Characters can give great insight into the themes of the story or a message that the author wants to convey. In the first half of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley uses Robert Walton as a character that can give great insight into what the novel may mean.
The first theme of the story that I think Shelley might be trying to convey through Walton is the danger of blind pursuit of knowledge. By also making Walton’s journey similar to the beginning of Victor Frankenstein’s, we can also learn even more about this theme. Walton started off as a young boy without a proper education but a thirst for reading. He “had read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean through the seas which surround the pole” as well as many other books about voyages of discovery. He temporarily abandoned this pursuit when he learned his father’s dying wish was that he did not pursue a seafaring life, however, after inheriting his cousin’s fortune, he set off on his passion for discovery. His own voyage was one to discover a passage to the North Pole and hopefully learn about the secrets of the magnet (magnetic field of the earth) and had dedicated 6 years of his life in order to undertake such a voyage. It seems as though Walton was fixated on this one goal of his, much like Victor was in his pursuit of creating life. By only considering his end goal of the glory of discovery, he was ignoring the potential peril he might face on such a rigorous journey. He actually does encounter danger when his ships gets stuck between sheets of ice and he must make decisions that could potentially harm himself and his crew. This consideration of the consequences of actions is especially important to today’s society when reflecting upon the article from Bill Joy. It might be incredible to discover some new and amazing knowledge but that alone is not necessarily a good reason to pursue that technology. As Victor sums up later in the book, “A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind, and never allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility.” To me, this means that one should try to look at both sides of any endeavor in order to make an informed decision rather than blindly pursue new knowledge.
The second theme that I think Walton may represent is the value of communication. Through his letters to his sister, Walton longs for a friend that he thinks he will never find on his journey to the north. He wants someone who he can share his thoughts and feelings with other than just his crew on the ship. When Victor is finally brought onto the ship and he gets to know him more, Walton begins to think of him as a friend. This is an important turning point for Walton because previously, his journey had been long and lonely and he was glad to have someone that he regarded as a friend. It gave him a renewed sense of purpose to complete his mission. Walton seems, at this point, be in contrast with Victor in this case. Walton gains a friend in the middle of his journey whereas Victor only met up with Clerval after his “journey” of creating life was complete. From reading the first half of the book, we can see that Victor’s pursuit of knowledge led to disastrous consequences so perhaps the influence of a friend before his dangerous journey is completed will sway him to keep a clear mind.