Why is Walton going to the North Pole in Shelley's Frankenstein?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As a foil to Victor Frankenstein, Robert Walton also seeks "the country of eternal light," knowledge not yet in anyone's possession. He writes to his sister of his desire to visit what he considers "the region of beauty and delight" where the sun is visible continually, a sun that "diffuses a perpetual splendor." It is a part of the world that has never been visited before, a place where he may be the first to "tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man." Further, Walton hopes to ascertain "the secret of the magnet," the magnetic pull which affects the seaman's compass.

Walton has studied and conditioned himself to the severe cold for six years in preparation for his great venture. Against the arguments of his sister Margaret, Walton writes,

And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose?....Oh, that some encouraging voice would answer in the affirmative!

Like Victor Frankenstein, Robert Walton is obsessed with a grandiose idea, a goal of achieving what no other man has done. But, Walton, unlike Victor, is not passionate enough to pursue what he knows is impossible, nor is he obsessive enough to risk the lives of his crew members and so he fails in his mission:

The die is cast: 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.

In the end, Robert Walton is again like Victor Frankenstein--disappointed. But he has served as a foil to Victor, and has narrated well Victor's tale of grave disappointment.

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