What are the differences between Walton and Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein?

A key difference between Captain Walton and Victor Frankenstein is Walton's ability to predict how his quest for adventure might harm those around him.

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At first glance, Victor and Walton seem to have a great deal in common. Both men have a seemingly insatiable thirst for adventure, and they both are willing to sacrifice personal relationships in order to further their goals. While Victor has focused his adventurous quests in the realm of scientific...

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At first glance, Victor and Walton seem to have a great deal in common. Both men have a seemingly insatiable thirst for adventure, and they both are willing to sacrifice personal relationships in order to further their goals. While Victor has focused his adventurous quests in the realm of scientific advancements, Walton has looked to the boundaries of the natural world, hoping to physically go where no one has been able to go before.

Their primary contrast lies in the understanding of their own limits. Victor seems to believe himself incapable of failure. When the monster promises to be with him on his wedding night, Victor doesn't take this threat seriously enough to consider the potential harm to his beloved Elizabeth. Thinking that he can somehow take care of the monster he's created single-handedly, he keeps his creation, the thing which has been the singular focus of his passions for years, from everyone he knows and destroys many lives because of this decision. On some level, Victor believes himself exempt from the laws of nature which he's spent so many years studying.

Walton leaves his family behind, much like Victor, to accomplish something no man has accomplished before. His sense of adventure leads him to desire to physically "satiate [his] ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited." Ultimately, Walton decides to abandon his goal because he realizes that "[he] cannot lead [the crew] unwillingly to danger." While Victor never fully connects his own actions to the potential to harm to those around him, Walton realizes the direct impact his quest for adventure has on the men of his ship. Walton's consideration for the safety of others helps him save not only the men on his ship but himself as well.

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Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton are similar in terms of their ambition, but Walton is able to learn from Frankenstein's story and does not make a potentially catastrophic mistake, as Victor has.

When Walton first takes Frankenstein aboard his boat in the Arctic, Victor is near death. He is at the end of what has been a tumultuous adventure, following his creation of a being from the body parts of corpses. Horrified by his project, Victor immediately abandons his creature, who is left to fend for himself. Despite the creature's pleading, Victor rejects him, and the two become caught in a seemingly never-ending cycle of revenge. The creature has killed numerous people close to Victor, and Victor in his turn has begun to make and then destroyed the creature's potential female mate. When we meet Victor at the start of the novel, he and the creature are chasing each other around the Arctic in a fight to the death.

As we learn from his letters to his sister, Walton is tremendously moved by Victor's plight and his story. Walton sees Victor as a great man whose ambition simply went too far. Hearing the story from Victor's perspective creates sympathy, and Walton wants to help Victor in anyway he can. He does seem to admire Victor's bold project, but Victor will not reveal the details of how he made his creature, eliminating the possibility of someone repeating his tragic mistake. While listening to Victor's story, Walton is on an ambitious mission of his own to explore the Arctic; however, at a certain point, the journey becomes dangerous for him and his men. Although Victor dies trying to influence Walton to carry out his own mission—to kill the creature—Walton is ultimately persuaded to instead turn back and not risk the lives of his men.

This final decision is what shows the major difference in the two characters: Walton is able to learn from Victor's mistake, while Victor was never able to repair his life and make amends. Instead, he became obsessed with revenge. Walton will not follow Victor into that destructive state.

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Ultimately, Victor does not seem to learn from his mistakes or to even properly recognize that he made them. He tells Walton, just prior to his death, "During the last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blamable." He justifies everything that he did, despite the horrific effects his actions produced on his family and friends, and on the subject of the experiment itself: his creature. Victor's decisions affected a great number of people in tragic ways, and he gave those individuals no say whatsoever in the actions that would direct their fates. Walton, on the other hand, does learn something from Victor's story: he learns that he cannot endanger the lives of others who do not consent to take the risk with him. When his crew asks to return home for fear of death, he is disappointed--angry, even--but he does as they ask because he's learned from Victor's mistakes, even if Victor himself has not. Walton does not allow his pride to outstrip his humanity.

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To some extent Walton acts as a foil to Frankenstein, serving to highlight certain important character traits. They share a number of common characteristics, and at various points in the book, Walton's actions parallel those of Victor, but crucially, in a positive way. Both are men of great scientific curiosity with an abiding passion for knowledge. However, there is a profound difference in the use to which they intend to put such knowledge. Walton is idealistic, wanting to use science to improve the lot of humankind. Victor, on the other hand, looks upon his research as the prelude to the establishment of a new race on earth, a race that will worship him as a god out of deep gratitude to its creator.

When Walton sees Victor for the first time, Frankenstein is in a pitiful state: freezing cold, emaciated, and exhausted. Walton revives Frankenstein with brandy and warm blankets. In a sense, he is bringing him back to life, but not in the way that Victor revives the dead in creating his monster. Walton's is a selfless act of fundamental decency and humanity; Victor's is an expression of overweening vanity and scientistic hubris. According to the prevailing moral standards of the context, Walton is acting as a good Christian should, showing the same kind of concern for Victor as the Good Samaritan did for the badly beaten traveler. Victor, on the other hand, in creating his monster, is playing God, taking on the role of creator, not because he wants to share his love with his creation, but because he craves complete adulation from a new race of acolytes.

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