Why Does Frankenstein Begin and End with Walton's Letters?

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Why does Frankenstein begin and end with Walton's letters?

Victor Frankenstein is a scientist whose ambition will be fatal. His story is central to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Nevertheless, Shelley gave a frame to Victor's tale as Frankenstein begins and ends with Captain Walton's letters. In this analysis, I will show that Shelley did not insert the letters by chance, but that they add a deeper dimension to the novel.

Walton's letters play an important role for the reader may find many foreshadowed themes. As the novel progresses, the reader will realize how Walton and Victor Frankenstein share similar views on their life's roles. Both men are driven by an excessive ambition, as they desire to accomplish great things for the humankind. Walton is an explorer who wants to discover a new passage to the Pacific and therefore conjures "inestimable benefit… on all mankind to the last generation" (16). Victor's purpose is to "pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation" (49). These explorers will demonstrate that such pursuit can prove to be very dangerous in quest for knowledge. Walton's ship becomes stuck in the ice and Victor's creation finally kills everyone dear to him. However, this parallel is not the only one: we can easily compare Walton's search for a friend ("I have no friend, Margaret" (19)) with the monster's request for a female because he feels alone ("I desired love and fellowship" (224)). This similarity between man and monster suggests that the monster perhaps is more similar to men than what we may perceive. If it is assumed that Shelley also shared this view when she wrote the novel, maybe she meant that the real monster manifests itself differently than the common assessment.

In the novel, Walton acts as a confidant for both Victor and the monster. He is the first man to be in Victor's secret and subsequently to learn of the monster's existence. It would be wrong to say that Walton is Victor's only confessor for the monster is also exposed to Walton. At the very end of the book, during Walton and the monster's encounter, the monster tries to convey to Walton that he is unhappy about Victor's death and that he was not satisfying his own desires while killing Victor's friends and family. I think that the fact that Shelley gave the monster the last word means that, as suggested above, she wants to express to the reader an understand that the monster may not be the "monster" of the novel.

Walton and Victor Frankenstein's ambition is similar but contrary to Victor's, Walton's ambition is not fatal. His decision to terminate his pursuit can be seen as a result of Walton's influence. One can easily understand that in the light of the tragic elements that happened to Victor (his creation killed his brother, best friend and wife and causes indirectly the death of his father), how any rational mind would take the same decision. This difference between these two main characters projects Victor's excessive ambition and it is obvious that one of Shelley's aims with this novel was to inform the reader of the dangers of science if the desire for knowledge is taken too far. However, it is important to show that Victor as a character did not always insist on the dangers of an expedition such as Walton's. On the one hand Victor indeed warned Walton that he should learn from his tale and pay attention as to not to make the same mistakes as he did ("learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge" (54)). Contrarily, Victor also convinced Walton's crew not to give up their expedition despite the dangers ("with the first imagination of danger… you shrink away," or to take another example: "be steady to your purposes and firm as a rock" (217)).

Walton's letters envelop Victor's entire tale but there exists more voices in the novel: the monster's story fits inside Victor's and the story of the...
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