Tag Archive: freedom


By: Leena Maria Beddawi

In Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men, the feeling of melancholy is severely prevalent, not only in his admonishment of the form of justice the we internalize in society and politics, but also of the misogyny that has embedded itself into their very culture, surrounded them in all forms of life. Told best in this statement, “you love the church, your country, and its laws, you repeatedly tell us, because they deserve to be loved; but from you this is not a panegyric: weakness and indulgence are the only incitements to love and confidence that you can discern, and it cannot be denied that the tender mother you venerate deserves, on this score, all your affection” (51).  Her view of men, and  the good-natured man view of a man, that loves his country but not his women, and how the men were vehemently believed to be of higher value than women, and especially in his political vantage point, this was amoral and misogynistic. Wollstonecraft would look at this story of Justine’s trial (or lack thereof) as a product of the already messed up system.

Chivalry

In “Frankenstein”, Justine is put on trial for the murder of the young William Frankenstein, and if Wollstonecraft were to read this story in the way Shelley described it, he would gag at the very disturbing story. Victor Frankenstein can save Justine, he is the only one who is incredibly certain of her innocence, “Nothing in human shape could have destroyed the fair child. He was the murderer! I could not doubt it. The mere presence of the idea was an irresistible proof of the fact.” (75), because he created the very thing that killed his brother, William. But, since Victor was a self-serving man with a God-complex, he believed himself to be of higher value, even if he did feel guilt, he still allowed it to take place, still allowed Justine to be imprisoned, and still believed his life held more meaning. Wollstonecraft would most certainly see this as a reflection of the universal view of the women in their society since they saw them as less than, and even then, she knew “such a glorious change can only be produced by liberty, inequality of rank must ever impede the growth of virtue” (48-49). Although, in this case, liberty is not in question, since Victor merely had to tell the truth to show his respect or morality.

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In my most recent post, I vehemently defended my argument (at least in the comments) that the creature’s apparent behavior did not make it a subaltern character. The question is: Why? Why is it that exposure to identical conditions (discrimination, apathy, ignorance etc.) yielded a meek Safie and a rebellious Monster? Even a cursory examination of these two subjects reveals the only significant variable that changed: the characters themselves. But what was it that was so different between Safie and the Creature? To answer that would take us to the defining moment of a character’s development: the Mirror Stage.

According to Lacan, the mirror stage first manifests itself during infancy. A child who is aware of its uncoordinated motor skills looks into a mirror and sees something more than a reflection. It sees itself as a whole. In a manner of speaking it looks “up” at its ideal, imaginary self. And with the reality of its own fragmentation close on its heels, the child quickly dismisses the differences between itself and its perceived double, and instead adopts the reflection as something to strive towards. Now, the infantile mirror stage only incorporates obvious, physical parities. However as a person matures, society starts to play a part. The person sees in the mirror an ideal image that has been augmented by social judgments on aesthetics. And out of fear of rejection and fragmentation from society, and in hope of total acceptance, the person keeps striving towards his/her imaginary double.

Similarly, the meekness and involuntary conformity of the subaltern comes from its latent optimism for eventual elevation. The subaltern does not, however, sympathize with the lack  that its image invokes. This is because the image is not a product of society, but of the colonizers/patriarchy. But the subaltern toils under colonizers’ expectations nonetheless. There is something to be said for the optimism that the mirror stage inculcates in every human. Like Spivak’s widow and Safie, the subaltern continues to choose paths that are the lesser of two evils in hope that one day the image it sees in the mirror will become real and lead it to freedom and acceptance.

But in case of the creature, the mirror stage is different. Unlike the infant, the creature is the epitome of physical prowess. However the image it sees in the water is that of a sum of parts. Where the infant looked up to its imaginary self as an escape from fragmentation, the creature (literally) looks down and sees itself as disarray personified. There is no ideal to strive towards. Optimism has become redundant. The awareness of its true self has set the creature free from any expectations. This freedom is sadist and damning, but it is freedom still. Where the subaltern perpetually strives to crawl towards the light at the end of the tunnel under mountains of expectations, the creature’s realization of reality blasts away the entire range altogether. So when it chooses to flirt with the idea of peace with the DeLaceys, or to condemn Justine, or to kill Victor, it is merely exercising its freedom like no subaltern can.