be described as why when we think of the Near or Far East that we have a preconceived notion of the people who live there and what they believe, even though we have never been there. Said suggest this is the result of British, French and American imperialism in the Far East that produced literature, music and art that came to influence our knowledge and perception of those people – the other – and painted them as a static image, outside of history. Therefore, the way we acquire knowledge is not innocent or objective, but the result of motivated interests – creating a lens that distorts the other and a frame to observe the unfamiliar.

The idea of Orientalism led me to question whether a similar discourse exists for gender or gender roles – where modern culture painted women as the “other” and as such our knowledge became influenced by literature and the arts that came before us. Under this idea Frankenstein should reveal classic stereotypes about gender and gender roles, which in fact is just the case. The Frankenstein’s are a traditional nuclear family – even taking in and nurturing relatives. The family sends Victor off to schooling when he is of age, while their “adopted” daughter Elizabeth stays at home. When the mother died, Elizabeth takes on the motherly role: “…her mind had acquired new firmness and vigour…. she felt that that most imperious duty, of rendering her uncle and cousins happy, had developed upon her.” As the narrative progresses these stereotypes are reinforced. The monster, however, seems to question established ideas on gender, as it appears almost androgynous.

Sources:

Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1994).

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf, Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 1999).

Source: Orientalism and Frankenstein

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