What is the significance of the sea to Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's book?

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The sea represents the sublime, that quality in certain features of the natural world which fills the Romantic soul with a sense of awestruck terror. The sea, like a thunderstorm or a majestic, snow-covered peak, confronts the individual, making him or her feel small and insignificant.

Even a scientific genius...

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The sea represents the sublime, that quality in certain features of the natural world which fills the Romantic soul with a sense of awestruck terror. The sea, like a thunderstorm or a majestic, snow-covered peak, confronts the individual, making him or her feel small and insignificant.

Even a scientific genius like Frankenstein, who believes that he can conquer the world with his race of monsters, can only yield to the power of the sublime as it manifests itself in the icy wastes of the Arctic. In an astonishing act of hubris, Frankenstein tried to control nature, but now, as he recovers aboard Walton's ship, he is as subject to nature's awesome power as much as anyone.

The Arctic Ocean is terra incognita, a part of the world yet to be fully explored and fathomed by man. As such, it symbolizes the inherent mystery of the natural world which will always retain the power to assert itself against man, no matter how much scientific knowledge he gains and no matter how much of the globe he manages to traverse.

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In Frankenstein, the sea symbolizes the uncharted realms of science. Robert Walton has stated that he intends to conquer the sea and find the Northwest Passage, a shortcut around the continent of North America by sailing around the northern coast of Canada (unbeknownst to him, this is completely covered by ice and is thus impassable). He believes that this discovery will earn him fame and renown. When he picks up Victor Frankenstein, he is intrigued as to why this person is out in the middle of the ice in pursuit of a mysterious figure. Victor begs Walton to give up his mission to “conquer the sea” and reveal the truth in science. He tells the captain his own attempt to take command over life and death and how it led him to tragedy. The sea is a symbol of the uncontrollable nature of science and must be left alone.

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