Tag Archive: execution

False Confessions

It is evident that Justine’s death in Frankenstein was a tragic and unjust one. Despite her innocence, shortly after her conviction, she confessed to have murdered William knowing that it would end in her execution. During her last encounter with Elizabeth, Justine admits to have lied about being responsible for Williams murder when saying, “Dear lady, I had no one to support me; all looked on me as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition. What could I do? In an evil hour I subscribed to a lie; and now only am I truly miserable” (83). Here, she makes it clear that she felt alone during her moments of conviction because although there really was no solid evidence that proved her guilty, once blamed, Justine was labeled the murder by the entire town without any hesitation. In addition to this, Justine also voices how from the moment she was condemned, “[her] confessor besieged [her]”, as well as “threatened and menaced, until [she] almost began to think [she] was the monster he said [she] was”(83). It was during her time of weakness that the law took advantage of her in order to obtain a confession; even if it meant manipulating her into believing she truly was a demented murderer.
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Now, taking into consideration Justine’s death in Frankenstein, a lot of the way it was handled can be interpreted through Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France 1790. As described in Burke’s writing, death was a prominent occurrence due to the ongoing revolution; including executions as well as the suffering of many. In one instance, Burke confesses, “that much allowance out to be made for the Society, and that the temptation was too strong for common discretion” (72). Returning once again to Justine’s death, she felt isolated from her homes community after she was accused of murder and because of it she saw no other option but to untruthfully confess. As one can see, society played a big role in a persons downfall and although some may have thought it to be unjust, the “temptation” or inclination to be on the side the majority thought to be right, was so powerful it caused individuals to loose their “common discretion”. Another point brought up by Burke describes how he began to think, “such treatment of any human creatures must be shocking to any but those who are made for accomplishing Revolutions” (74). By this he means the suffering that was allowed to go on during the revolution in France would be surprising to those who would normally be opposed to violence and an uprising. In the same manner, Justine’s confessor threatened and pressured her into a false confession; something no one in their right mind would take part in. Yet, this individual tortured Justine because they needed an murder and would stop at nothing spill their blood in an execution; even if that person was innocent.

– Juanita Espinoza

The full interpretation of the execution suffered by the character Justine is a complex order, but one that may be adroitly accomplished through a critical Marxist lens. Justine may be understood as a personification of vigorous and ancient social sentiments, which is a fact exposed through certain elements of her characterization. Her name bears specific resemblance to “justice,” and she is accordingly granted an idealized mixture of humility, patience, and great beauty. These qualities, however, do not protect her from condemnation and execution. She meets this fate in an unusual way, in that in the end of her life she possesses no fear and a sense of resignation, and indeed advises the characters to  “Learn from me… to submit in patience to the will of heaven” (84). She does not act as a frightened servant would, instead responding like a goddess, saint, or philosopher, entities that would react with logical and graceful finality. This serves to further emphasize Justine’s role as more than human, but rather a symbol for the romanticized concept of “justice.”

Within the context of the narrative and Marxist analysis methods, the execution can be further explicated. The central concept within this textual event is the bourgeoisie manipulation of traditional ideological entities. In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx himself notes, “unheroic as bourgeoisie society is, yet it had need of heroism, of sacrifice, of terror, of civil war and of national battles to bring it into being” (42). However, “when the real aim had been achieved, when the bourgeois transformation … had been accomplished, Locke supplanted Habakkuk” (42), meaning that the bourgeoisie enlightenment ideals were erected over the ancient ideologies of the past. The narrative mirrors this process. The concept of “justice” is ancient, and a battle cry for social dynamism and reform. It is loved and respected as a force that pried open the feudal social structure and broke the monarchy and lords. However, the manifestation of this important sentiment is not powerful within the text, but ultimately debased. She is bound and imprisoned by the bourgeoisie elite of the Frankenstein family, nurturing their young and appearing as a loved and valued part of the household. “Justice,” is part of the superficial façade of the elite, who use it to soften and mask the calamity that they engineer.  However, once the goals of the elite are achieved, the ideal falls away. Victor completes his ultimate work in the monstrous fabrication of the new proletariat, and the old idealism of concepts like “justice,” is unnecessary. Indeed, they cannot exist in the brave new capitalist world; whether the bourgeoisie intends it or not, their creation is inherently violent, and will murder ancient sentiment. In this way, Justine and “justice,” are slowly prepared and led for slaughter, used to further the goals of the bourgeoisie, before the societal conflict created by the elite erupts. With their mastery complete, the judicial bureaucrats throw their black ballots at the feet of justice, as it is no longer a necessary illusion.

The Marxist characterization of this event is accordingly a comic farce. Justice and Justine might recall a symbol of the French revolution: lady liberty. In true form, she exists as a goddess within the ranks of subjected masses, charging into the fray of battle lofting the symbol of the people as she leads them to victory, awe-inspiring and beautiful in fearless nakedness. In contrast, the narrative portrays her as the powerless servant to the elite, who task her with raising their children. Although appreciated by them, she does not appear in true form; her nakedness is covered and she inspires no awe, but rather sympathy. Her beauty remains in this diminished form, but her sublime aspect vanishes. She dies not in battle for the rights of humankind, but in a mechanistic decision. Her execution is a farce as she is a tool manipulated by unseen bourgeoisie hands, rather than a sentiment earnestly supported and fought over as she once was.

Justine’s execution in Frankenstien can be interpreted in multiple ways. One lens with which to view her execution is through the ideas proposed by William Godwin in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). Godwin’s text exemplifies the idea that Justine’s execution was metaphorically an “execution of justice”. It is no coincidence that the name Justine and justice are so similar. Justine represents what is true and just, and her death represents the absence of these concepts. Godwin mentions in multiple instances the importance of truth in a society: “Truth is irresistible” (789), “The progress of truth is the most powerful of all causes” (791), “The general diffusion of truth will be productive of general improvement” (794). The reader believes in Justine’s true version of the story, in which she does not murder William. However, Justine’s tale does not serve to convince the jury of her innocence, and she is thus executed. The Frankensteins rely on the system of legal justice to save Justine: “If she is, as you believe, innocent, rely on the justice of our laws” (79). This quote demonstrates their simplistic and unwavering belief in the system; Justine is innocent, therefore there should be no way that the court can find her guilty. However, the court does not demonstrate justice: Justine is executed in the face of her truthful claims. The ignorance of Godwin’s idea that truth is all-powerful supports the idea that Justine’s execution was not just.

A further example of how Justine’s execution represents the execution of justice lies in the quote from Frankenstein that says: “I subscribed to a lie; and now only am I truly miserable” (84). Justine falsely commits to the crime of killing William. While she may have been despondent about her situation prior to falsely confessing guilt, she feels ultimately worse after confessing a lie. This once again corresponds with Godwin’s ideas that truth is ultimate: the corruption of truth involves suffering. Frankenstein also suffers from the concealment of the truth: “The tortures of the accused did not equal mine; she was sustained by innocence” (82). Frankenstein is not able to admit his own truth, and thus he suffers more in life that the truth-sustained Justine suffers in the face of death. Frankenstein and Justine both suffer from their repression of the truth, but Justine, as a symbol of justice, is able to hold her head high due to the knowledge of her own truth. One of Godwin’s final statements is that “The improvement in question consists in a knowledge of truth. But our knowledge will be very imperfect, so long as this great branch of universal justice fails to constitute a part of it” (794). Truth and justice go hand in hand. There cannot be truth without justice and vice versa. The oppression of the truth in these passages shows that there is necessarily an oppression of justice as well. Justine’s execution is simultaneously an execution of justice.