Study Guide

Frankenstein: Exploration Quotes | Shmoop

By Mary Shelley

Exploration

Letter 3

But success SHALL crown my endeavours. Wherefore not? Thus far I have gone, tracing a secure way over the pathless seas, the very stars themselves being witnesses and testimonies of my triumph. Why not still proceed over the untamed yet obedient element? What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man? (Letter 3.4)

What can stop them? Well, the forces of nature, for one—like an impenetrable ice sheet. Also, giant reanimated corpses. Those can stop man, too.

Chapter 2
Victor Frankenstein

My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement; but by some law in my temperature they were turned not towards childish pursuits but to an eager desire to learn, and not to learn all things indiscriminately. I confess that neither the structure of languages, nor the code of governments, nor the politics of various states possessed attractions for me. It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirit of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my inquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in it highest sense, the physical secrets of the world. (2.4)

Somehow, we think Victor would have been better off memorizing train schedules or all the batting averages of the major league players. The "secrets of heaven and earth" are pretty heavy for a kid.

Chapter 3
Victor Frankenstein

Such were the professor's words —rather let me say such the words of the fate —enounced to destroy me. As he went on I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy; one by one the various keys were touched which formed the mechanism of my being; chord after chord was sounded, and soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose. So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation. (3.15)

The obvious problem here is the "deepest mysteries of creation": Shelley seems pretty convinced that we should let them stay mysterious. The second problem is the "one thought, one conception, one purpose"—it sounds like Victor really needs a hobby other than digging up corpses.

Chapter 24
Robert Walton

I mentioned in my last letter the fears I entertained of a mutiny. This morning, as I sat watching the wan countenance of my friend--his eyes half closed and his limbs hanging listlessly--I was roused by half a dozen of the sailors, who demanded admission into the cabin. They entered, and their leader addressed me. He told me that he and his companions had been chosen by the other sailors to come in deputation to me to make me a requisition which, in justice, I could not refuse. We were immured in ice and should probably never escape, but they feared that if, as was possible, the ice should dissipate and a free passage be opened, I should be rash enough to continue my voyage and lead them into fresh dangers, after they might happily have surmounted this. They insisted, therefore, that I should engage with a solemn promise that if the vessel should be freed I would instantly direct my course southwards. (24.33)

Walton’s crew wants to turn back to England without discovering anything. Although Walton is disappointed by such a prospect, he also starts to view the exploratory mindset in a more negative way due to his interaction with Victor.

The die is cast; I have consented to return if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed. It requires more philosophy than I possess to bear this injustice with patience. (24.37)

Walton realizes that he would rather have his life than new knowledge. He chooses safety over the dangers of exploration – unlike Victor.

I trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the idea of their effects. From my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition. (24.25)

You just know that Victor won first place at the state science fair. Ugh.

Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has traveled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is forever visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a perpetual splendour. (Letter 1.2)

Well, no, Walton: Margaret doesn't understand. Frankenstein is pretty clear that scientific exploration is a dude thing. Women get their immortality through babies—which is one reason it's so messed up that Frankenstein tries to create life.

I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to "the land of mist and snow," but I shall kill no albatross; therefore do not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the "Ancient Mariner." (Letter 2.4)

Uh-oh: bad omen. Things did not turn out well for the Ancient Mariner. Want to know more about that? Check out our discussion in "Setting."

Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth. (2.7)

Newton also said that he stood on the shoulders of giants, so… that's a difference. Victor spends most of his time talking about how awesome and smart he is, and not so much time thinking about science and discovery as a collaborative effort.

The astonishment which I had at first experienced on this discovery soon gave place to delight and rapture. After so much time spent in painful labour, to arrive at once at the summit of my desires was the most gratifying consummation of my toils. But this discovery was so great and overwhelming that all the steps by which I had been progressively led to it were obliterated, and I beheld only the result. What had been the study and desire of the wisest men since the creation of the world was now within my grasp. (4.5)

Notice how "all the steps by which [Victor] had been progressively led" to his creation are "obliterated"? This is the scientific equivalent of driving your car to the top of a mountain and then patting yourself on the back for admiring the view: you haven't earned it. Okay, the consequences are pretty low for hiking. But for scientific progress? According to Shelley, you have to pay the price.

We were immured in ice and should probably never escape, but they feared that if, as was possible, the ice should dissipate and a free passage be opened, I should be rash enough to continue my voyage and lead them into fresh dangers, after they might happily have surmounted this. They insisted, therefore, that I should engage with a solemn promise that if the vessel should be freed I would instantly direct my course southwards. (24.33)

It looks like Walton's sailors aren't as obsessed with winning glory as he is—they're much more interested in, you know, staying alive and returning to their families. Weaklings.

The die is cast; I have consented to return if we are not destroyed. Thus are my hopes blasted by cowardice and indecision; I come back ignorant and disappointed. It requires more philosophy than I possess to bear this injustice with patience. (24.37)

Walton comes back "ignorant" and "disappointed," but he comes back alive. We're cool with that. Is Shelley? Can we get a sense of how to read this scene—are we supposed to be disappointed with Walton, or do we all just feel a little relieved?