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As seen in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, what is the theme of the quote below, referring...

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andiimac | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 14, 2011 at 2:29 AM via web

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As seen in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, what is the theme of the quote below, referring to Robert Walton and his exploration?

"You cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole."

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 31, 2013 at 4:47 PM (Answer #2)

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The following quote is found in Letter One of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

"You cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole."

In the opening to the novel and letter to his sister (Margaret Saville), Robert Walton details the necessity he feels regarding his exploration of the North Pole. A dream of his since he was a child, Walton states that nothing will ever keep him from the "preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path." The quote, while letting readers in on his plans, prove to be far more important than the description of his quest for greatness. In fact, this quote speaks to Walton's own quest for forbidden knowledge (a theme from the novel).

This theme, the search for forbidden knowledge, does not only resonate through Walton. Actually, it becomes far more apparent in the protagonist of the novel, Victor Frankenstein. Given that Victor's own quest for forbidden knowledge leads him to his own death, his knowledge regarding these types of quests proves important for Walton as well.

Like the old mariner in Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Victor parallels the mariner and Walton the wedding guest. Victor is charged with the teling of his story (exactly like the marnier is charged with the telling of his story) in order to enlighten and warn others. Victor recognizes Walton's own ambition and warns him about taking ambition too far.


"Seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed." Chapter 24

Here, one sees the parallel between Walton and Victor. Both are (were) willing to pursue their endeavors at the cost of their own lives. Fortunately for Walton, Victor's own past will serve as a reminder as to the price of overly ambitious quests. In the end, the quote ties Walton to Victor, reminding readers about the true cost of some knowledge.

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aemsjohnson1993 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 21, 2011 at 12:28 PM (Answer #1)

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This quote is about a connection between the character of Frankenstein and Walton. Both have an all consuming obsession with the pursuit of knowledge, which is represented in the text with the motifs of light and dark. This pursuit for Frankenstein has proved to have tragic consequences, he has lost his brother, his wife and best Friend for this pursuit. He has locked himself away from the world and from life in pursuit of an idea, of knowledge that he thinks will distinguish him from others, it does just that, but in a way that destroys the foundation of his life. He becomes consumed by paranoia and deception, hiding from everyone the truth of what he has done, afraid admitting the par he played in these deaths as admitting he was wrong, he cost innocent people their lives, and Victor is too afraid to front up to the truth. Until he meets Robert, he tells Robert his story and Robert then sees that he too is consumed by a desire, in this case of being the first to the pole, he is on a dangerous mission and like Frankenstein becomes obsessed, determined to outshine the expectations of him in society. But by seeing Victors decline, by seeing how such pursuits can bring nothing but death and tragedy, Robert sees the light and recognizes the value of life as a pursual of happiness as opposed to that of a conquering victory.

IN the quote stated above he is justifying the reckless things he has done until now, emphasizing the benefits to mankind, just as Victor thought his creation of life would benefit others. They are lying to themselves, their quests were both for personal gain under the guise of heroism. But the truth is stripped bare for Robert and he sees he is heading in the same direction Victor was. So in many ways Robert parallells Victor, but Victor has successfully served as an example of the dangers of heedless scientific ambition. Walton eventually decides to terminate his mission empahazing the impact Victor has had on him in the shrt time they knew each other, and emphazises a far departure from teh quote above.

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