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

The fourth and last letter from Robert Walton to his sister Mrs. Margaret Saville describes Walton's experiences with a stranger he meets on the icy sea. Walton begins by saying that the week before, Walton and his men had spotted a gigantic figure riding a sledge across the ice.

The next morning he found his talking to a strange man with a sledge, though not the same man from before. The man was emaciated and ill. Despite this, the stranger insisted upon knowing the destination of the ship before boarding. Walton replied they were on a voyage towards the northern pole and only then did the stranger come aboard.

When the tranger started to recover, he revealed he had been on the ice in search of the demon who had run away from him. He learned that Walton had spotted a large figure on a sledge and became excited. He wanted badly to keep watch for the figure.

Walton admits to loving the stranger like a brother, and feeling great sympathy for him.

Walton told the stranger of his readiness to sacrifice everything to achieve his voyage goals. At this, the stranger started to cry and claimed that both he and Walton suffered from the same madness.

The stranger begins to speak to Walton about his experiences. He says it was just such a search like Walton's for knowledge and wisdom that resulted in his current unhappiness.

After this point, Walton's narration stops, and the stranger's begins.

Detailed Summary

The fourth and last letter from Robert Walton to his sister Mrs. Margaret Saville is divided into three parts, in journal fashion, documenting Walton's experiences with a stranger he meets on the icy sea. The first section is dated August 5th, one month after the previous letter and is written from aboard his ship. Walton begins by saying that the week before, the ship was floating in thick fog. When the fog cleared, the men found that the ocean waters were covered with sheets of ice. Suddenly, Walton spied a gigantic figure riding a sledge drawn by dogs across the ice.

Walton and his men believed this to mean that land was not as far away as they thought, and they were relieved. Trapped by the ice, however, they could not follow the giant man. Within a few hours, the ice broke, freeing the ship. Fearing icebergs, Walton decided to wait a few hours before sailing, and he went to sleep.

In the morning he found his sailors clustered on one end of the ship, talking to someone in the sea. It was a strange man with a sledge, but only one dog to pull it. The man was European, emaciated and weak. The sailors assured him that their captain, Walton, would never let a man die on the sea. Before the stranger would board the ship, however, he asked Walton what his destination was.

Because the stranger was clearly in a suffering and desperate state, Walton was shocked to hear such a question. He replied that they were on a voyage of discovery towards the northern pole . The stranger was satisfied with that answer and boarded the ship.

Walton moved him to his own cabin, caring for him whenever he could. Walton notes that his eyes often look wild, except for when someone shows him the slightest gesture of kindness, and then he lights up with sweetness. Most of the time, however, he is woeful and despairing.

Finally the stranger was able to speak, and the lieutenant asked him why he had traveled for so long on ice in a sledge. The stranger answered, To seek the one who fled from me . The lieutenant said that they'd probably seen this person, the night before the stranger arrived. This peaked the stranger's curiosity and he asked countless questions about the demon , as he called the large man. The stranger asked Walton if the breaking up of the ice would have destroyed the sledge of the man he pursued. Walton couldn't know for sure and told him so.

After that conversation, a new spirit took hold of the weak stranger, and he wanted badly to be on deck, watching for the other sledge. Walton insisted he stay in the cabin, and assured him that someone would keep watch for him.

The stranger's health has improved, but he is very quiet and seems uneasy when people enter his cabin. Walton describes him to Margaret as gentle, and admits to loving the stranger like a brother, and feeling great sympathy for him.

The second section of the final letter is dated August 13th, and begins with Walton's blunt declaration of his affection for the stranger. Walton has great admiration for his friend, yet he also pities him deeply. Having recuperated from his illness, the stranger spends his time on the deck, watching for the other sledge. Encouraged by the stranger's attentiveness, Walton enthusiastically told the stranger of his voyage goals, and his readiness to sacrifice everything to achieve them. Upon hearing Walton's feverish desires, however, the stranger became anguished and started to cry. He claimed that both he and Walton suffered from the same madness, and insisted on telling Walton his story.

The stranger questioned Walton about his past. Walton revealed his great desire for a friend, as he believed everyone needed someone with whom to share happiness. The stranger agreed, saying that each man is only half a person, needing someone who is better than he is in order to make himself perfect. He said he once had such a friend, and now has lost everything. After disclosing this, he calmly and sadly returned to his cabin.

At the close of this section of his letter, Walton attempts to pinpoint what it is about the stranger that sets him so far apart from anyone else Walton has ever met. He describes him as extraordinary, intuitive, an excellent judge, curious, and precise in his study of the causes of things .

The third and last section of the letter is dated August 19th. The stranger begins to speak to Walton about his experiences, as he sees similarities between Walton and the stranger when he was younger, both young men seeking wisdom and knowledge. It was just such a search, the stranger explains, that resulted in his current unhappiness. He cautions Walton that parts of his story will sound impossible, but that nature is capable of marvelous things, and he only speaks the truth.

Walton was conflicted about hearing the tale, fearing that it would upset his friend, yet wanting to hear it. He felt that if he heard the story, he might be able to help the stranger. The stranger thanks him for his sympathy, but tells Walton that his fate is already sealed, and that he is waiting for only one event and then he can be at peace. In telling Walton his past, he will reveal how firmly his future has been decided.

Walton vows to try and record the stranger's story to the best of his ability. After this point Walton's narration ends and the stranger's begins.

Analysis

In his fourth letter, Walton writes about the ice and the harsh elements slowing down his expedition. This is perhaps the first time we see nature fight back, in a sense, against those who are overtaken by a desire to know all of nature's secrets. Because of so much ice in the water, Walton's travels are stalled for the time being. It is during this pause, when nature has rendered Walton helpless, that Victor Frankenstein enters the story.

Victor is very thin, weak, and in a frenzied mental state. Walton hasn't heard Victor's tale yet, but Victor is the picture of what happens to people who seek out too much knowledge. He is, perhaps, a bleak vision of what Walton is in danger of becoming if he continues down his path of feverish desire to know nature's secrets. Victor himself even warns Walton of this very danger, and wants to tell Walton his story in order to show precisely how dangerous it can be to reveal the mysteries of nature.

For his part, Walton is overjoyed at having an intelligent fellow man on board the ship with himthe person he sought as his equal with whom he wanted to share his dreams and ideas. This love of friendship and reverence for emotional connection is another Romantic element in the novel. It will occur again in the friendship between Victor and Henry Clerval.

At the end of his letter, Walton prepares to turn over the narration to Victor, and Victor's first-person perspective becomes storyteller in many of the following chapters. Throughout the novel, several different voices will narrate the story, sometimes lesser characters will tell a story within the larger narration of another character, and so forth. In a previous letter, Walton cited Homer as one of his inspirations when he was growing up, and Homer's works hark back to a tradition of oral storytelling. Additionally, Shelley's first draft of the novel Frankenstein was composed as a ghost story, told to friends next to a fire on a stormy evening. Her tactic of using several different voices to tell one story is perhaps a nod to the oral traditions.

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