Frankenstein Questions and Answers
by Mary Shelley

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Is Walton's Goal To Confer On All Mankind

In Frankenstein, is Walton's goal to "confer on all mankind...a passage near the pole" noble or overly ambitious?

In the Letters chapters of Frankenstein, Walton's goal is to discover a faster route for shipping goods, as well as to unlock the secrets of magnetism.  It does not say how long he plans to try to accomplish his goal or when he might concede defeat.  Is this a noble thing to do, or is he being too ambitious?

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ritonia7 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The answer to this question depends on your interpretation of Walton; we could easily argue both sides. Some might argue that Walton's journey is a selfish quest for fame and notoriety, not just the product of lofty ambitions.

Walton led a privileged life yet complained that his education was inadequate.  Like many, he saw the accomplishments of explorers and wished to follow in their footsteps.  As he continued to grow, he often felt neglected by his rich caregivers, and thus his journey of the North Passage began with the hope of winning fame and fortune through his discovery.

He charters a ship with little experience, claims to be too intelligent for the lowly crew and their blue-collar lifestyle, and insists on a dangerous maritime course because he won't let the safety of his men stand in his way of success.  

In the end, he decides that after Victor's story, the quest for knowledge and discovery is not worth the dangers involved.  However, one could easily argue that Victor's story, his brief time stuck in the ice, and his encounter with the monster were enough excitement and adventure for him, and it was time to pack it in and call it quits. 

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein depicts the story of a sea-weary explorer who comes across a man with a fantastic tale of his own. In the opening of the novel, the four letters written by Robert Walton to his sister, he details the reasoning behind his expedition to the pole.

Upon meeting Victor Frankenstein, Walton is told of Victor's life and experiment with the creation of life. By the end of the novel, Victor resigns to the fact that his own overly ambitious nature is what led to his own demise.

From my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition; but how am I sunk!

Fearing for Walton's life, Victor advises Walton on the importance of not allowing ambition to rule one's life.

Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquillity and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.

Therefore, one could identify Walton's goal to discover the seat of magnetism as being overly ambitious, given Victor's understanding of lofty goals and desires. Readers, knowing that Walton has repeatedly refused to give up on his quest, could define it as being overly ambitious as well. Regardless of the nobility of the quest, one which could make life easier for other seafarers, Walton is willing to risk everything to succeed.

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