Tag Archive: William Godwin

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.


For your next post (2/20), use William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Edmund Burke, or Karl Marx as a critical lens for interpreting Justine’s (Justice’s) death in Frankenstein.  Keep the post short and concise (1-2 paragraphs), focusing on one or two of these writers, and backed up by a close reading of a passage or select quotes.  Include your post under the category “Justine’s Execution in Historical Context” and don’t forget to create tags.

For those brave and ambitious souls, I pose an optional challenging question that you can choose to answer or ignore:

Does Justine’s public execution imply that the historical event of the French Revolution is a tragedy (a singular occurrence) or a comic farce (a repetition of an event), as Marx defines these terms in The Eighteenth Brumaire (in the opening paragraph)?  Explain your answer in critical Marxist terms.

Here’s a partial photo pic of our in-class graphic idea map.  Use it as a study guide to help you prepare for this week’s post.  The green color is for William Godwin, the red for Edmund Burke, and the blue for Mary Wollstonecraft.

photo graph 3