Comparing Walton and Victor
Compare the characters of Victor and Walton as Shelley presents them in the early parts of the novel. What similarities are there between the characters and quests? In the early chapters of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley the character of Walton is introduced through a series of letters he is writing to his sister back in London (the whole novel is an epistolary structure) as he is on a voyage to the North Pole in hope of fulfilling his goal of a breakthrough scientific discovery and “discovering some of nature’s most profound secrets”.
Walton is full of hope and scientific curiosity and a passionate determination that he will achieve his goals “I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man”; he wants to set himself apart from other scientists and discover something altogether new, something that will bring him fame and fortune and ensure that he is remembered forever- he is on a journey that-he learns later in the novel-may not turn out to be the success that he thought it was, and his “ardent curiosity” may be his downfall in the end.
His loneliness (“I feel the bitter want of a friend”) is subsided when a man “on the brink of destruction” is brought upon the ship, half dead and “wretched”. The man they bring on board-Frankenstein- bears a lot of similarities to Walton, from their aspirations and complete obsession to discover the undiscovered.
There is however, one major difference between these 2 characters-Frankenstein has already been in Walton’s shoes and has already experienced the consequences of his endeavours-and they were not pleasant, as he relays the story to Walton, warning him how he has “suffered great and unparalled misfortunes” through his “seeking of knowledge and wisdom” and seeing Walton do the same, he warns him of the dangers of knowledge and tells of his story-his parents, his wonderful childhood, his thirst for knowledge and, most important of all, his obsessive scientific curiosity that led him to make the choices he made that were ultimately his downfall.
He has learned from them, a little too late, and he only hopes that Walton will heed his warning about the dangers of knowledge, and not make the same mistakes that he did, that led to his destruction. Shelley made the characters so similar in ambition and character that this evokes the thought of the ‘doppelganger’, a popular theme amongst gothic literature. Frankenstein is almost Walton’s doppelganger- everything he is, bright, mbitious-but also everything that he doesn’t want to become- a “wretch”, a man haunted by his choices and on “the brink of destruction”, all because of his desire to become recognised among the scientific world and leave his mark on the world. Because of Frankenstein’s story Walton witnesses what the danger of knowledge can do and warns him-a kindness no one could do to Frankenstein-to not follow in his footsteps “exposing him to the same dangers” as he did.
Frankenstein feels as he has unleashed such a horror into the world, the least he can do is to prevent another like-minded person making the same mistakes he did, and through that, not ruin his and countless lives, as if he has been so fortunate as to have someone relay their story about knowledge and destruction before he made the choices he did, he may have rethought his priorities and still be living a happy life after the novel’s end. In short, Frankenstein was doing Walton a kindness by retelling his tragic story; and that brings about another characteristic that Shelley wrote them to both have-they are both good men.
They are deeply affectionate to their close ones “heaven shower down blessings on you my beloved sister”, “mine to love and cherish”, and their obsession fuelled by a desire to benefit the world. This evokes sympathy both in the reader and Walton, when he hears Frankenstein’s tragic tale-how a good man with good intentions can make choices so catastrophic that they ruin the lives of those closest to them and themselves-maybe this is why in the end Walton decides to turn back? Both men are also linked with one massive similarity-they both have an incredibly obsessive, if somewhat selfish, nature.
Some of Walton’s first words in the letters are “If I fail you will see me soon or never” he is determined that this voyage will be a success, and is prepared to die for the cause. This mirrors Frankenstein’s feelings later on in the novel “stars would often disappear in the night sky while I worked in my laboratory”-Frankenstein’s obsession with discovery had him pushing himself to the limit to accomplish his goals, sacrificing time and health, at any cost as long as he succeeded.
That cost, he finds out eventually, is too high, and seeing Walton with the same obsessive nature, going on a voyage that is potentially life-threatening, he wishes him to stop and think thoroughly about whether it is worth it, something that he failed to do, as no one had interfered when he was creating the creature and warned him of the dangers, and as it is too late to repair his mistakes, he can stop Walton from letting his obsessive nature rule him-“I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale”- as it did Frankenstein.
Walton and Frankenstein are two very similar men-both have passion, drive and determination that set them apart from other men, and give them a dangerous obsessive edge. Frankenstein has learned from his mistakes and has accepted his fate “nothing can alter my destiny”, and wants to make sure that another good man, so much like himself does not make the same life altering decisions that he did, searching blindly for knowledge that may be dangerous to uncover, so he retells his story to Walton in the hope of preventing him destroying his life.
Walton with his drive at first in the letters to his sister mentions that does he “not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? ” he believes he deserves success and has worked and will work impossibly hard to ensure his labours do not go unrecognised. But Walton also mentions that he “feels the bitter want of a friend” “to approve or amend my plans”.
His prayers were answered in the form of Frankenstein, and after his tale of woe Walton finally decides to turn back and abandon his voyage-he listened to Frankenstein, as a “brother of my heart” and as an older version of him that has failed. Now, the reader wonders, if Frankenstein had the same great luck as Walton to find someone with the same drive and obsession to retell his story to him and make him stop and think thoroughly if he is doing the right thing? Would he have still made the creature?
Or would he have stopped and be living happily with his living family long after the novel’s end? This, perhaps, is the greatest difference between Frankenstein and Walton. Walton had an older, wiser version of himself retelling his tale of misfortune that stopped Walton and potentially saved him. Frankenstein did not have that luxury of someone older and wiser intervening in his work, so he continued carrying out his work, putting in it all of his hopes and dreams, when in reality, he was creating his own destruction.