Safie in Frankenstein

Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

Though a minor character in Mary Shelley's 1818 masterpiece ''Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus,'' the Turkish exile Safie plays an important role. She reflects the stark contrast between the acceptance she is shown by the De Lacey family and the monster's rejection by them.

You are (Not) One of Us: Safie versus the Monster in Frankenstein

Though a relatively minor character in Mary Shelley's 1818 masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Safie provides a poignant contrast with the monster's outcast state. A beautiful and suffering stranger, exiled from a foreign land, Safie is greeted with all the tenderness and warmth that the monster craves. Safie is embraced by the De Lacey family with an immediacy and completeness that the monster can only dream about.

She demonstrates that so often how we treat strangers is not based on who they are or what they deserve but on how we perceive them. Safie's frail beauty buys her way into the De Laceys' hearts. This allows her to assimilate, or integrate into the culture and society of the adopted homeland, in a manner that the monster's deformed body and terrifying size cannot.

Mary Shelley
Shelley

Hospitality and Exile in Frankenstein

Both Safie and Frankenstein's monster are adrift and homeless. Safie has been expelled from her native Turkey by political intrigue and her love for the oldest De Lacey son, Felix. The monster has been violently banished from human society, spurned by his creator, Victor Frankenstein, and driven from the town by the violent attacks of the terrified townspeople.

Both are vulnerable and wounded. Both need comfort and acceptance. Both crave the love of family and the opportunity to return that love. But only Safie is welcomed in. Frankenstein's monster, conversely, remains the eternal outcast.

1838 painting entitled Turkish Girl by Karl Briullov
Turkish Girl

The Privileges of Beauty

Safie's beauty and vulnerability conjure every protective instinct in the De Lacey family. The monster, on the other hand, is hideous. His massive size and grotesque appearance elicit only horror. Women faint at the sight of him, while men grow frantic and irrational in their attempts to drive him away.

But Safie and the monster are inwardly quite similar; both possess innately gentle hearts and a predisposition for love and kindness. The monster's emotional capacities seem to parallel his physical proportions. In these early months of his life, when he still harbors hope for the love of family, his affection and compassion are immense. He hides in the De Lacey home and performs small acts of kindness for them without their knowledge, such as providing food or wood for fuel during the harsh and hungry months of winter.

But there is no microscope to view the inner spirit of men--or monsters. The De Laceys, like nearly every other human the monster encounters, define this stranger by what they see. And what they see is not the same thing they see in the lovely Turkish maiden in need of a home and family. They see a towering and terrifying beast, a creature out of a nightmare, a thing too appalling to tolerate, let alone welcome.

Everything in Its Place

Safie is not welcomed into the De Lacey family just because she is beautiful--though that certainly helps. No, Safie is absorbed so readily into the family because her social role, or the function she is to play in the family, the community, and the nation, is known. She is a young woman of marriageable age, already loving and beloved. Her path and purpose are clear: she is to be Felix's wife, the mother of his children, and the new daughter of the De Lacey clan.

The monster has no such identity, no expected role to fill. He is entirely new and Other. Much of what makes him terrifying is this strangeness. The world simply does not know what to do with or expect from him. There simply is no way to recognize or understand this creature--at least not yet. And that is terrifying.

He does not seem to belong to the human family, nor to the animal kingdom. He is certainly not a product of the natural processes. He is the unknown element, threatening in his mystery. Because of that, he, unlike Safie, is unacceptable.

When in Romeā€¦

Safie and the monster are strangers in a strange land, acclimating to their unfamiliar surroundings. Safie struggles to learn the native tongue of her new family; she is patiently taught to speak and read the language of her adopted homeland.

The monster's learning curve is steeper. He learns to communicate by watching, without help or encouragement of any kind. Most important, he has no background of home, family, or culture to fall back on, as Safie does. He has to discover on his own what relationships are and how humans interact with one another.

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