Tag Archive: Godwin

In reading the Justine excerpts a few things are shockingly obvious. She was incorrectly found guilty of a crime she didn’t commit, forced to confess to this crime or face repercussions eternally, and not given the benefit of the doubt when both Elizabeth and Victor tried to plead her case for her. All of this amounts to what Godwin would have considered to be failures on the part of mankind, especially those who tried her, because they did not adhere to his two plain duties as outlined in Reflections. These two duties are described as “first…an unwearied attention to the great instrument of justice” and “second…tranquility.” In reference to the first duty of justice, Godwin’s sentiments as expressed by the text were that people “should communicate [their] sentiments with the utmost frankness” and “be pervaded with a sense of the magnitude of [their] cause…to do justice to [their] principles.” Tying this back to Justine it becomes abundantly clear that she did attempt to do this initially but instead of receiving justice as Godwin expects, she received a priest who forced her to self-incriminate herself or face eternal punishment in exchange. Which for someone as god-fearing as Justine was a far worse punishment than hanging. Not only does Justine fail to get the justice she deserved by doing as Godwin wanted but the rest of the people at the trial, the judges, failed completely in this first duty as well. They did not seek to understand the magnitude of their actions nor did they attempt to be clear in their sentiments. Instead they allowed someone to force her into guilt and did not allow for anything but their decided upon story of events. The judges and all the other people are far guiltier than Justine ever was for their failure to fulfill one of their two duties.

As for the second duty of tranquility once more the ones truly guilty of not fulfilling this duty are the judges and others who deemed Justine guilty. Justine herself comes to terms in the cell with Victor and Elizabeth that her fate has been sealed and instead “assumed an air of cheerfulness, while she with difficulty repressed her bitter tears” because she was fulfilling her duty of tranquility. While instead the priest instead forced her into submission with angry words. Had they only fulfilled that duty of tranquility and seen the situation with a calmer and more objective perspective this situation could have perhaps been avoided. Instead they failed and in doing failed in serving justice.

Ultimately if they had fulfilled their duties as Godwin would have wanted then perhaps Justine would have gotten the justice she was meant to represent. The failure to fulfill their duties was a reflection of the corrupt society in which justice could not be obtained and Justine’s fate was just another product of that corruption.

By Diana Lara


In his work, “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice” William Godwin argues that the only way humanity and mankind will progress and evolve smoothly is if they begin to value communication, truth and reason above all other virtues. He states, “If there be any force in the arguments of this work, we seem authorized to deduce thus much from them, that truth is irresistible. Let then this axiom be the rudder of our undertakings” (789) thus showing how much he valued the act of truth. Godwin believed that truth and reason should govern the way in which disputes were settled and only through reason/truth would justice be achieved. His view relies on the idea that reason, truth and communication above all other things would decide the best course of action for everyone. Godwin also emphasized on the importance of communication when he said, “We should communicate our sentiments with the utmost frankness. We should endeavour to press them upon the attention of others.” (790) He thought that through communication, and people’s willingness to shed their selfish natures, society would be able to progress and move forward. Therefore, when we view Justine’s death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein under Godwin’s lense, we notice that Shelley is affirming her father’s beliefs and through Victor’s selfishness and inability to communicate or tell the truth, he was unable to meet up to Godwin’s beliefs and therefore created a setback for the progression of society – which was represented by Justine.

The death of Justine not only holds significance because it was the second death of the novel due to the acts of the monster but it also represents the failure to serve justice due to lack of truth and communication, just as Godwin feared. Justine, who was wrongfully accused for the murder of William, was being sentenced to death due to her false confession and the fact that it was her word (a woman’s) against those who accused her. Victor Frankenstein is tormented by these facts the day before her sentence because he knows the truth regarding the actual murderer and who is truly responsible – and it is himself just as much as the creature. Victor states, “But I, the true murderer, felt the never dying worm alive in my bosom, which allowed of no hope or consolation” (84) and this is when his guilt and anguish truly began. He later states, “Anguish and despair had penetrated into the core of my heart; I bore a hell within me, which nothing could extinguish.” (84) showing just how much the truth was beginning to torment him. Yet we ask ourselves, why didn’t Victor just bring himself to tell the truth and confess? I believe it is because Mary Shelley was demonstrating the idea her father was well known for, the idea that when society lacks communication, reason, and truth justice will not be attained and there will be a disturbance in society. She is demonstrating that without any of Godwin’s important virtues, innocent members of society would suffer due to lack of knowledge and rationalization. Not only that, but she is also affirming the idea that selfishness in people is what causes setbacks for society to be able to progress. In this scene, I believe Victor was acting as a setback for society because due to his selfish nature, and selfishness fogging his reasoning kept justice from being served for Justine. Overall, through the use of Victor’s anguish and despair, and yet his inability to tell the truth to spare Justine’s life, Shelley reflects her father’s ideas and deeply rooted beliefs. She uses Justine’s unfair death as a way of representing not only that violence led to her unjust death but also how the course of action was greatly altered due to Frankenstein being unable to prioritize truth in his decision and therefore Justine’s fall also signals the fall of justice. I also believe Shelley used Justine’s death as a mean to reflect on what was her current society and the fact that revolution had altered the lives of many simply because society refused to communicate and didn’t place much importance on the ideas of communication, truth, and reason – like her father hoped for. Overall, I believe that through Justine’s death Shelley was using her father’s ideas and beliefs in her work to prove to society why that course of thinking was still relevant to their time.

