Frankenstein

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Robert Walton Character Analysis

An explorer who rescues Victor from the ice, hears his harrowing story, and sets it down on paper in letters to his sister, Margaret Saville. Walton's quest for knowledge in the North Pole parallels Victor's search for education and enlightenment at Ingolstadt. Because he parallels Victor in this way, Robert Walton is a "double" of Victor, whose actions, by mirroring or contrasting Victor's own, serve to highlight Victor's character and various themes in Frankenstein.

Robert Walton Quotes in Frankenstein

The Frankenstein quotes below are all either spoken by Robert Walton or refer to Robert Walton. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the W. W. Norton & Company edition of Frankenstein published in 2012.
Letter 2 Quotes
I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection.
Related Characters: Robert Walton (speaker), Margaret Saville
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of his second letter, Robert Walton confesses to his sister, Margaret, that he longs for a companion, another person with whom he can share the joys and sorrows of exploration. While the first letter introduces the reader to Walton's quest – he hopes to discover a new passage to the North Pole – this second letter offers more insight into his personality.

Walton writes with the arrogance that unites many of the book's male characters: he does not consider his travel companions to be his intellectual equals. He doesn't believe his peers can understand his lofty ideals. This quote foreshadows the arrival of Victor Frankenstein, who appears in the fourth letter and goes on to become Walton's close friend. Victor will tell Walton a cautionary tale about ambition and pride – a tale full of even more extreme success and dejection, and which serves as the novel's central plot line.

In addition, this quote introduces loneliness as one of the book's major themes, a state of being that plagues both Walton and Victor, as well as the Monster himself. Isolated and unable to assimilate into human society because of how he looks, the Monster blames Victor for his predicament, and much of the action of the novel rests on the monster's efforts to get his creator to build him a female companion. 

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Letter 4 Quotes
You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), Robert Walton
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Victor Frankenstein prepares to tell Walton his story, a story driven by Frankenstein's own brush with maddening ambition. Once again Mary Shelley draws the reader's attention to parallels between Victor and Walton: the men are both well-educated, adventurous, and hungry for glory. Here, though, Victor speaks of his own goals in the past tense, and the reader can infer that he has suffered a dismal reversal of fortune, that his quest for glory and knowledge has ended in despair.

Victor's mention of a metaphorical "serpent" in this section is one of the novel's many allusions to the Bible and John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic poem that dramatizes Satan's rebellion against God and his subsequent role in Adam and Eve's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Once an angel, Satan led an unsuccessful rebellion against God, who cast him from Heaven. He later appears in Eden as a snake and corrupts Adam and Eve, encouraging them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (This transgression, in which Adam and Eve disobeyed God's laws and gained corrupting knowledge, matches Victor's transgression in creating the monster, which was a perversion of natural laws.) Many Romantic writers (including Mary Shelley) actually saw Satan as a sympathetic character, awesome in his ambition and intellect. Victor and the Monster have much in common with Milton's Satan: they lead isolated lives, they have sinned against mankind, and they usually act with passion. In this quote, Victor describes the Monster as the "serpent," a manifestation of Satan himself—though it is certainly possible to argue that Victor is misguided in identifying the Monster, rather than his own ambition, as being the serpent.

Chapter 4 Quotes
Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), Robert Walton
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Victor begs Walton to reconsider his own ambition and look for fulfillment and satisfaction not in discovery but in daily life. Shelley shows us again that the two men share several qualities, including an obsession with knowledge and glory. She makes it clear that ambitious men are doomed, using the words "dangerous" and "allow."

In this sentence, Victor establishes a distinction between two types of men: one who "believes his native town to be the world" and one who "aspires to become greater than his nature will allow." The first is a happy member of society because he is "native" to the world — he considers his fellow men to be his peers and does not reject them in favor of scientific discovery. The second, on the other hand, resembles a Romantic hero in his isolation, ambition, and misery. He has no "native town," no real domestic comforts, and in trying to become great cuts himself off from the rest of the world. Victor's mastery of life and death made him such a person, and Walton risks becoming one if he does not abandon his plans. 

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Robert Walton Character Timeline in Frankenstein

The timeline below shows where the character Robert Walton appears in Frankenstein. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Letter 1
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon
Frankenstein begins with a series of four letters from Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville. The first letter is written on December 11 from St.... (full context)
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
Walton's purpose in venturing to the North Pole is twofold: to discover a northern passage to... (full context)
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Walton plans to rent a ship, hire a crew, and depart from northern Russia in June,... (full context)
Letter 2
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
In his second letter on March 28th of the following year, from Archangel, Russia, Walton describes himself as lonely. He worries that his refined upbringing has made him too sensitive... (full context)
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
Walton writes that his resolution to carry out his journey is "fixed as fate." He confesses... (full context)
Letter 3
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon
Written on July 7th, this short letter describes Walton's journey so far as a "triumph." His men remain resolved and loyal, and the weather... (full context)
Letter 4
Prejudice Theme Icon
In the first entry of this three-part letter, Walton says his crew has observed a huge "savage" figure in a dogsled speeding across the... (full context)
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
The man comes aboard. Walton says he showed a "benevolence and sweetness" unequalled by anyone else he had ever met.... (full context)
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
In the second part of the letter, Walton tells the stranger that he is on a quest for knowledge, which upsets the stranger.... (full context)
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
...of the letter, the stranger says he's decided to tell his story to either help Walton in his quest for knowledge, or convince him to give it up. He hopes that... (full context)
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
Walton tells the stranger that his destiny has already been determined. Walton then promises his sister... (full context)
Chapter 24
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
This is the point at which Walton's ship rescued Victor. The narrative returns to the present. Victor, knowing he's dying, begs Walton... (full context)
Walton, in continuation
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
The novel returns to the frame of Walton's letters to his sister, Margaret Saville. In a letter on August 26, Walton says that... (full context)
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
In a letter on September 2, Walton tells Margaret that his ship and crew are in grave danger: the ship is now... (full context)
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
In a letter on September 5, Walton says that his crew have demanded that he turn the ship around and head for... (full context)
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
In a letter on September 7, Walton says he has agreed to the crew's demand to turn back. He considers what has... (full context)
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
In his final letter on September 12th, Walton says that he has turned back, his hopes of "glory" and "utility" crushed. In addition,... (full context)
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
Walton interrupts his letter upon hearing a disturbance in the cabin where Victor's body lies. He... (full context)