Frankenstein Study Guide

Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is presented as a frame tale, told by Captain Walton while on an expedition to the North Pole, where he finds Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a scientist who created a monstrous human-like Creature. The Creature tried to explain his murders to Frankenstein, claiming that people rejected and feared him, begging Frankenstein to make him a mate. Frankenstein first agrees then destroys the mate. The enraged Creature kills Frankenstein's wife, fleeing to the North Pole. After Frankenstein dies, Walton sees the Creature mourning as he floats away on a raft.

Brief Summary

Robert Walton, the professed author of the letter, writes to his sister, Mrs. Margaret Saville in England, from St. Petersburgh, Russia. It is December 11 of an undisclosed year during the eighteenth century. Walton informs his sister that he has arrived safely.

Walton is excited to reach his destination: the icy waters of the North Pole. He is curious about this land that is unknown to any man. Because of his curiosity he is willing to risk all kinds of danger and even death. He claims that learning the secret of the magnetism that attracts compass needles can only be accomplished by making such a perilous trip.

Walton recalls how earnestly he devoted himself to learning the rules of naval life when he was younger. He joined whale-fishers in their northern expeditions, laboring during the day and studying by night. Having chosen glory on the ocean over the luxury and wealth Walton easily could have had, he feels deserving of great accomplishment. Now he only wishes for a friend to encourage him and keep his spirits up. Walton writes that he will leave for Archangel, Russia, in two to three weeks and cannot predict when he will return to England.

Detailed Summary

Robert Walton, the professed author of the letter, writes to his sister, Mrs. Margaret Saville in England, from St. Petersburgh, Russia. It is December 11 of an undisclosed year during the eighteenth century. Walton informs his sister that, despite her fears about his trip, he has arrived safely.

Wandering the streets of St. Petersburgh, Walton feels an icy breeze from the north and it fills him with excitement to reach his destination: the icy waters of the North Pole. He is anxious to reach the area, as he believes it will be beautiful, though he knows it is also freezing and desolate. Walton looks forward to the constant sunlight and undiscovered solitudes. He romanticizes the land, deeming it heavenly and celestial, as it is the place that attracts all compass needles. He is feverishly curious about this land that is unknown to any man. Because of his curiosity and his desire to be the first man on such difficult soil, he is willing to risk all kinds of danger and even death. Even if he fails somehow, Walton writes, his journey will still be beneficial to future explorers who wish to visit the same naturally hostile region. He claims that learning the secret of the magnetism that attracts compass needles, if it is at all possible, can only be accomplished by making such a perilous trip.

Walton writes that such enthusiasm as his sends him to heaven, as having a steady purpose is the best way to calm one's mind. He explains that such an expedition has been a dream and a focal point of study for him since his childhood. He reminds his sister of their uncle's library, and describes his own passion for reading. Walton's familiarity with stories of expeditions made his dismay even deeper when his dying father forbade him to pursue a life on the sea.

When Walton discovered poetry, however, his desires for the seafaring life disappeared. He refers to John Milton's Paradise Lost , having imagined himself the creator of his own poetic wonderland. He deeply hoped to one day be a revered poet like Homer or Shakespeare. Failing at that, he soon inherited a fortune from his cousin and returned to his thoughts of the sea.

Walton recalls how earnestly he devoted himself to learning the rules of naval life. He joined whale-fishers in their northern expeditions, laboring hard during the day and studying math, medicine and physical science by night. He was proud when his captain offered him second dignity, imploring him to stay on the ship.

Having chosen glory on the ocean over the luxury and wealth Walton easily could have had, he feels deserving of great accomplishment, and writes this to his sister. Now he only wishes for someone else to encourage him and keep his spirits up. It wears on him to maintain optimism for both himself and all the men on his ship.

Walton writes that travel is swift and pleasant in Russia, as they have efficient sledges to ride and warm fur wraps to wear. He will leave for Archangel, Russia, in two to three weeks and cannot predict when he will return to England. If his trip is successful, it may be several months or even years. If he fails, it will be soon, or never.

Walton bids Margaret farewell and thanks her for her love and kindness.

Analysis

The first letter of the beginning four that Walton writes to his sister sets up the frame for the story. Shelley will come back to Walton and his letters to his sister at the end of the novel, after the bulk of the action has been narrated by Victor Frankenstein and his monster. Using these letters, Shelley is easing the reader into this world, and providing a subplot of Walton's expedition. Walton's life seems real and normal, which will lend some validity for the rather unbelievable tale that follows these letters.

The novel Frankenstein includes many aspects that are identifiable as a part of the Romantic genre. One such aspect is the preoccupation with nature, particularly extreme environment settings, such as majestic mountains, harsh storms, vast and desolate landscapes made of ice. Walton's excursion is bound for the Arctic seas, and notably, areas that man has not touched or defiled. The isolated setting of the Arctic Circle, with its difficult weather, and the fact that it is often covered in thick ice make for quite a Romantic picture.

Also, Walton's decision to make a journey for his own educational purposes is a Romantic character choice. He used to read about his uncle's journeys and he set out to become educated via the same path of exploration and hard work. The Romantics emphasized the importance of emotion, however, and a dependency on one's heart over one's ability to reason. Hence, the fact that Walton's upbringing and curiosity have been influenced by poetry writing based on emotion, not reason is fitting. Walton may discover that his desire to have so much knowledge about nature (the secret of the magnet, etc.) is dangerous and unwise.

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