Analysis of Walton's Letters - Frankenstein


Letter I

We learn that Walton is in the middle of an “enterprise”, his exploration to the North pole, where he expects to “discover the wondrous power that attracts the needle” and make celestial observations. His want for discovery shows that he is part of or has been influenced by the Enlightenment. He obviously craves knowledge and will pursue it single-mindedly in the hopes of glory (“I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep” + “do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose?”). He is also a Romantic, shown by his delve into poetry (“I also became a poet”), his use of superlatives, (“the greatest practical advantage”), and his romantic description of the environment, including the romantic sublime (“a cold northern breeze . . . fills me with delight . . . What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?”)

Walton wishes to make ground-breaking discoveries that he believes can only be understood by actually travelling to the North Pole, inspired by reading books about exploration into those areas in his Uncle’s library. He hopes his journey will help him in “ascertaining the secret of the magnet”. He wants to “tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man.” His desires “are sufficient to conquer all fears of danger or death,” showing his determination and thirst for scientific knowledge.

The themes that are introduced in this first letter are danger (“if I fail, you will see me again soon, or never.”), romanticism (“the region of beauty and delight”), desire (“the favourite dream”), negative emotions (“my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits are often depressed”), glory (“I preferred glory to . . . wealth”) and scientific discovery (“devoted my nights to the study”).

The opening chapter takes the form of a letter, setting up an epistolary form for the novel which can help the reader trust the narrator as it immediately places us close to the writer (Walton) as he chooses to write to us of his own accord. This makes us trust his related narrative of Victor’s account despite it being a reconstructed narrative. It also provides an outside perspective of Victor’s Tale and allows us to see Walton’s voyage from Margaret’s perspective (how Shelley wishes us to view it).

Letter II

Shelley introduces the gothic theme of alienation in this letter through the use of Walton. Shelley writes Walton as a romantic, established by himself saying “You may deem me romantic”. Romantics often felt like outcasts from society due to their ideals, leading them to their fascination with Satan and other such characters. Walton expresses his regret of not having a friend, and his want for someone who “would have sense enough not to despise me as romantic”. He is even more alienated by his “intense distaste for the usual brutality usual exercised on board ship”. This introduces the reader to alienation and foreshadows Victor’s character in Letter IV due to his Romantic expression.

This letter contains allusion to Coleridge’s “The Rime


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