Why does Mary Shelley start Frankenstein off with Walton's letters to his sister as opposed to beginning with Victor's life story and experiences?
...the frame around which the novel is based.
These letters to his sister serve several purposes. First, the author does not give away the story's ending. If Victor began the story, how would the reader ever learn of his fate? He would be unable to tell the end of the tale (after he dies) unless his story was interrupted at his death, and Walton was somehow able to step in and share the news of Victor's death. This would have been particularly awkward.
Walton is able to share with his sister (and us) not only Victor's story and the creature's version of the story (as told to Victor), but also what occurs with the creature after Victor is dead—an aspect of the story that conveys an important element: the "monster's" abject remorse and grief at his creator's passing.
Another aspect of Walton's presence in the story (that is addressed with Shelley's form of introduction) is its use as a cautionary tale or allegory where Walton is concerned. A cautionary tale is:
...a tale told in folklore, to warn its hearer of a danger.
An allegory is...
... narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait...and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life.
In this story, the allegory is theme-based, sharing a life-truth with the audience. Victor's downfall comes with his quest for dangerous or forbidden knowledge: his desire to create life, like God.
It is a cautionary tale involving Walton because he is also pursuing that which he should not—"[a wish] to conquer the unknown"—just as Victor did—without thought to the consequences of his actions. Walton is exploring unknown areas of the North...
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The letters are used to present the sister in a place "we know", while the letters pull you into the world where Frankenstein and Walton are.