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In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, what is revealed about Robert Walton's background?

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megankk | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 28, 2013 at 8:11 PM via web

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In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, what is revealed about Robert Walton's background?

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

Posted June 5, 2013 at 2:27 PM (Answer #1)

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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein opens with four letters written by Robert Walton to his sister Margaret Saville. In these letters, Walton defines his reasoning behind his expedition to the North Pole. Essentially, Walton defines himself as an explorer who desires two things. First, Walton wishes to fulfill a childhood goal: he wished to pursue "a history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the whole of our good Uncle Thomas's library" (Letter One). Second, Walton wished to find fame in his traversing of the North Pole in order to discover a route past the pole to shorten travel between countries:

"to confer on all mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are requisite; by ascertaining the secret of the magnet which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine." (Letter One)

Outside of his desire for fame and finding success at being the first to chart a new path, readers find out that Walton is a very compassionate and ambitious man. The opening of Walton's letter defines him as a very compassionate and caring man. Upon the opening of Letter One, Walton's first desire is to put any of Margaret's concerns regarding her brother's welfare at ease: "You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings." 

As the letters progress, readers find that Walton desperately desires a friend. This allows readers to support Walton's background as being one which may have lacked the true support a child needs growing up, given Walton felt his "education was neglected growing up." Therefore, Walton's background proves that his personality needs companionship.

Furthermore, Walton's letters prove him to be truly ambitious. This is proven, not only through his determination to traverse the North Pole, through Walton's multiple statements that he realizes he may never return to England given the dangerous nature of his expedition.

In the end, readers find out that Walton is ambitious, dedicated, and compassionate about life and his expedition, all proven through his dialogue (written) to his sister. In regards to his background, his fervent desire to read exists as his platform for a voyage, one which will allow him to seek out places that Homer and Shakespeare may have been influenced by. Walton is a student (of his own making), a loving brother, a lover of nature (poignant given the Romantic nature of the novel), and an individual in search of making his name in the world.

 

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