Walton as a Conduit

Robert Walton, the romantic 28 year old explorer through whom Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein is told, serves not only as the young Viktor Frankenstein’s audience for his tragic tale, but also as a parallel to Viktor. They are both in their twenties, desperately seeking adventure to give their life meaning, face repercussions for their fanciful minds, and are plagued by a sort of naive angst about themselves and the World. In Volume I, Letter I, Walton writes to his sister that his spirits have been dramatically lifted upon having a “steady purpose”: to sail to the North Pole, literally unexplored territory. Viktor, at this point in his life, has already fixed what would be the whole of his life’s focus on creating his infamous monster and bringing it to life, an undertaking even more grandiose than Walton’s. At the beginning of their undertakings, both characters were filled with ecstasy at the idea of fulfilling such a “favorite dream” of which they had read much about. Walton read feverishly  about “mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive the greatest practical advantage.” Frankenstein read about physics, alchemy, philosophy, chemistry, anatomy. As they progressed however, and as life-threatening obstacles became evident, both Walton and Frankenstein face disillusionment, which essentially destroys Frankenstein in the end. Once he created his monster, his life became a near endless series of tragedy and depression. They both posses brilliant, educated minds but they use their potential by playing dangerous games of life and death.

It gets interesting in that Walton, like Frankenstein, also resembles the creature in many aspects. Walton and the monster are both desperately lonely as well as being self-educated, and all three…”men”…actually have good intentions, or at least are not evil. They just are bad at acting out their intentions in a way that reflects who they want to be. In the end, Walton, Frankenstein, and the monster all end up in the arctic. Walton is near his dream, but hasn’t completed it, Frankenstein is chasing his mangled dream, and the monster’s dream of companionship is chasing after him with the intent of destroying him. The protagonist and the antagonist die, and all that’s left is Walton, the conduit of the story. Though the dying Viktor, still full of hubris, tells Walton not to give up on his dream, Walton is the only character to have enough instinct for self-preservation to save himself and his crew by turning away from the North Pole. Though he emerges seemingly defeated, “ignorant and disappointed,” Walton was the only one of the three men to learn his limits and to grow up some out of that selfish, naive angst that hindered them all. Walton was not the most important character, per se, but he is the one who readers are ultimately left with, and he is the one who we know made the more logical, less romantic choice.

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