Thursday, January 16, 2014

Walton's Reaction to Frankenstein's Narrative

Understanding the intended audience, especially their preconceptions and motives, of a narrative is essential for comprehending the message of the author and/or narrator. Robert Walton’s character in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the audience of Victor Frankenstein’s Gothic tale. From Walton’s letters, readers must gather his perspective from which to make inferences about the reactions Walton would have to Frankenstein’s narrative. Contemplating Walton’s scope provides readers with a deeper understanding of the sacrifices and irrevocable changes to the scientific pioneer’s life made in pursuit of discovery.

               “You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has occurred in the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with evil forebodings.” (Shelly, 1) This first sentence, written by Robert Walton, initializes his characterization by referencing his devotion and risk in an attempt to discover, an undertaking in which a relative dreads. Walton is clearly pursuing a discovery that is disturbing to his family, in terms of their worry for his safety and disrupting the unity of the family. This remarkably parallels the situation of Frankenstein as he is in the throes of his own discovery. Surely, as Walton is learns this, he cannot help but to consider his own family. If Frankenstein’s family knew about his pursuits as Margaret Walton knows of Robert’s, they would have regarded it with “evil forebodings” as well. Robert’s tale again resembles Frankenstein’s as Walton confesses that this has been his “favourite dream since his early years.” He seeks a land of infinite knowledge, symbolized by his glorification of a place consistently in the light of the sun (Shelly, 1-3). Frankenstein’s pursuit of attempting to tame the nature of life and death, a knowledge that is equally as misguided, must also be towards the same goal. How would Robert react to realizing his favourite dream could likely end in tragedy and despair? He must at least store this tale of woe in his subconscious, and wonder if he should continue to pursue his glory. Understanding Walton’s perspective must be a warning from Shelley to consider against “flying to close to the sun”.

               Another recurring element of both Walton’s and Frankenstein’s tales are the references made to the “Ancient Mariner.” In his second letter, Walton jests about returning from his expedition in the same state as the Ancient Mariner (Shelly, 8-9). Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, written in the nearly the same style and age as Frankenstein, is a narrative of a mariner who sailed, was nearly lost at Antarctica, and finally return as a personification of “Life-in-Death.” Robert may have been shocked to hear Frankenstein quote this poem in his moment of achievement of his monstrous dream. Frankenstein quotes a passage from the poem speaking of the dread he feels knowing that the fiend will forever lurk behind him, so he dare not look back lest he remember the evil he has done (Shelly, 56). Figuratively, he knows now that the monster has been created, it cannot be undone, and Frankenstein must always live-in-death as a result. Perhaps upon noticing this similar interest, Walton could see that the tease he made to his sister could become reality should he realize his own dream. If Walton does recognize this irony, it must at least give him pause to continue on the path to becoming Life-in-Death.

               It is possible that Frankenstein has arrived on Walton’s ship by some act of Fate to deliver Walton from his inevitable defeat. In his second letter to Margaret, Robert describes his need of friendship. “I greatly need a friend who would have the sense not to despise me as a romantic, and affection enough to endeavor to regulate my mind” (Shelley, 6). Walton and Frankenstein, sharing in their romanticism, must realize their encounter as the divine intervention of Fate. Walton, incredulous to have found a friend by Fate’s desire, must give full credibility to the lessons of Frankenstein. He must again be inclined to reconsider his choices when Frankenstein prays to Walton that he “ardently hope[s] that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been” (Shelley, 19). Assuming that Walton fully grasps the hopelessness of Frankenstein’s life through the breadth of the narrative, this wish must be appreciated increasingly as the tale develops. Walton, as a romantic, will perceive Frankenstein’s presence a gift and his tale a warning from Fate; a foreboding that must be respected by terminating his own monster before its completion.


               It is essential to speculate the development of Walton from the fearless explorer of the letters to his changed perspective by the narrative of Frankenstein. By assuming that Walton is moved by the misfortunes of his new friend, this brings readers closer to the Shelley’s theme. Walton may hesitate on pursuing his dream because of realization of the sacrifices of attempting to tame Nature.

3 comments:

Maggie Stankaitis said...


You make great points in your essay. I’m really glad you do more than analyze simply what is going on between the characters via the different perspectives but you’re analyzing the reason why Shelley wrote it in that particular way. This is a great discussion to have since there are so many different layers and perspectives to consider. The last sentence in your first body paragraph, “Understanding Walton’s perspective must be a warning from Shelley to consider against “flying to close to the sun’” really shows that you are digging deep into Shelley’s motives and thought process on her story telling and narratives within the story. You mention irony, foreshadowing and the interesting parallels that Shelley makes between characters. Because of the realization of these elements I think that the the story then really comes together as connections between characters and plot. When you dissect each character’s motives within their narratives while simultaneously dissecting the different recurring elements really bring Frankenstein to a whole new level.

One suggestion for the essay would be to make your argument clearer. Although you make great speculations and points, I do lose sight of your thesis. Overall, great points are made in this essay that can definitely lead to further discussion.

Maggie Stankaitis said...


You make great points in your essay. I’m really glad you do more than analyze simply what is going on between the characters via the different perspectives but you’re analyzing the reason why Shelley wrote it in that particular way. This is a great discussion to have since there are so many different layers and perspectives to consider. The last sentence in your first body paragraph, “Understanding Walton’s perspective must be a warning from Shelley to consider against “flying to close to the sun’” really shows that you are digging deep into Shelley’s motives and thought process on her story telling and narratives within the story. You mention irony, foreshadowing and the interesting parallels that Shelley makes between characters. Because of the realization of these elements I think that the the story then really comes together as connections between characters and plot. When you dissect each character’s motives within their narratives while simultaneously dissecting the different recurring elements really bring Frankenstein to a whole new level.

One suggestion for the essay would be to make your argument clearer. Although you make great speculations and points, I do lose sight of your thesis. Overall, great points are made in this essay that can definitely lead to further discussion.

Adam said...

I like the language and general approach of your introduction.

The thing that troubles me about the second paragraph is that you are writing about how Walton *should* react to Frankenstein's tale, but involves some generalization or assumption, while seeming to be less interested in considering how he *does* actually react. Now obviously starting with the first doesn't exclude the possibility of continuing with the second - there's just a risk of assuming/generalizing too much here.

Noting the doubling up of Coleridge in the narrative is clever and insightful. I admire the observation. At the same time, though, does Walton get it? Again, we're speculating about how Walton should react, rather than paying attention to how he *does* react.

The discussion of Fate is the same. It's a clever idea and connection - but show us what Walton *does* think, rather than speculating about how he must or should think.

In the conclusion, you use the word "speculate" in a revealing way. You are speculating throughout this entire essay. It's an interesting and thought-provoking speculation, and by no means a disaster. But why aren't you carefully scrutinizing the text to show whether or not Walton actually gets the points that you think he should get? A revision would need to do this and also would need to attend to the Walton material at the end of the novel - not all of which really goes along with your argument.

Maggie says some of the same things as I do, from a slightly different angle. Speculation without evidence - or without a clarified thesis - is the danger here.