Frankenstein and Robert Walton
Dangerous Knowledge—An Analytical Essay on “Frankenstein” The pursuit of discovery and knowledge are thrilling aspects of human achievement, but can also be very dangerous if not handled correctly. In Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Shelley portrays these two aspects of accomplishment as dangerous, destructive, and even fateful. Shelley begins her novel with an ambitious seafarer named Robert Walton. Walton is determined to reach the North Pole, where he may “tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man” (6).
During his journey, he writes constantly to his sister, Margaret Saville. Unfortunately, due to the laws of nature, sheets of impassable ice enclosing on their ship soon interrupt Walton’s mission. Trapped, Walton meets Victor Frankenstein, another ambitious man who has been traveling by a dog-drawn sledge across the ice. Frankenstein is emaciated and sick from the cold, and Walton takes him aboard ship. Walton helps nurse him back to health, and hears the fantastic tale of the creature that Frankenstein created.
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In Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein,” Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature are portrayed with parallels and contrasts regarding their ambition for intellectual pursuit and glory—performing acts of great destruction, selfishness, and conceit. Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein are portrayed with parallels concerning their ambitiousness while causing fatal consequences. To begin with, Walton and Frankenstein are lonely—longing for friendship. At the beginning of the novel, Walton is desperate for a friend.
In one of his letters to his sister, Walton says that when he does bathe in the joy of success, “there will be none to participate my joy” (8). Walton longs for a man with “tastes [are] like my own” (8). Frankenstein longs for a friend by creating his creature, which he hopes will “bless [me] as his creator and source” (34). Frankenstein wants to create his creature not only for companionship, but also for glory and godliness. Second, they are both guilty of hubris, which is extreme arrogance.
Walton states in his letter to his sister that one of his goals for traveling to the Arctic is so that he can bring glory to his name; Victor hopes for the same for himself while creating his creature. Both men, because of their hubris, put others’ lives in danger unnecessarily. Finally, both thirst for discovery and knowledge and want to be the first who discover their goals while defying the laws of nature. Walton attempts to surpass previous human explorations by endeavoring to reach the North Pole.
When he goes out to sea, however, he gets caught in a situation that he cannot escape. He and his crew are stuck between impenetrable sheets of ice, that close in on his ship day by day. Likewise, Frankenstein has a somewhat similar experience. Frankenstein possesses the knowledge of bringing the dead back to life. However, when he becomes utterly obsessed with his discovery, he does not know what to do when his creation comes alive. He flees from his apartment—leaving his creature in isolation, feeling unloved and misunderstood.
Be that as it may, Robert Walton and Victor Frankenstein have contrasts regarding their ambition for discovery and knowledge. First, in the beginning of the novel, Walton feels irresolute about his journey, although he wishes to persist. In another one of his letters to his sister, Walton says that he “dare not expect such success” (10), yet he cannot even look on the “reverse of the picture” (10). Walton is even doubtful that he will receive his sister’s letters, yet he wants her to “write to [me] by every opportunity” (10).
On the other hand, Frankenstein is not doubtful or vacillating about outcomes at all. Right when his interest is initiated, he forms a strong determination, and does not stop working towards his goal or doubt himself until he reaches it. No matter how much he isolates and shuns his family, friends, and surroundings, a “resistless and almost frantic impulse” (35) urges him forward. Second, at the end of the novel, Frankenstein’s “fate is nearly fulfilled” (17), while Walton’s journey is only beginning. Frankenstein fulfilled his destiny and made his creation despite his suffering and misfortunes.
However, his influence on Walton is paradoxical. One moment, Frankenstein exhorts Walton’s almost-mutinous men to not stray from their path courageously, regardless of danger. The next, he serves as an abject example of the dangers of heedless scientific ambition. Walton serves as a foil to Victor, either not obsessive enough to risk almost-certain death or not courageous enough to allow his passion to drive him. Walton ultimately draws back from his treacherous mission and returns to England, having learned from Victor’s example how destructive the thirst for knowledge can be.
Finally, Robert Walton and the creature are portrayed with parallels that regard their ambition for discovery and knowledge—eventually leading to destruction. Both feel that they do not fit into society, and therefore feel that they have to change something in order to fit in. In the opening letters, Walton doubts himself in finding a real friend, even among “merchants and seamen” (9). Therefore, he makes an effort to be accepted. Walton voluntarily endures “cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep” (7) while devoting his nights to the “study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and…physical science” (7).
Although Walton is appointed a high position in his ship by the captain, he is still in longing for a true friend. Likewise, the creature is not able to fit into society. With his eight-foot-tall presence, “watery eyes, …[his] shriveled complexion, and straight black lips” (37), he is outcast from society and shunned. Therefore, he tries to make himself fit by learning the French language, observing the culture of “humans”, and reading great novels such as Paradise Lost and the Lives of Plutarch. However, after reading and studying, he is rejected by society simply because of his appearance.