Study Guide

Robert Walton in Frankenstein | Shmoop

By Mary Shelley

Robert Walton

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When we first meet Robert Walton, he's writing to his sister about his "ardent curiosity" and his desire to confer "inestimable benefit … on all mankind" (Letter 1.2) and his "resolved will" to "trac[e] a secure way over the pathless seas" (Letter 3.5).

Did anyone else get a really bad feeling about this guy?

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When the story opens, Walton is like Victor Lite. Instead of wanting to penetrate the secrets of nature, he wants to reach the North Pole—but in every other way, these guys have a lot in common. Like Victor's, Walton's education was "neglected" (Letter 2.2); like Victor, he's really attached to his sister (although in this case, he's not supposed to marry his sister, so we guess that's an improvement).

At the same, Walton is also kind of like the monster. He's lonely: "I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine … I have no one near me, gentle yet courageous, possessed of a cultivated as well as of a capacious mind, whose tastes are like my own, to approve or amend my plans" (Letter 2.2). (He's also kind of a snob, if you ask us.) And, like the monster, he's self-educated: "Now I am twenty-eight and am in reality more illiterate than many schoolboys of fifteen" (Letter 2.2).

Both of these qualities—being lonely and being self-educated—are dangerous, and Walton helps us understand why. Unlike the monster and Victor, who never bother to check with a friend to see if they sound totally crazy, Walton knows that he needs to run his ideas by someone else.

And so Walton survives the novel. Seriously. Even though we're really worried about him at the beginning—taking a bunch of Russian sailors off on a suicide mission to the North Pole—he ends up turning around and heading home, even though he comes back "ignorant and disappointed" (24.41).

But see, that's where he's wrong. He may not have reached the North Pole, but he's learned something better: He's learned his limits. And notice that he's also the only one who ends up having an extended conversation with the monster? We could all learn something from Walton.