How are Robert Walton the explorer and Victor Frankenstein alike and different in Shelley's Frankenstein?

How are Robert Walton the explorer and Victor Frankenstein alike and different in Shelley's Frankenstein?

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Walton and Frankenstein are both alike in that they are scientists keen to discover more about the world around them. As the story begins, Walton is on a scientific expedition, traveling aboard a ship headed for the icy wastes of the Arctic circle. Victor , of course, was himself recently...

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Walton and Frankenstein are both alike in that they are scientists keen to discover more about the world around them. As the story begins, Walton is on a scientific expedition, traveling aboard a ship headed for the icy wastes of the Arctic circle. Victor, of course, was himself recently involved in scientific research of his own, albeit of a different kind.

When Robert and Victor first meet, there's an instant rapport between them, not just because they're fellow scientists, but because they're quite lonely individuals. Robert feels isolated on his journey to the frozen North; one of the reasons why he writes so many letters to his sister is because he has no one aboard ship with whom he can converse.

Victor is also an isolated figure, a man isolated by his extraordinary genius. He has further separated himself from his fellow man by engaging in such a dangerous and reckless experiment. And the feelings of guilt that he develops over the tragic consequences of his creating the Monster only serve to add to his loneliness.

The greatest difference between the two men is that Robert sees his scientific research as redounding to the benefit of humankind, whereas Victor's motives for his scientific experiments are less than noble. Far from wanting to benefit humanity, he wants to create a race of creatures who will take over the world and worship him as their creator. One certainly can't imagine the mild-mannered, sensitive Robert as doing anything of the sort.

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Victor Frankenstein is (arguably) the protagonist of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. Robert Walton is the captain of an exploratory ship, and the narrator for the beginning and end of the novel. Walton's story acts as a frame or bracket for Frankenstein's. The novel has a fairly common gothic "letter in a bottle" structure, with the tale being introduced to us near its own end, a "flashback" telling us what has come before, followed by a return to the present with a conclusion.

Similarities

  • Both are scientifically-minded men, who "descend" into "lesser work" - Walton's descriptions of working among fishermen and laborers, and Frankenstein's pillaging of graves for parts.
  • Both are more reasonable than most, and while they acknowledge the Monster's hideous appearance, they are not incapable of functioning in his presence, as many others are.
  • Both are educated and eloquent, capable of abstract thought and expression, and make considerable efforts to explain themselves and their reasons for doing what they do, and seek to convince their audience of the rectitude of their actions.
  • They take a liking to each other as kindred spirits - this is another common theme in gothic literature, where two characters of exceptional, and often scientific ability, meet and befriend each other, though the friendship may be terminated when the character's differing morals or objectives are applied. This also appears in The Island of Dr. Moreau and Heart of Darkness.

Differences

  • The single greatest difference between them can be shown in the crew's demands to return to England. Walton has a direct responsibility and accountability to others; his crew. He is their leader. Victor isn't really a leader of anyone, nor is he directly responsible to or for anyone, leaving him free to be the voice of theory as opposed to Walton's need to deal in facts. This may help explain why Walton's actions are more conservative, and acquiescent to human nature (heading home instead of staying), whereas Victor's actions were more liberal, and it was this freedom that brought destruction. Nevertheless Walton's actions ensured his own survival, although at some mental cost: " It requires more philosophy than I possess to bear this injustice with patience. " He is not pleased with the outcome (having to give in to the animalistic threat of violence from the crew, because it's just human nature) but his choices were not "punished" with death.
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