Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

Women Beware! the Appropriation of Women in Hollywood's Revisioning of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

Women Beware! the Appropriation of Women in Hollywood's Revisioning of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Article excerpt

In his study of the various films Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has engendered, Martin Tropp points out that one of the reasons Frankenstein and its incarnations have continued to have such cultural relevance is that Shelley's "scientist and her Monster.. take on the protean forms that popular culture imposed upon them" (23). The films, "like bad dreams themselves...project images that portray the monstrous impulses within each of us" (Tropp 47). If this is true (and it certainly seems to be given Frankenstein is a text which is continually and almost compulsively revisited and revised) then when investigating Frankenstein as it relates to gender constructions, Tania Modeleski's examination of why the Gothic Romance is so popular amongst women readers becomes particularly relevant. For, if Frankenstein's popularity is evidence of the fact it continues to speak to cultural fears in general, the fact that it retains its Gothic formula suggests that it continues to speak to women's fears in particular.

In Loving with a Vengeance, Modeleski argues that the Gothic Romance has cultural relevance, particularly for women readers who have made it a popular culture phenomenon since the late eighteenth century (19-20), because as a paranoid text, it expresses the woman reader's experience within a patriarchally defined world. Gothic Romances

probe the deepest layers of the feminine unconscious, providing a way for women to work through profound psychic conflicts, especially ambivalence towards the significant people in their lives-mothers, fathers, lovers. (83)

More specifically, they present a heroine who, like the woman reader herself, fears the possibility of being emotionally, if not literally imprisoned or killed by a tyrannical patriarchal figure who is also her lover. In other words, the Gothic Romance provides a plot formula which encodes and articulates the Oedipus complex as experienced by the girl child and thereby allows the woman reader to work through her own unresolved Oedipal tensions (73-74) which are exacerbated as she attempts to assume the role of idealized woman as defined by the men to whom she has (as daughter) and will (as wife) belong (64). The heroine, like the woman reader, must come to terms with the fact that her father (and her lover or husband who is his substitute) is both enemy and lover, that she must identify with a disempowered (castrated) mother and, thereby, masochistically repeat her mother's position of powerlessness, and in doing so necessarily will be relegated to the position of other, the not-Man, the object whose primary value in a patriarchal world is in that as man's other and object she defines man as empowered subject. Significantly, however, the typical Gothic plot also works to relieve the heroine's and therefore the woman reader's fears as it resolves itself in a happy marriage: her lover, who is also the potential killer, is proven guiltless of wanting to kill her or any other woman (Modeleski 59). Woman, in other words, is safe in a patriarchal world.

Given Modeleski's model, Shelley's Frankenstein is a rather radical rewriting of the Gothic Romance's psychically relevant message, for its plot works to say that women are right to be paranoid, that women are killed by patriarchs and the power structure they perpetuate. I would argue that when Steph Lady and Frank Darabont rewrite Shelley's novel into their 1994 screenplay and Kenneth Branagh puts it on the screen, they may change the text in what some have considered monstrous ways but relieving women's fears of patriarchy is not one of them. In their revisioning of Frankenstein, women still have to fear real and/or metaphoric death at the hands of a powerful patriarch; indeed, the heroine (Elizabeth) literally becomes a monstrous creation and the embodiment of the masculine imagination. Her physical deformation and physical death are simply the literalization of the possibility that in assuming her role as the idealized object of masculine desire, which the negotiation of the Oedipal complex en-tails, woman has already died as a subject. …

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