Frankenstein: The Subjectivity of the Character "Safie"


Even though she is only mentioned in Mary Shelley\'s Frankenstein for a
relatively brief period, the character, Safie, is very interesting as she is
unique from the other characters in that her subjectivity is more clearly
dependent on her religion and the culture of her nation. Contrasts can be made
between the Orient and the European society which attempts to interpret it.
Often, this creates stereotypes such as western feminists that have viewed
"third-world" women as "ignorant, poor, uneducated, tradition-bound, religious,
domesticated, family oriented, (and) victimized"(Mohanty 290). Of course, some
of these things could also have said of European women of the time period,
although noone would argue the point since Oriental women were viewed as being
more oppressed. Strong contrasts can also be made in relation to the differences
between Safie\'s development as a foreign character and her subjectivity as a
female character in relation to those of the other female characters of the book.
While the other female characters lack depth into how their religion and culture
affect them, Safie\'s religion and Arabian culture sculpt her into a subject with
feminist qualities juxtaposed against her fulfillment of European domestic
ideology.
Many theorists, such as Benveniste who said, "Consciousness of self [or
subjectivity] is only possible if it is experienced by contrast," argue that
one\'s subjectivity can only exist in their relation to the Other(85). The
subject\'s relation this "Other" depends on which aspect is being examined. For
example, when dealing with gender, it would be the relationship between Man and
Woman and when dealing with nationality it would be the relationship between
Native and Foreigner. Thus, the character of Safie was defined in terms of her
relationship to those around her. In the Turkish society, her role would have
been to fulfill positions of lesser rank, such as a daughter to her father or a
woman in relation to the dominant men, and when in Europe, as a foreign Turk in
relation to native Europeans. These relationships, however, were significantly
affected by the teachings her Christian Arab mother instilled in her. Her mother
"taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect, and an independence of
spirit" which in either Turkish or European society, though more so in Turkish
society, were in discord with the standard position and femininity of women.
Both societies viewed women as having a "natural" tendency to be unassuming and
docile and, in addition, it would be considered unfeminine to seek something
more than their domestic role. Safie does not go to the extent of wishing for
something more than a prescribed domestic role, she merely preferred the
European version of that role. This role apparently differs from the Arabian
role primarily in that the European society which she longed to join was
associated with the Christian religion and practices that she has been taught to
adore and which would be forbidden in the Arabian society. In desiring the
European role and wishing to marry a Christian, she does not break the apparent
confines of her feminine role but the confines of her Arabian culture. By
believing in the qualities expressed by her mother, and by displaying them in
her venture to violate her father\'s will to find Felix, she shows that her
subjectivity was not based on the opposition of women versus empowered men, as
might seem the norm, but was instead more distinctly based on the opposition of
religiously submissive women in her culture versus the Christian woman, inspired
by the freedom she experienced before being seized by the Turks, that her mother
was. Safie\'s affinity for the Christian religion is best shown in her revulsion
at the prospect of returning to the Turkish land and her desire to marry a
Christian and remain in Europe.
In addition to the her unique religious point of view, Safie was also
influenced by her Arabian culture but, however, Shelley does not go into much
depth this aspect of Safie and stops at only a superficial, prejudiced
description of the Turks. In fact, there are Eurocentric biases against the
Turks throughout the portion of the book dealing with Safie. In order to examine
why Mary Shelley included such biases in her work, one must first acknowledge
the distinct possibility that as she wrote Frankenstein, she carried with her
some prejudices of the Orient. This argument is supported by Edward Said\'s
statement:
For if it is true that no production of knowledge can ever ignore or
disclaim its author\'s involvement as a human subject in (their) own
circumstances, then it must also be true that for a European...
studying