-Beverly Miranda-Galindo

Esther Quintanilla

In his essay Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, the ideas that are posed by William Godwin are very prevalent in the death of Justine in the novel Frankenstein. In his essay, Godwin focuses greatly on equality among the different classes in England and France and the knowledge that should be distributed throughout all the population. This idea is reflected in Frankenstein through the way the readers view Justine. Elizabeth, when introducing Justine, describes her as a valued and important member of her family. “Justine, thus received in our family, learned the duties of a servant; a condition which, in our fortunate country, does not include the idea of ignorance, and a sacrifice of the dignity of a human being” (66). Although Justine was a servant, she was not treated so. She was treated with respect and was not the stereotypical depiction of a servant in France or England. Even Victor himself states, “A servant in Geneva does not mean the same thing as a servant in France and England” (66). The idea of equality among the different classes, or even the abolishment of the classes themselves, is an idea that stems from Godwin’s thinking. He believes that justice can only be achieved through the equality of all, “the cause of justice is the cause of humanity” (Godwin, 789).

Although Justine is treated equally to others in Geneva, she eventually is treated as a servant would be in France or England. The execution of Justine is an event that contradicts the ideas of equality and justice, those in which her character is shaped around.  She is put to death for a crime that she did not commit but still admits to because of the pressure put upon her as a servant in her society. Equality is not seen in her conviction and she is not given the choice to have justice. Justine realizes her inequality and shares her thoughts with Elizabeth and Vicotr when they visit her to say goodbye: “’ I leave a sad and bitter world; and if you remember me, and think of me as of one unjustly condemned, I am resigned to the fate awaiting me’” (83). This contradicts the Godwinian ideas that introduced Justine and forces her to become a mere replaceable servant. In the eyes of Godwin, Geneva becomes a place where justice just barely out of reach and ultimately unattainable.

If Justine is to be considered the anthropomorphism of Justice, then her unfair trial and death is as ironic as irony can get. Her conflict with the jury is a classic example of the conflict between the actual and the assumed interpretation of the concept. Justice is “all benignity” as Godwin puts it (p. 790), and not “brutishness and inflexibility” as the adherents to the cause of Justice believe. And so Justine remains loyal to the Godwin-ian view of fairness, in all its inevitability and reliance on the “private conviction of individuals” (p. 790), until the very end. When Justine is being tried, she relies on the “great instrument of justice, reason” (Godwin, p.790) and rests her innocence on a “simple explanation of the facts” (Frankenstein,p.80). She lends support for her defense from her past (p.81) by calling character witnesses, in analogy to Godwin’s proposition that history eventually manifests as a fundamental, reformative truth that gives way to Justice.

It can be concluded that Justine embodies the Utopian view of fairness that is a gradual but a voluntary endeavor, as opposed to a violent shift in the social paradigm. That being said, we see that Justine is an isolated character. She has suffered the loss of family, a mentor, and a ward and the hatred of a mother and her society. She has no support. Victor is silent. Even Elizabeth’s support is fickle (p.83, para 2). Justine refuses Elizabeth’s offer to “melt the stony hearts of [Justine’s] enemies” (p.84) and instead resigns herself to her sentence. Her passiveness makes her seem almost like an instrument of fate; like Justice embodied offered to the masses: an ephemeral shortcut to social equilibrium, as Godwin thinks of fairness, just ripe for the taking.

Justine’s exit so early in the novel signifies that true Justice based on logic and reason will play no part in resolving the novel’s conflict. Victor’s inaction despite his knowledge of Justine’s innocence perhaps foreshadows the balancing injustice of the Creature’s survival. In all cases, Justine’s death is a result of “a mistake of [justice’s] adherents” in understanding the true meaning of fairness. And just like this “mistake” is a wrinkle, an anomaly, in the grand scheme of justice, so perhaps will be the resolution of Frankenstein’s conflict.