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Frankenstein | Study Guide

Mary Shelley

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Frankenstein | Walton, in Continuation | Summary

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Summary

The novel closes as it began, with letters Walton writes to his sister. In the first of these final letters, dated August 26, Walton tells his sister that he believes Victor's story because he and the crew saw the Monster before rescuing Victor and because Victor has shown Walton the letters that Felix and Safie sent each other. Walton asked Victor to explain how he made the Monster, but Victor refused to tell him: "Are you mad, my friend? ... whither does your senseless curiosity lead you?" In addition, Victor edited and corrected Walton's notes of his story. During the week that Victor told his story, he and Walton discussed various subjects, and Victor tried to teach Walton the lessons he has learned as a result of his overwhelming ambition. Walton repeats to his sister his own longing for a friend.

In the letter of September 2, Walton explains that the ship is trapped in ice, and he fears the sailors will mutiny. On September 5, Walton writes that the crew insisted on turning back before the ice crushes the ship and expresses his concern that he may not be able to turn them down. Victor succeeded in quelling the mutiny, urging the men to "return as heroes." Walton relates that he told the men that he would not lead them farther north if they really didn't want to go, but he hopes that their courage will return. On September 7, Walton briefly relates to his sister his agreement to turn the ship around if it is not crushed by the ice.

In his final letter, dated September 12, Walton says they started sailing south the previous day and tells of Victor's end. Prior to dying, Victor said that he believes himself "justified in desiring the death" of the Monster and "refusing, to create a companion." He acknowledged that in making the Monster he became responsible to it but believes now that should have recognized his "paramount" duty to his fellow humans. He changed his instructions to Walton, telling the other he need not pursue the Monster to kill him but asking Walton to execute that deed if he should encounter the Monster by chance. Then he died.

After describing his grief, Walton writes, "I am interrupted," and then finishes the letter, explaining what follows. The Monster burst into Victor's room to mourn the loss of his creator and to beg his forgiveness. The Monster told Walton the rest of his story, describing how he killed Henry and Elizabeth and chased Victor across the world. After explaining how he "still desired love and fellowship," only to meet the "injustice" of constant rejection, the Monster said he will leave the ship, travel to the most northern part of the world, and kill himself. The Monster then jumped overboard and vanished into the "darkness and distance," ending the novel.

Analysis

To complete the story frame, Walton concludes the novel. The story of his expedition contrasts with Victor's catastrophic pursuit of knowledge. Walton agrees to turn the ship around to avoid it being crushed by ice. He chooses prudence rather than the destructive path of insatiable curiosity.

Victor endorses this approach in the narrative of the final chapter in his warning not to pursue knowledge too far. While he contradicts this position in the speech Walton recounts in the September 2 letter, when Victor urges the crew to persevere, this change might be seen more as reflecting Victor's agitated state of mind. His last words to Walton include this warning: "Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries." This recalls the novel's themes of scientific idealism and curiosity: how using scientific learning for evil purposes leads to catastrophe.

Sharing with Walton the lessons he has learned about excessive ambition, Victor makes an allusion to Paradise Lost and the Bible, saying, "Like the archangel who aspired to omnipotence, I am chained in an eternal hell." Like the Monster, Victor has become Satan, cast out of heaven, doomed to everlasting torture. Of course, the image of Victor chained also brings to mind the Prometheus myth, reminding readers of the book's subtitle.

With Victor's death, Walton has lost his friend, the friend he so greatly desired. The bond the two men form during the course of Victor's relation reinforces the theme of human companionship through the importance of friendship. Victor's death reinforces the theme of loss and the sorrow that results.

While Victor has become the Monster, the Monster becomes Victor—the compassionate human—when he begs for Victor's forgiveness. He also becomes ennobled when he tells Walton of his resolve to kill himself and end the terrible cycle of violence.

Throughout his long final speech, the Monster shows his eloquence again and again. He does so in confessing his guilt: "Your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself." He also does so in speaking of his early awakening to consciousness of the world, saying he saw life as precious when he first "felt the cheering warmth of summer, and heard the rustle of leaves."

The symbol of light and darkness makes its final appearance at the novel's close. In the opening letters, Walton expressed excitement at the prospect of exploring in the Arctic, where the sun shines around the clock for part of the year. At the book's close, the Monster drifts away on a chunk of ice into darkness.

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