Aside from personal glory, what two benefits to mankind does Walton hope to achieve?
One need not read very far into Mary Shelley’s classic of Gothic literature, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, to ascertain the answer to the question, “what, in addition to personal glory, does Robert Walton hope to accomplish on his voyage.” In the opening letter to his sister Margaret, Walton asks rhetorically what may be accomplished by his journey to the frigid Arctic and the North Pole:
“What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle and may regulate a thousand celestial observations that require only this voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent forever. I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man.”
Later, within the same correspondence, Walton goes beyond his admittedly self-aggrandizing adventure in describing his purpose in life to Margaret, noting that, even should his initial hypotheses regarding the yet-to-be-explored region at the top of the Earth prove false, there are benefits to mankind to be derived through his endeavors:
“But supposing all these conjectures to be false, you cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall 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; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.”
In short, Walton’s objectives in exploring the Arctic are to claim for himself the fame and adulation that accompanies such courageous undertakings, but also to discover navigational routes for future explorers and traders while uncovering the scientific foundation upon which the navigational compass was constructed. Walton emphasizes throughout his letters to his beloved sister the risks he has undertaken and the physical and intellectual efforts he has invested in this voyage. His greatest discovery, however, will be the miserable, physically and emotionally-exhausted scientist who he and his crew help aboard their vessel and attempt to nurse back to health.
The two benefits to mankind that Walton feels he will contribute by travelling to the North Pole are as follows:
- The first benefit that Walton will contribute to mankind by safely navigating to and from the North Pole will be a course that no one else has dared, and thereby allowing others to venture there in the future. In other words, if Walton is successful, he will return with a map that he charted that will allow others safe access to the North Pole.
- The second contribution that Walton will make to mankind by braving the voyage to the North Pole will be to discover the secret of the magnet that controls the needles of all compasses.