Tag Archive: justice


Blog Summary 1: False Justice

As I perused my previous blog posts, I reread one in particular that caught my eye: my post titled “The Bond of Creator and Creation.” In it, I cite a quote from Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful: “”And as our Creator has designed we should be united by the bond of sympathy…”, and then I elaborate on the bond of sympathy between Frankenstein and the Creature when he listens to his progeny’s story. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that moment is the only display of sympathetic connection between this God and his Adam found in the whole novel. Everywhere else, most particularly the execution of Justine, it is absent—but why? There should be a strong bond of love between them like that of a father and son, but no connection or true communication can be found. Understanding this disparity between expectations and reality can be further explored using Marxist analysis.

A preliminary structural analysis reveals that the turning point in the novel is the death of William and the execution of Justine. Before that point, Victor is at peace and the Creature’s location is, for all intents and purposes, held at bay. After the death of Justine, however, everything changes; Victor now lives a life of fear, and the Creature is a broken human with an insatiable desire for vengeance trying to exert control over his creator. The focal point of Marxist analysis also centers on the death of Justine—the symbolic death of justice. Frankenstein, a scientifically and technologically inclined member of the bourgeoisie, created Frankenstein much in the same way that the techno-centric industrial bourgeoisie created the new working class. There is no sympathy between the two emerging classes because their stratification was not created through humanistic demands, but rather socioeconomic demands. The bourgeoisie, despite begetting a whole new “race” of people, could never view them as anything but a means to an end—and the end is money. In the French revolution, they promised the proletariat egalitarianism, but their words were hollow—the proletariat, being naïve and possessing no prior context, were able to be repressed by the bourgeoisie’s bastardization of the ancient ideology of justice. They believed that it was killed during the revolution, but it was killed long before then, when the first factory manager looked down on his newly-minted workers and saw them as a stack of dollar bills. The proletariat never stood a chance, and their mislead sense of justice prevented them from seeing the creator as the true enemy.

The dynamic between Frankenstein and his creation acts in very much the same way. Frankenstein, a disgusting but powerful mass of muscle and sinew, is the large, dirty proletariat; suppressed by their master, they only blame themselves. In the Justine episode, the Creature fails to fully realize it is Frankenstein’s fault for the death of justice, not his—the very act of creating “a new species [that] would bless me as its creator” (Frankenstein 58) killed justice before the starting gun had even fired, for to create a species for the sake of deification is the most unholy of all injustices. The ideology that the Creature follows is a false one, perpetuated by Frankenstein (who knowingly refused to intervene to save justice before her execution at bourgeoisie hands) in order to exert control over his creation. Frankenstein does all of this because his creature was not created for humanistic reasons; it was a means to an end, an attempt to gain power to stay the cold hand of death from those he selfishly wanted to keep forever in this world. In the end, the Creature is unable to see Frankenstein as an enemy. Even after he kills everyone Frankenstein loves, he still cries when his creator is finally subdued by Death and sacrifices himself to the sea. His false ideology will always blind him to his creator’s evil. Unless the proletariat can see what the bourgeoisie’s sense of justice actually is—frail, twisted, and coughing up the blood of innocents—they will never throw off the yoke of oppression.

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The character of the creature is exquisite in the rawness of its humanity, and this has implications that transcend mere sentimentality. Existing outside the social order of things, his efforts to define his own place in society result, time and time again, in what seems to be an unmovable rejection from the human world.

What has become increasingly apparent is that it is not humanity that is rejecting the creature, so much as it is society. Making this fine distinction helps to reconcile the creature’s obvious humanity with his constant rejection by people, and helps to better settle the novel within a historical and sociopolitical context. It is important to consider, specifically, that a defining element of the creature’s humanity is his desire to grasp control of his predicament. What is tumultuous about this seemingly natural desire is that it exists independently from a place in society, and thus fails to be fulfilled. Society’s unbending rejection of the creature can therefore be viewed as commentary on the social structure of the time, one that is, at its core, not about reflecting humanity but about controlling it. It is not difficult to see the creature’s fight against his banishment from society as analogous to the unrest of the proletariat underneath the unbending social order that characterized the times. But what’s especially interesting to consider is how Frankenstein responds to his own creation. Unwilling to see the creature as anything more than an abomination, Frankenstein seeks, throughout the novel, to deny the creature as something that even requires controlling, even as the shockwaves of the creature’s existence cause enormous tumult in Victor’s life. Earlier in the novel, for instance, he returns to his home to find the creature missing, and rather than enter panic mode, he can “hardly believe that so great a good fortune could have befallen [him]…” (63). In fact, until his little brother is killed, Victor doesn’t think about the consequences of the creature’s existence in the outside world and within society. Later, at the trial of Justine Moritz, Victor is tortured by his own guilt and rage, but suppresses these feelings because to give in to them would mean putting the creature in a position of power. He refuses to allow it, and in the process, Justine is convicted and justice disintegrates.

