The Subjectivity of the Character \'Safie\' in Frankenstein









The Subjectivity of the Character "Safie" in Frankenstein


























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