Character Sketch of Robert Walton in Frankenstein
Table of Contents
Robert Walton’s Expedition to The Arctic Circle
The novel, Frankenstein opens with Captain Robert Walton on his ship sailing north of the Arctic Circle. Walton’s ship becomes ice-bound and he spots a figure travelling across the ice on a dog sled. Soon after, he sees an ill Victor Frankenstein, and invites him onto his ship. The narrative of Walton is a frame story that allows for the story of Victor to be related. At the same time, Walton’s predicament is symbolically appropriate for Victor’s tale of displaced passion and brutalism. The novel begins with the epistolary form. The series of letters helps to keep the fantastic happenings of the larger narrative grounded in reality.
As Walton talks of the icy breeze that “fills him with delight,” the readers realize how enthusiastic he is about his job as a sailor. He seems to possess a spirit for adventure, but he also expresses mixed feelings about his journey. His apprehension is combined with excitement about an undiscovered place. He reveals an ambition to discover new lands or unknown routes leading to the countries near the pole.
Robert Walton’s Passion for A Sea Voyage
Walton’s passion for a seafarer’s life is revealed as he recalls his childhood, when he would read nothing but histories of voyages. He is lucky when he inherits his cousin’s fortune, and he is able to follow his dreams. However, he mentions how he has endured hardships that could easily have discouraged him from going any further. But he continues his pursuit of adventure.
Robert Walton’s Tremendous Love for His Sister
This letter also shows the tremendous love between Walton and his sister, Margaret. He is afraid he will not see her again and wishes her the best in life. The uncertainty of a sailor’s life stands out here. As Walton says, his resolution and courage is firm, but his hopes fluctuate. This is because he is responsible not just for himself, but also for the other men, whose morale must be kept high.
Robert Walton’s Practical Nature
The author begins by comparing the undiscovered geographical location with Walton’s mental vision of it, as he tries to imagine the polar region for himself. But the focus later shifts to Walton’s practical nature: he cannot let his visions hamper the actual details of the undiscovered land. For instance, he talks of a sunny land while referring to the North Pole, but then he insists that it will be bitterly cold and he must be fully prepared to face that reality.
Robert Walton “Shall Kill No Albatross”
Walton promises to his sister that he “shall kill no albatross,” a reference Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” in which the killing of an albatross has dire consequences. It is highly appropriate that this famous poem is one of the sources of Robert’s passion for the sea. One can even identify Robert with the ancient mariner, who started out like any other inexperienced sailor, but ended up a wiser man, due to his curiosity about mysterious things.
Walton’s Ardent Curiosity to Explore the Unexplored
Robert Walton is a 28-year-old sea captain who is embarking on a journey to the North Pole region in order to find a passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic. He writes the letters to his sister, Mrs. Saville, in London, England. He has talked about making this expedition for six years. It has been a favourite dream, and he is pleased that he finally has a chance to make good on his promise to himself. Other dreams, such as becoming a poet or a playwright, have not worked out. Therefore, this vision must succeed. The writer of letters is thrilled that he will satisfy an “ardent curiosity” by setting foot on a part of the world never visited by man. As he prepares for voyage by taking practice trips in the North Sea of Russia, he is worried that he has no friend on the trip who will be able to sustain his disappointment should the dream not work out. He admits this is a romantic, emotional need, but it is there. Unfortunately he does not connect at all with the other men, even though he is very fond of his lieutenant and the ship’s master. He is nevertheless extremely excited for his journey.
Walton’s intense desire for discovery and the unknown, to the point that he would risk his life at sea, moulds him along the lines of the epic hero type. Diction such as “glorious” and “magnificent” is used to describe his mission. Walton is consumed by the need to be immortal by doing what has never been done previously. He suffers from hubris and believes that he is invincible, destined to complete this dangerous journey. That this ultra-confident attitude upsets the stranger (Victor Frankenstein) so much (he likens Walton’s curiosity to drinking from a poisonous cup) is telling. The stranger believes that the quest for new knowledge can lead to self-destruction.
A Criticism of the Larger Society and His Character
Walton’s undertaking of this journey is a comment upon the larger society as well as upon his character. It is the outside world that is constantly urging its members to leap tall boundaries, that they might gain recognition and fame. Walton’s values are definitely questionable. It does not seem that he really belongs on this mission, with so little experience, but he refuses to let this dream go. He is highly motivated and in his prime, a younger version of the weathered stranger, who had the same ideals at one point but has had to relinquish them. That Walton complains of not having peers to whom he can relate illustrates the most basic human need of companionship. Anything with an iota of humanness feels such a compulsion for friendship and emotional ties; anybody would be justified in going great lengths to find these things.
The Significance of Robert Walton’s Letters
In addition to setting the scene for the telling of the stranger’s narrative, Walton’s letters introduce an important character-Walton himself-whose story parallels Frankenstein’s. The second letter introduces the idea of loss and loneliness, as Walton complains that he has no friends with whom to share his triumphs and failures, no sensitive ear to listen to his dreams and ambitions. Walton turns to the stranger as the friend he has always wanted; his search for companionship, and his attempt to find it in the stranger, parallels the monster‘s desire for a friend and mate later in the novel. This parallel between man and monster, still hidden in these early letters but increasingly clear as the novel progresses, suggests that the two may not be as different as they seem.
Another theme that Walton’s letters introduce is the danger of knowledge. The stranger (Victor Frankenstein) tells 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.” The theme of destructive knowledge is developed throughout the novel as the tragic consequences of the stranger’s obsessive search for understanding are revealed. Walton, like the stranger, is entranced by the opportunity to know what no one else knows, to delve into nature’s secrets: “What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?” he asks.
Robert Walton- the Voice in Frankenstein
Walton’s is only the first of many voices in Frankenstein. His letters set up a frame narrative that encloses the main narrative-the stranger’s- provides the context in which it is told. The use of multiple frame narratives calls attention to the telling of the story, adding new layers of complexity to the already intricate relationship between author and reader: as the reader listens to Victor’s story, so does Walton; as Walton listens, so does his sister. By focusing the reader’s attention on narration, on the importance of the storyteller and his or her audience, Shelley may have been trying to link her novel to the oral tradition to which the ghost stories that inspired her tale belong. Within each framed narrative, the reader receives constant reminders of the presence of other authors and audiences, and of perspective shifts, as Victor breaks out of his narrative to address Walton directly and as Walton signs off each of his letters to his sister.
Robert Walton and Victor: Parallels and Contrast
Robert Walton is twenty-eight while Victor is just seventeen when he reaches the University of Ingolstadt. Both of them are far away from their home and society. But the fundamental difference between them is that while Walton manages to keep company, ostensibly for his expedition, Victor abjures not only his own people at home but also chooses to work all alone in a filthy apartment, cut off from all human habitation. Victor desires an exclusive honour for him alone, and does not share his secret with his father or Elizabeth or even his bosom friend Clerval which proves to be disastrous both to him and everybody connected with him. Except the lieutenant, all the crew of Walton is not softened by cultivation and even in a state of awful nature as Victor is found when he is picked up into the ship. Walton who longs for friendship at once befriends Victor and willingly listens to his narrative and promises to obliterate the monster if he visits the ship. Walton relies on the members of his crew to fulfill his ambition to charter a new passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific. But when they insist on returning in view of unfavourable icy-terrains, he agrees to their suggestion to save them from further hazards of the expedition. When the weather becomes a little favourable, he decides sail back home. Thus we find that Walton and Victor share similar and dissimilar features at once.