What is reflected simultaneously by Victor, the creature, and the events that unfold around them, is a divide between society and humanity that rises not only from the creation and rejection of the monster, but the resultant turmoil as the creature tries to control its own place in society. So, as much as the creature’s rejection seems to be a criticism of the class structure and society, the ensuing chaos, when cast in the light of a historical context, is also a reflection on the ruthless nature of the French Revolution. The fact that the creature, in the end, dies next to his creator, thus failing to define his own destiny, is a powerful comment on the dissolution of humanity in revolution, a failure of the revolution to live up to its own ideals. 

Here’s a full pic of our completed in-class graphic idea map.  Students can use it as a study guide to help them prepare for the blog summary due next week.  The green color is for William Godwin, the red for Edmund Burke, and the blue for Mary Wollstonecraft.

We’re making steady progress in our historicist analysis of the Justine episode in Frankenstein.  Please feel free to comment on students’ impressive idea map.

 

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Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Men mocks Edmund Burke’s idea of beautiful femininity being inherently virtuous, differentiating having virtue and merely looking it: “Not to cultivate the moral virtues that might chance to excite respect, and interfere with the pleasing sensations they were meant to inspire,” (Wollstonecraft, 47). Wollstonecraft notes that this idea of beauty pleases others but does not uplift one’s own self, putting women in a position of inspiring inferiority that requires no actual virtue. She would consider the character of Justine a prime example of this disparity in action. The characters of Frankenstein claim the maid’s beauty is at odds with her unfortunate fate. The first description of her by Elizabeth emphasizes how she clears negative emotions with her very appearance: “For the same reason that Ariosto gives concerning the beauty of Angelica – She looks so frank-hearted and happy” (Shelley, 67). Even though the text makes a distinction between beauty and Justine’s qualities, that divide is imaginary; she does not alleviate woe because she is frank-hearted and happy, but because her physical appearance reminds of those qualities. The word “frank” means truthful, yet Justine’s frankness is only skin-deep, creating a paradox of her frankness being a mask. In an everyday situation, a character may describe Justine’s virtue the way Elizabeth did, yet when dealing with the grim business of murder, that appraisal disappears: “As the trial had proceeded, her countenance had altered” (80). Beauty is only necessary as long as it pleases; when real virtue is needed, beauty does not suffice, and so it is no longer perceived as so pleasing.

The sentence of Justine in Frankenstein is supposed to inspire anger at the unfairness of the proceedings, since Justice is killed even when innocent. Her name even resembles the word “justice” to illustrate how justice dies. However, Wollstonecraft would not claim that justice died during the trial, but instead before it, pointing to the failure of beauty to balance with truth. Even though the reader knows Justine is innocent in retrospect, the presented evidence against her is overwhelming. Even Elizabeth cannot actually provide reason, instead discussing her emotional relationship with Justine: “Elizabeth’s heartrending eloquence failed to move the judges from their settled conviction in the criminality of this saintly sufferer” (Shelley, 85). While her defense is described as aesthetically pleasing, the beauty is hollow, and Justine is sentenced for her crime. The judges have already decided, but it is not because the court is unfair; in the face of all the evidence, it would be a farce to think otherwise just because of one person’s account being “heartrending”. What is unfair is that beauty was ever considered an acceptable substitute; Wollstonecraft thinks it bizarre that Burke’s definition of beauty does not come from “those exalted qualities, fortitude, justice, wisdom, and truth” (47). Justine provides no fortitude and is broken into confession, she provides no truth in her paradox of only appearing truthful, and worst of all, Justine is not able to actually embody justice when reason and evidence, the very items most important to a court, are not on her side. Wollstonecraft rejects Burke’s and Frankenstein‘s definitions of beauty if embracing beauty means one must reject the best human qualities in favor of a sham.

