Frankenstein Questions and Answers
by Mary Shelley

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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 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...

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Similarities

Both men are incredibly ambitious:

Walton: “I shall satiate my ardent curiosity… and may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man”
Victor:  “I determined to go without a guide”

Both men are learned:

Walton: “I devoted my nights to the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine and those branches of physical science from which a naval adventure might derive the greatest practical advantage”
Victor: "I became acquainted with the science of anatomy: but this was not sufficient" 

Both men are alone:

Walton: “But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy… I have no friend”
Victor: “I shunned the face of man”

Both men compromise their physical wellbeing:

Walton: “I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst and want of sleep”
Victor: “weight of despair and remorse pressed upon my heart” “this state of mind preyed upon my health”  

Both men’s actions have negative repercussions for others:

Walton: “The cold is excessive, and many of my unfortunate comrades have already found a grave amidst this scene of desolation”
Victor: “I beheld those I loved spend vain sorrow upon the graves of William and Justine, the first hapless victims to my unhallowed arts”   

Differences

Frankenstein does not turn back before it is too late, Walton does:

Walton: “I have consented to return, if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision: I come back ignorant and disappointed.”  
Victor: “I, not in deed, but in effect, was the true murderer”

Frankenstein is incredibly selfish, Walton less so:

Walton: “I cannot lead them unwillingly to danger, and I must return”
Victor
: “My tale was not one to announce publically, it’s astounding horror would be looked upon as madness by the vulgar”

Ultimately, Walton is a character double of Victor Frankenstein. They are both ambitious men who cause others to suffer as a result of their hubris, but it is important that Walton learns from Frankenstein’s harrowing tale, turning the ship around and returning in accordance with the wishes of his crew. In Shelley’s critique of the limitations of man, it can be said that Walton knows his limits, whilst his double – Victor Frankenstein – did not.