An Analysis of Johanna M. Smith`s `Cooped Up` Feminine Domesticity In Frankenstein

An Analysis of Johanna M. Smith’s ‘Cooped Up’ Feminine Domesticity In Frankenstein

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has been identified as womanly book with feminist agenda. Earlier feminist critics have actually associated various feminist themes to Frankenstein. They analyzed the whole book in the feminist framework and attempted to translate the different themes related to feminism.

These expressions of feminist view plainly manifest that Frankenstein is an epitome of Shelly’s concern for womanly status and stature in the 18th century patriarchal society. The most illustrative work to find the feminist styles in the Frankenstein is supplied by Johanna Smith in her intriguing work ‘Cooped up’: Feminine Domesticity in Frankenstein.

Johanna M. Smith, a professor of English at the University of Texas, concentrated on two significant feminist styles. She is of the view that female and male sphere are separated and women are rule over to males characters. She even more attempts to reinforce the view that the existence of female characters in the book is only to reproduce the male characters.

The really first part of Smith’s essay takes into consideration the historic viewpoint and tries to analyze the historical elements involved in the making of the book. She is of the view that the socio-economic milieu of 19th century and the patriarchal social structure. She shows that this time period was marked by subjugation of women and females were dependent on guys socially, mentally, financially and emotionally. Smith even more argued that because era lady “was conditioned to think she needed a man’s help” (Smith 275).

Shelly depicted this problem in a very subtle way through her feminine characterization in the novel. No female character of the novel has a direct and persuasive interaction. These female characters speak through their respective male characters. Their communication is overshadowed by their respective strong male characters i.e. Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and Frankenstein’s monster. Johanna Smith highlights that these 3 male characters control the narrative of the book.

Another feministic observation by Johanna Smith reveals that Women characters are frail and weak. She concentrates on the character of Elizabeth. Although her role in the household is larger than other characters in the unique but like other female characters, her function also lacks the essence of a powerful character.

Smith manifested that the triviality of the female characters is further enhanced by the death episode of Elizabeth. Smith argues that Elizabeth death should be contrasted with Henry murder. When Henry is killed, Shelly arouses the compassions of the readers toward Victor as he has actually lost a lifetime buddy but when Elizabeth is killed, readers discover it tough to produce a rapport with Frankenstein who feels for Elizabeth.

Professor Smith supplies all these examples to show her point that in the 18th century society was repressive and “women operate not in their own right but rather as signals of and conduits for men’s relations with other males” (Smith, p283).

The structure that Johanna Smith utilized to seek the feminist theme is both textual and extra-textual. She has evaluated the characterization, language, themes and symbolic manifestation within the text to find the feminist patterns. Smith analysis considerably manifests that Shelly utilizes the type of the novel i.e. weak characterization of the female characters and the plot to show that how discreetly and magnificently Shelly combined the feminist style in the grand structure of her book.

The feminist framework work of criticism and analysis of Frankenstein by Johanna Smith is in line with a long custom of feminist criticism on the stated novel. Her first major presumption about the frailty and triviality of women characterization is valid and well supported. The text of Frankenstein has lots of examples that establish the credibility of Teacher Smith’s arguments.

It text shows the reality that women characters are weak and their existence in the novel is simply to show the more domineering male characters. For example at each crisis episode, these women are not able to react immediately and correctly. At the death of William, Elizabeth, the most elaborated female character of the novel, “passed out, and was brought back with extreme trouble” (Shelley 70).

Justine acts in the comparable style,”The early morning on which the murder of poor William had actually been discovered, Justine had been taken ill, and confined to her bed for a number of days” (Shelley 76).

Their presence is overshadowed by male characters. They act passively and attempt to abide by requirements of their males. After the deaths of William and Justine, Elizabeth informs Victor, “These events have impacted me, God knows how deeply; but I am not so wretched as you are … Have we lost the power of rendering you happy?” (Shelley 90).

Teacher Smith’s argument that females characters exist to show the male characters is strong. Most of the feminine activities and thoughts are encircles by their issue for their males. Women are nothing in their own capability but a simple facilitator and service provider of male joy and satisfaction.

For instance Caroline’s offering of Elizabeth is undoubtedly a sign of such workouts in the book. Caroline arranges the marital relationship of Victor and Elizabeth for the sole intention of relaxing Alphonse in his sufferings and pathos. Shelley state that “She Elizabeth signed up with the hands of Elizabeth and myself: “My kids,” she said, “my firmest hope of future joy were placed on the possibility of your union. This expectation will now be the consolation of your dad. Elizabeth, my love, you need to provide my place to my more youthful children.” (Chapter3)

Teacher Smith’s second major argument is associated with the domestic period of the social life represented in Frankenstein. She is of the view that states Shelley has actually created a total disparity in the domestic life of the two genders and separation of their spheres of activities. She asserts that Frankenstein household has a “accounting mindset” about them. (Smith 279).

She further mentions that this bookkeeping mentality can be discerned from the improper and overstated thankfulness and gratitude shown by the each member of Frankenstein family. She says, “Gratitude, no matter how genuine, implies commitment, which in turn indicates the power of the person to whom one is grateful or obligated. The persistence on thankfulness and obligation causes a bookkeeping mentality that penetrates all the relations in this novel” (Smith 279).

Johanna Smith provides examples to support his viewpoint. For instance when Victor was suffering from flu and took care of by Henry, Victor’s very first response was “How shall I ever repay you?” (Smith 63).

Although Professors Smith analysis provides an in-depth knowledge into the feminist realms of the books however it ignores particular elements of novel. The unique, as the genre most perceptibly supplies an insight into the social and products truths. For example she neglected domestic restriction and enslavement.

She further neglects a crucial theme that Shelley attempted to relate artfully. The novel manifests that although women are separated from out male domain however they exercise their power within the domain of house. Child rearing activity and impact on their kids is a symptom of such power. The way in which she did this was through kid rearing. Her kids were her methods of revealing power. Such influence and power is manifested through the example of Caroline’s discussion of Elizabeth to her son Victor;

On the night previous to her being given my home, my mom had said playfully, “I have a quite present for my Victor– tomorrow he will have it.” And when on the morrow, she presented Elizabeth to me as her assured gift, I, with childish severity, translated her words actually and looked upon Elizabeth as mine– my own to safeguard, enjoy and treasure. (Chapter 1)

Smith negates some other crucial points like the education of the monster is symbolic manifestation of the education of ladies in 18th century. Frankenstein plainly shows that the struggle and activities of the beast to educate himself is a reflection of 18th century women’s activities to depend on their own resources to educate themselves. These symbolic parallels present the ideas of just alternative readily available to those women i.e. self education.

All elements of gender concerns concerning Frankenstein are not taken in hand by Teacher Smith. I believe that in addition to multi-faceted gender problems, broad social and cultural topic should be attended to i.e. the communication patterns found out by monster, the fear of the unknown and a special uncertainty that prevails in the books, perversion of innovative process etc. This will produce an all-inclusive analysis of the entire novel.


Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The modern-day Prometheus. A Longman cultural ed. New York City: Longman, 2003.

Smith, Johanna M. “Caged”: Womanly Domesticity in Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, Ed. Johanna M. Smith. St. Martin’s Press, 1989.

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