The death of William in Frankenstein rightfully sparked the search for his killer, and a long-time servant of the Frankenstein’s house, Justine, was convicted of the murder under a conglomeration of circumstantial evidence. Of course the reader and Frankenstein know that Justine is guilty of no such crime, however the attempt for others in the house and community to establish justice leads to her downfall. The task at hand is to examine the execution of Justine through the framework and lens of radicals such as Mary Wollstonecraft. In the words of Wollstonecraft, the execution of  Justine, who herself was “extremely pretty,” ( Frankenstein pg. 68) the embodiment of beauty, was necessary “to render men more virtuous, and to banish all enervating modifications of beauty from civil society.” (Wollstonecraft pg. 48) Justine “appeared calm, and her countenance, always  engaging, was rendered, by the solemnity of her feelings exquisitely beautiful. Yet she appeared confident in innocence..” (Frankenstein pg. 79) Ernest, Victor’s brother, even expresses his unbelief that such an amicable girl would be capable of such an atrocious crime. The community’s attempt at justice was an honorable reach for righteousness. Justine’s conviction was the perfect example of the community’s attempt to separate what Wollstonecraft would argue they “reasoned” to be true, Justine’s guilt, from her “beautiful” appearance, something that had the potential to cloud their judgement. (Wollstonecraft pg.47)

Justine’s execution is ironic, however, in that she was convicted in her innocence. William’s locket was found on her person, and her inability to reasonably explain her possession of the locket led to her conviction. If we are to make Justine’s death analogous to what Wollstonecraft says is a “respect of the naked dignity of virtue” (Wollstonecraft pg.  49) or an attempt to make society just, should not the conviction have been just in itself? I present the idea that Justine’s execution does not accurately depict the virtue that Wollstonecraft so passionately defends. Throughout the scenario, I never see justice present itself. The first wrong: William’s murder. The second wrong: Justine’s conviction. The third wrong: Justine’s execution. Along the bridge between William’s murder and the execution of Justine lies a longing for righteousness, a desired explanation and vengeance for his downfall. However, I would argue that the sole desire for these things does not ensure justice. Only when vengeance is rightfully achieved will justice prevail. In lam en’s terms, “two wrong’s do not make right” nor is Wollstonecraft’s “virtue” achieved by the wrongful “removal of beauty”, or Justine, from “civil society”.(Wollstonecraft pg.48)

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.

The wrongful execution of Justine serves as a symbolic backdrop for the corruption of good. What Justine represents is a pure, well-intentioned spirit who, when constantly pushed to a corner by negative outside forces, cannot help but cave in. She mentions to Elizabeth how she did confess to killing William, but only out of duress and fear; “ever since [she] was condemned, [her] confessor had besieged [her]; he threatened and menaced, until [she] almost began to think that [she] was the monster that he said [she] was” (Shelley 83). What we have here is a clear case of someone who, while innocent and well-intentioned, could not think ahead to see just exactly what she was sacrificing by letting the negative attacks affect her. The sheer gravity of a murder charge, with its punishment of execution, eventually became secondary to the vicious corruptive influence of her confessor, in Justine’s mind. She took his words to heart more than the truth that lay within her due to just how convincing and insistent he was. The confessor even started to “threaten excommunication and hell fire in [her] last moments, if [she] continued obdurate” (Shelley 83). Punishment in the afterlife for something she didn’t do, but something that her confessor convinced her to believe. Such compelling words, added to the fact that there was “none to support [her]; all looked on [her] as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition” (Shelley 83-84). This just demonstrates the sheer power of the people around you: she was swayed to conform to what everyone else believed, despite the complete falsehood of such beliefs. She, as a result, lies to herself, and her pure innocence is ruined.

This is a strong corollary to the death of justice and ideological purity during the French Revolution. Good intentions and aspirations were what fueled the start of the Revolution, with the rise and empowerment of the poor, downtrodden Third Estate and the subsequent goal of securing equality and justice under the law. William Godwin aspires to see this occur as much himself, as he states in his 1793 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice: “To the general mass of the adherents of equality… 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” (Godwin 789). Note how very non-forceful and non-threatening he is with stating his personal opinions by stating how there is, above all, only one “force” in his work which calls for special attention. This tone of his indicates how he wants the reader to be eased in comfortably to his opinions. His conviction that “truth is irresistible” is undoubtedly a tenet that justice strives to uphold, and a tenet that poor Justine could not uphold herself. She was swayed by negative outside forces, and so was the Revolution itself. His hope that truth’s irresistible nature would lead to it always being championed and protected, that it would be the “rudder,” the fuel to people’s fire, sadly is not the case, due to simple human fallibility. Sure, truth as an ideal should in theory always be defended no matter what the circumstances are, but circumstances definitely do matter. Justine’s circumstances– she was lonely, with everyone around her condemning her about what she allegedly did, and with a corruptive confessor by her side, constantly feeding her lies– shook her inner core, to the point where she could not help but be swayed in the end. The same goes for what happened to the French Revolution: the noble ideals championed at the outset of the Revolution soon gave way to extremist influences, with truth and justice eventually being discarded, giving way to tyranny, with the Reign of Terror being a good example of that. Proper truth and justice, and those championing it, were drowned out by the surge of radicals. The inner core of the Revolution was thus corrupted, much like poor Justine, and Justine’s as well as Godwin’s best intentions were left unfulfilled.

