The first character we are introduced to in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is Captain Robert Walton. The beginning of the novel is told through a series of letters that Robert Walton writes to send back to England to his sister, Margaret Saville, about his travels. Walton is the captain of a ship and crew that are headed to the North Pole. He is first excited about his voyage north and believes that it will be very successful. That is until his ship gets trapped between impassable ice. While Walton and his crew are waiting for the ice to melt, they stumble across Victor Frankenstein and rescue him. Victor is weak and exhausted from chasing the Creature. Walton and his crew nurse Victor back to health and he recovers enough to tell Walton the story of his life. Walton has longed for a friend and feels as though he has found that in Victor. The crew of Walton’s ship asks to turn around and head home, but Victor convinces them to wait for just a couple days longer. When they come back after two days to ask again to turn the ship around and head home to England, Victor agrees. As the ice begins to melt some and breaks, a path to the south is opened up for Walton and his crew and the ship begins its journey home. Just as all of this is happening Victor passes away and Captain Robert Walton begins to mourn the death of a man with whom he felt a strong friendship had begun to form.
The “Mad”/ Dangerous Scientist
The character of Captain Robert Walton parallels the character of Victor Frankenstein, the “mad” scientist in many ways. Walton, like Victor, is an explorer who has become completely consumed with a specific task. He is taking his ship and crew north to explore the North Pole, this is a suicide mission. In his first letter to his sister Walton writes, “Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour.” Walton is amazed by the beauty of this natural world in which he craves the knowledge to better know and understand. It is this that is his inspiration to continue on his expedition north. Un-possessed knowledge is what drives and inspires Victor to create his Creature. Both men are completely consumed by their goals and desire for discovery. Their need and consumption of ambition turn each man into a danger to themselves and those around them. Walton and Victor also both desire the fame and acknowledgement that would come along with the discoveries each would make. Both men feel that they are not only worthy of the fame and acknowledgement, but that they deserve it, as well. The two men both strive to be the first man to do or discover something. Walton writes to his Margaret asking her does he not deserve to accomplish great things. They want to set themselves apart from other men to do something extraordinary. Both Walton and Victor seem to have a sort of “Jesus like” complex in which they see themselves being the greatest gift to the entire human race; they state that their research will benefit the entire world. Walton says that by discovering a passage near the North Pole would be an “inestimable benefit” that he will bestow upon the entire human race. Victor takes his complex one step above Walton’s saying that he will eventually be able to renew life to those who have passed. This kind of discovery would obviously benefit all of mankind.
“Creature” of Loneliness
Robert Walton although very similar to Victor Frankenstein also parallels the Victor’s creature. Both Walton and the Creature long for a companion to take them out of the loneliness they live in every day. Walton writes to his sister expressing his desire for a friend. “I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine. You may deem me romantic, my dear sister, but I bitterly feel the want of a friend. I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans.” This desire Walton has for a friend imitates the desire that the Creature has for a mate. Both Walton and the Creature want a companion who is like them, a companion to share their lives with, and both think that if they find this companion then their lives will be repaired and better for it. “How would such a friend repair the faults of your poor brother!” Both Walton and the Creature are also self- educated. “I am too ardent in execution and too impatient of difficulties. But it is a still greater evil to me that I am self-educated: for the first fourteen years of my life I ran wild on a common and read nothing but our Uncle Thomas' books of voyages……… Now I am twenty-eight and am in reality more illiterate than many schoolboys of fifteen.” Both of these characteristics of being lonely and being self- educated are dangerous to have. Walton is lonely and ends up thinking only of himself by taking an entire crew on a suicide mission, but it is the combination of his loneliness and his desire for discovery that came from being self- educated that have lead him to this point of selfishness and danger. The Creature is the same in the fact that both loneliness and self-education are what lead him to be a danger. He was shunned by his creator, Victor, was shown no compassion, and was left to be forever alone. It is only by his self- education that the Creature finds out about all that he is missing and decides to exact revenge on his creator who has left him alone.
The character of Captain Robert Walton has a great impact on the novel. First off he is the narrator of Victor’s stories and the only way the audience gets to hear them. Walton’s character that becomes visible from the letters he writes to his sister at the beginning of the novel prepares the reader for the character of Victor Frankenstein. Walton serves as a foil to Victor Frankenstein; which means his traits and/ or actions contrast with Victor’s and therefore highlight Victor’s traits and actions. Shelley does this by showing how both Walton and Victor share the same trait of being obsessed by one single goal. Both men are preoccupied with a self- admiring self- regard for themselves than with the needs of the other people who surround them. Both men lack a permanent home, lack a lasting relationship from which they may obtain love, sympathy or support, they actually lack any relationships at all. The main focus and emotions of both of these men are channeled into untapped knowledge and what each man hopes to discover. So, by Shelley introducing us to Walton first we are prepared who longs for a companion. He fails to find a friend among the many members of his crew stating that none of them live up to his requirements for a companion. He gives his English Lieutenant and his Russian boat-master as examples of his failed attempt at finding a companion. The reason for this failed attempt is that neither of these men are like Walton; both are very different characters. Walton is searching for someone like himself, someone who he can share his thoughts and feelings with, and someone who will mirror and reflect those thoughts and feelings, as well. It is not surprising at all that Walton gives a huge and exciting welcome to Victor when he boards his ship and listens so intently to his stories. Walton recognizes someone who is like himself and someone with whom he can identify. The Creature is searching for the same things in a companion. Shelley does the same thing she did with Walton being a foil for Victor and also Walton being a foil for the Creature.