Robert Walton- Arctic Explorer or Demented Old Man?
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Walton is an Arctic explorer who is determined to cross the North Pole and find a new path to the Pacific Ocean. On his journey, Walton discovers a dying scientist on the ice. The scientist is Victor Frankenstein, who tells Walton of his attempt to create new life, but, instead, created a murderous monster. However, these events did not happen at all. The only character who actually exists in this story is Robert Walton, who was not an explorer. The events that Robert Walton recalls were actually figments of his imagination caused by brain disease in his old age. Robert Walton is, in fact, a senile, demented elderly man that is trapped in his room, reading books on voyages and explorations.
First, Walton’s imagination stems from his childhood dreams of being a seafaring explorer. For example, the first fourteen years of his life Robert Walton read his uncle’s books on voyages. Since he was a young boy he had dreamed of becoming an explorer. His hallucinations are products of his childhood dreams that he never fulfilled. Also, Robert Walton was raised by his uncle who did not want him to live a life on the sea. This was his father’s dying wish, that he would not live a seafaring life. Walton desired to be an explorer, but was always told he was not allowed to do so. Thus, Walton’s childhood wants and dreams are one factor causing his mind to create this story.
Next, another factor in this story’s creation was Robert Walton’s desire to be successful. First, Walton’s father last wish was the Robert would become a poet so that he “might obtain a niche in the temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated.” (Shelley 16) However, Walton was terribly unsuccessful in his attempts at poetry. Robert Walton cannot help but assume his father would be ashamed. “I dare not expect such success, yet I cannot bear to look on the reverse of the picture.” (Shelley 12) While Walton fears failure, he also does not expect success in his endeavors. As can be seen in the story, even his mind’s unstable state, he is unable to succeed in his imagination. Therefore, Robert Walton’s desire for success and fear of failure fuels the extreme circumstances of his exploration.
Last, the third factor that causes this hallucination is Robert Walton’s loneliness. One example of this loneliness is the fact that he writes letters to his sister documenting his voyage. He feels a need to share some sort of excitement or adventure with a companion. His sister, who may or may not actually receive these letters, is the person he chooses to tell of his adventure. In fact, Walton goes on to say in one of these letters, “I shall certainly find no friends on the wide ocean.” (Shelley 10) While in his hallucination he is actually on an ocean, this could just mean life in general. He feels alone and, even if he tried, he could still not find a friend. So, Walton’s hallucination is also driven by his loneliness.
In conclusion, it may appear that Robert Walton is actually an explorer. However, he is actually just a lonely, senile old man who truly believes that this is happening. He is not attempting to fool or deceive anyone with the letters, but all he wants to do is share his story with his sister. Therefore, the story of Frankenstein never actually happened. Robert Walton’s childhood dreams, desire to succeed, fear of failure, loneliness, and his mind deceived him into believing that all these events happened.
Effects of Promethean Characteristics
Different people have different character traits that effect their lives and relations with others. Certain character traits cause more problems in relationships than others do. Promethean characteristics, at face value, appear to be more troublesome than helpful in relationships. They appear to be focused on the individual to whom these traits are attributed. Promethean characteristics include self-criticism, fear of failure, perfectionism, God-like nature desire to help, emphasis on performance, and need for competence. Although, an individual who possesses Promethean characteristics may seem self-centered, the hero aspects of these Promethean characteristics cause the person to be selfless in attempt to help others.
First, their God-like nature and the desire to help leads the individual to go to great lengths in order to help others. Robert Walton says “I felt the greatest eagerness to hear the promised narrative, partly from curiosity and partly from a strong desire to ameliorate his fate if it were in my power.” (Shelley 22) The average person may want to hear Victor Frankenstein’s story out of curiosity, but helping him is not a desire for the average person. Robert Walton will do everything within his power to ameliorate Victor Frankenstein of his troubles. Robert Walton promises Victor Frankenstein that he will destroy the monster that Victor had created. He begins an avid quest to kill the monster for a man he barely knew. He exercises all his resources in chasing after the monster that he had no responsibility to. In a similar situation, the monster created by Victor Frankenstein goes out of his way to help the De Lacey family by gathering and bringing them fire wood. He lives in the woods near their cottage and realizes that the De Lacey family is extremely poor. The monster receives no direct reward from the De Lacey family, yet he is driven by his very nature to assist them. The fact that the monster has no responsibility for this family does not faze him as he belabors himself for the benefit of the family. Through these two examples it is shown that the God-like nature of these individuals drives them to help people who are no more than strangers.
Secondly, fear of failure and the perfectionist attitude causes the person to selflessly give their best effort in helping everyone. Victor Frankenstein does not believe studying only anatomy will help him create life, so he also studies human decay. (Shelley 43) He realizes that he could greatly benefit the world if he can discover how to create life. Therefore, he devoted all of his time and energy into studying for his objective so that his creation would be absolutely perfect. When he sees the aftermath of his creation he makes it his top priority to prevent his monster from causing more trouble to the world. Rather than blame the monster for what the monster had done, he accepts responsibility as its creator and takes action. Also, Robert Walton refuses to bear the thought of his North Pole expedition failing and initially forces his crew to press on despite the threat to their lives. (Shelley 12) He so greatly fears failure that he refuses to give credence to the possibility of failure. If his expedition were a success it would provide ships a new route around the world, changing the way the world traveled and operated forever. These two individuals gave their absolute best effort and had insatiable attitudes towards their goal in attempt to see it succeed.
Next, self-criticism and the need for competence drive the person to help others in order to dissolve the feeling that they are not good enough. For instance, the monster recognizes his ugliness and the fact that no one would accept. (Shelley 115) So, he forces Victor Frankenstein to create a female monster to be his companion. A selfish individual would not wish for a companion with whom they could relate, rather they would keep to themselves. The monster so deeply desires relationship that when Victor Frankenstein destroys his attempt to create a female monster he kills Victor Frankenstein’s fiancé. Comparatively, Robert Walton so deeply needs to feel competent that when his expedition fails he takes it upon himself to destroy Victor Frankenstein’s monster. He needs competence to the point that if he is not attempting to conquer something he feels useless. In everything that Walton attempted, his driving force was his fear of failure and need for competence. One desire that Walton possessed was a desire for companionship. “… 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 endeavor to sustain me in dejection.” (Shelley 9) His dire need for competence stemmed from his desire for a companion who would understand him. He fears that his trials will be a failure, not merely from the fear of failing, but from the fear that no one will be able to understand in him in his failure. A self-centered person does not wish for companionship or attempt to succeed at something for the benefit of others.
Thus, these three individuals collectively portray the fact that Promethean characteristics are not fully self-centered. While at face value these traits appear to only concern the person who possesses them this is not the case. Robert Walton goes out of his way to help Victor Frankenstein, whom he is barely acquainted with. The monster goes out of his way to assist the De Lacey family that needed his assistance but would not thank him for it. Also, Victor Frankenstein does what was within his power to prevent his creation from wreaking more havoc upon the world. Each of these individuals has the opportunity to eschew the problems of others, excluding everyone else. However, because of their Promethean characteristics they desire to help others.