Robert Walton’s letters which begin Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” are imperative to the structure and stance of the novel. The letters, written to his sister, Margaret Saville, follow Walton on his dangerous journey through the North Pacific Ocean to the North Pole. While his boat gets stuck amidst the ice, a large creature with the shape of a man is seen passing through the snow on a sledge hauled by dogs. Hours later a weak and sickly man passes and is taken aboard. Walton, with a desperate desire for a companion that is as passionate and intelligent as he, is takenby the man and develops an admiration for him. Walton befriends the man and cares for him. This man, of course, is Victor Frankenstein. It is because of the striking similarities between the two men that Frankenstein decides to tell Walton of his success and ultimate failure.
Both men are highly knowledgeable and behold a desire to discover and understand the unknown. Walton wishes to accomplish greatness in a land that no man has yet to travel to and seems as though he will go to extreme lengths to achieve this. Frankenstein, having been down a similar path by discovering how to create life and witness the destruction his knowledge and creation has brought upon him and his family, uses his story as a warning to Walton. Frankenstein said to Walton “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been” (Shelley 25).
Walton’s letters also serve as a parallel to the story of Victor’s creation. In his second letter, Walton expresses a sense of loneliness as well as a strong desire for a companion. He writes to Margaret, “I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me; whose eyes would reply to mine. You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend” (Shelley 13). That desire is fed when Victor is introduced. For the monster, that need was never fulfilled. Both Man and creature longed for a companion and suffered through loneliness. It helps to create a similarity between Man and monster which is carried throughout the novel. (SparkNotes)
Walton’s narrative not only gives Frankenstein an introduction, but it also sets the scene for Frankenstein’s narrative to begin. The description of Victor’s condition in the letters allows the reader to see the end result of his trying story. It tells of his physical weakness after having chased the monster through the harsh conditions of the North, as well as his emotional distress and deep sorrow and remorse. It is evident in the letters that Frankenstein experienced horrendous events to put him in such a depressed and guilt stricken state. It prepares the reader for Frankenstein’s emotionally revolting tale.
By giving Walton therole of narrator, it allows each character to have an almost unbiased voice in the novel. Victor is able to tell his tale as it happened to him and in the end, the monster is able to tell of his terrible existence among Man and express his deep sense of sorrow for wanting to belong in a place that he was never meant to be. The monster is able to tell of his horrible encounters with Man and the rejection he constantly faced by all, including his creator. Walton is also able to create a brief sympathetic view of the monster by stating, “I was at first touched by the expressions of his misery,” and is quickly pushed aside, “when I called to mind what Frankenstein has said of his powers of eloquence and persuasion, and when I again cast my eyes on the lifeless form of my friend, indignation was re-kindled within me” (Shelley 272)
By Victor succumbing to death before his creation, Walton’s letter also serve as creating an end to the monster and the novel. If Victor had been the sole storyteller, the novel would end in his death and the destiny of the monster would remain unknown to the reader. The monster tells Walton, “Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man’s death is needed to consummate the series of my being, and accomplish that which must be done: but it requires my own,” (Shelley 274). Victor’s death marked the end of the monster’s desire for vengeance and also the end of his own being. Announcing his forthcoming suicide and then disappearing in the darkness brings an end to the monster and a close for the novel.
Without Walton’s letters, which served as the main narrative for the novel, it’s easy to see how Shelley’s work just wouldn’t have been the same. It would have left the story open without a resolve to the monster. It also creates a character the reader can relate to on a personal level. He is the mediator between the two main characters which gives readers the opportunity to form ideas and opinions outside of those given by Frankenstein and the monster. Without Walton, Frankenstein would not be the literary classic it is today.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. The Simon & Schuster paperback ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print.
“Frankenstein: Preface and Letters 1-4.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes, LLC. n.d. Web. 26 October 2010.