Does the geographical movement of the novel have metaphorical, thematic, or symbolic application?  What is the meaning of ice, winter, wind, northern locations, darkness, etc.?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Volume I, Chapter IV, Victor Frankenstein tells Captain Walton, his new friend, "Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow."  In other words, after everything he's been through, Victor now sees the attempt to learn as hazardous, risky to an individual who would, frankly, be better off happy, in his home and without whatever knowledge it is that he probably shouldn't have anyway.  

The truth of this statement seems to play out in the text, and we can begin to note the thematic implications of the various settings.  Young Victor is happy with his carefree domestic circle, until he is sent to the university in Ingolstadt.  It is here that Victor's curiosity about the natural sciences is awakened and nurtured; it is away from home that Victor first tries to make a human being, and this is the experiment that initiates the misfortune that will follow him and his family for the rest of his life.  

After the murder of William and the execution of Justine, Victor's father plans an excursion to Chamounix in the hopes that his family will benefit from the beautiful natural scenes there.  Just as Victor begins to feel their effects, he is confronted by the being he created, the creature who killed his brother and framed his friend.  The creature tells Victor his story and demands a mate, threatening Victor's family should he refuse this request, and so his promise seemed to take all the beauty out of the valley.  He now feels that the "'stars, and clouds, and winds [...] mock [him]'" and "'leave [him] in darkness.'" 

However, when he returns home, Victor once again feels a sense of "returning tranquillity [sic]," and he finds that he does not want to leave because his "health, which had hitherto declined, was now much restored [...]."  He must leave, though, to produce the mate he'd promised the creature.  Though he travels through more beautiful, natural settings, they have no positive effect on him now.  He says that "During [his] youthful days [when he was at home], discontent never visited [his] mind," but now he feels himself to be "a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity [...]."  He is sickened by is work, the work of building another person, and he becomes very ill again (as he did in Ingolstadt).  

In other words, every time Victor leaves home, he seems to run right into the arms of some waiting tragedy.  Even Elizabeth is murdered away from home, and Victor's final weeks in the Arctic are miserable, full of nothing but his desire to exact revenge on his creature.  He becomes ill away from home several times, including in the end, but never at home.  He describes his youth, at home, as practically idyllic in every way, though his adulthood -- much of it spent away from home -- has been disastrous.  In this way, his story really does support the theme which he uttered to Walton near the beginning: that the acquirement of knowledge can be dangerous, and it is safer and makes us happier when we simply stay at home and find a way to be content with what we have there.

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