Justine Moritz’s trial and execution are explored carefully over several pages in Frankenstein, commanding the reader’s attention to the treatment of justice in this scene, even as it involves a seemingly minor character. In a particularly powerful moment, Justine finishes testifying before the court and seems almost immediately to acknowledge and accept the direction of the trial: “I commit my cause to the justice of my judges, yet I see no room for hope. I beg permission to have a few witnesses examined concerning my character; and if their testimony shall not overweigh my supposed guilt, I must be condemned, although I would pledge my salvation on my innocence.” (Shelley 81)

What we see here is a sort of self-abandonment in the acceptance of the law – To Justine, it represents something that is absolute, and in a way, faultless. Although she knows she is innocent, she believes in the certainty of the law, and this belief is manifested in her decision to confess to the crime she did not commit. We can gather from Justine’s confession and her trial as a whole, that enforcing the law and enacting justice are separate to such a degree that judges act solely on their own “harsh unfeeling reasoning” (Shelley 85) in accordance with the law – so powerful is this separation that it even soaks through to the individual level, where it compromises freedom from personal guilt and responsibility.

Based on Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France 1790, it seems he would have a mouthful to say about this as well. In particular, he makes the point that the core values of the revolution undermined sentiment, and lacked an element of humanity. On pages 76-77, Burke states that “This mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the antient chivalry…if it should ever be totally extinguished, the loss I fear will be great… All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason.”  Through the lens of this particular quote, we can see that Burke would identify Justine/justice as a tool of the law, rather than a guiding light, to be molded according to reason over human sentiment – and since, as Burke says, the “reason which banishes the affections is incapable of filling their place”, what we observe is that law has an unnatural and absolute power, and “we have no compass to govern us.” (Burke 78). Placed in the context of his entire argument in Reflections, the implication of such a philosophy is a regression of humanity and society into total anarchy.

The wrongful execution of Justine for a murder that Frankenstein’s monster actually commits is an unusual part of Dr. Frankenstein’s narrative; the character of Justine is not mentioned before Victor hears of the murder accusations, yet the man expresses deep feelings upon her imprisonment and passing. If we take Justine to be the symbol of Justice, then Mary Shelley’s ideas on the subject would have undoubtedly been shaped by those of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.

Wollstonecraft wrote “A Vindication on the Rights of Men” in response to Edmund Burke’s ideas on the sublime and beautiful and his opinions on the French Revolution. Justine goes against Burke’s vision of the “beautiful” woman, a view that Wollstonecraft vehemently attacks, “Never, they might repeat after you, was any man, much less a woman, rendered amiable by the force of those exalted qualities, fortitude, justice, wisdom, and truth; and thus forewarned of the sacrifice they must make to those austere, unnatural virtues, they would be authorized to turn all their attention to their persons, systematically neglecting morals to secure beauty…”. Wollstonecraft attacks Burke’s notion that beauty can only exist in man if it is separate from strength and courage – only the weaker emotions highlight beauty. Justine is an exact contradiction to this ideal, she is described as beautiful by Dr. Frankenstein, yet she is “a girl of merit” and despite the harrowing circumstances she, “did not tremble” (both quotes on 79). Justine displays courage in facing the fate that awaits her, even if it is an unjust one, a trait that Burke would not have found “beautiful”, but one that Wollstonecraft would have admired in its genuineness.

Another aspect of Wollstonecraft’s influence on Shelley’s character of Justine is the way society treats her (and therefore Justice) with a callous air. Wollstonecraft criticizes Burke’s assertion that veneration of civil institutions is a product of Nature and the natural order. If Justine is Justice personified, then the illegitimacy of her death must be viewed not as an act of civil institution – in this case law – that should be venerated, but as a problem in the system: a problem that Burke implies is not there in a civil society. Interpreting Justine’s death with Mary Wollstonecraft in mind creates the character to be a direct counter to the ideals that Burke had in terms of beauty and the role of Nature.

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.