The execution of Justine is a symbolically dense passage. The exact message of what Shelley is trying to convey by the death of Justine (justice) is confusing at best — and how could it not be? Her dad was a political philosopher, her mom was a feminist, and yet she still believed in Edmund Burke’s semi-sexist theories. These conflicting views are reflected in this passage, although I believe that Shelley mostly uses the work of Burke as a scaffold for the execution scene.

Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, is deeply concerned with the death of traditional European values with the rise of the Proletariat revolution in France. He writes extensively on how the class system has worked to promote civility and limit the powers of tyrants. He even remarks that Europe’s upper-class civility “kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom.” Justine is this very indentured freedom. She is a servant for an upper-class family, the Frankensteins, and represents the “old money”, if you will, of Europe. Her ultimate death is not caused by the townsfolk that executed her, but rather by the Creature — he is the one who killed William and planted evidence on Justine, condemning her. A Marxist reading of Frankenstein leads one to believe that the Creature is, at a very basic level, a symbol of the proletariat. He is created by the technological prowess of Frankenstein in the same way that the new working class was created by the new technology of factory owners.

It is this working class that is creating terror in France in the same way that the Creature is creating terror in the lives of the characters that inhabit the world of Frankenstein. When the Creature kills William — an innocent, virtuous child — he also kills Justine, signalling both the end of her life and the end of the traditional European values that Burke longs for.

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