The Force of Knowledge can be Destructive

Essay by exaHigh School, 10th grade March 2008

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In Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, she portrays two characters that have the same characteristics and personalities. These two characters are Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton. Each of these characters has dreams of greatness and a plan to bring it about. Yet, the visions, thoughts, and actions of both men of both men followed similar patterns. Both Frankenstein and Walton undertake a journey to greatness, but at what cost? Sometimes the pursuit of knowledge requires a higher price than one can pay.

Robert Walton has this desire for knowledge and a thirst for the unknown. In Walton's letters he tells his sister that he hopes to help humanity and to be well known someday by finding a passage through the North Pole that would cut travel time considerably. He travels north through the thick ice to search for a passage across the North Pole. Victor Frankenstein shares this desire of knowledge as well.

He shows this through his diligent study at the University of Ingostadt.

Frankenstein also goes seeking his own way in the unknown by envisioning and creating a living creature. His hopes are very similar that of Walton. He also wants to help humanity and be well known by ending death through his work with the creature.

Both Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton experience bitter loneliness. Walton states in his letters that he is lonely and in need of a friend, which is due to the demands of his chosen path to fame. "To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate"(p.21). Frankenstein is lonely because the focus of his work, the creature, has directly or indirectly killed his family: ." misery had her dwelling in my heart, but I no longer talked on the same incoherent manner of my own crimes; sufficient for me was the consciousness"(p.173). Both men became so consumed by their goals that their lives have little room for anything or anyone else.

Unfortunately, both Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton fail in achieving their goals. Frankenstein cannot control his creature and comes to hate his creation. This obsessive hatred ultimately drives him to his. Walton is unable to find a passage to the North Pole Walton is forced to pull back from his mission, and give up on his dream. Frankenstein and Walton each begin with a noble goal to help mankind, yet neither man is able to bring his goal to fruition. Throughout their attempts, each man suffers the same sense of lost dreams. In the word of Victor Frankenstein, "Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries"(p.205).

Victor is doomed by a lack of humanness, whether as a result of his desire to attain the godlike power of creating new life or his avoidance of the public arenas in which science is usually conducted. He cuts himself off from the world and eventually commits himself entirely to an animalistic obsession with revenging himself upon the monster. Walton is an explorer, chasing after that “country of eternal light”—unpossessed knowledge. Victor’s influence on him is absurd: one moment he exhorts Walton’s almost rebellious men to stay on the path courageously, regardless of danger; the next, he serves as a hopeless example of the dangers of rash scientific ambition. In his ultimate decision to terminate his treacherous pursuit, Walton serves as a foil (someone whose traits or actions contrast with those of another character) to Victor, either not obsessive enough to risk almost-certain death or not courageous enough to allow his passion to drive him.

Victor attempts to surge beyond accepted human limits and access the secret of life. Likewise, Robert Walton attempts to surpass previous human explorations by endeavoring to reach the North Pole. This ruthless pursuit of knowledge, of the light proves dangerous, as Victor’s act of creation eventually results in the destruction of everyone dear to him, and Walton finds himself perilously trapped between sheets of ice. Whereas Victor’s obsessive hatred of the monster drives him to his death, Walton ultimately pulls back from his underhanded mission, having learned from Victor’s example. In real life we discover that the personal cost of the pursuit of knowledge is often too high a price to pay.