Patriarchy and Theories of Locke and Rousseau

For use in examining the Historical/Sociological Lens


Because the setting and characters in Frankenstein are so intricately tied to the culture of Shelley’s time, it will be useful to review the patriarchal system and the educational theories of Locke and Rousseau.  Their essays investigate the following topics:

·         The male pursuance of goals against all odds

·         The role of women as passive and dependent on men

·         The usurpation of female reproductive power by science

·         John Locke’s “tabula rasa,” or “blank slate” theory of individual character

·         Rousseau’s philosophy that society is responsible for the development of individual character

In writing Frankenstein, Mary Shelley drew on the philosophies of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) argued that a child is a “blank slate” that is formed only through experience.  Rousseau’s Emile, or On Education (1762) promotes the idea that a child’s upbringing is responsible for his education.


 Online Resources:

“An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” by John Locke

Sparknotes explanation of Locke’s essay

Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Sparknotes explanation of Rousseau's ideas on education