It is not the arrival that matters, but the journey.
The experience that is gained from journeys may come to change and mold characters, changing the decisions that may come in the future. Frankenstein has multiple events of travel and journeys that shape the main protagonist and several other characters, as well. In the novel, Shelley uses the physical journeys of Walton and Victor in order to highlight different ambitions, morality, and the overall warning of self destruction within the novel as a whole. The journey that Walton goes on is one of pure discovery, involving adventure. He seeks glory and recognition to make a change on exploration, geography, helping the influence of his country.
“I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited, and I may tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death” (Shelley, 15). This was a great deal to the world in the times in eighteenth century. Also, his ambition is not specifically selfish or for the sake of fame for himself. “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” (Shelley, 82). This letter further demonstrates Captain Walton’s ambition for seeking pure knowledge.
The character of Victor endeavors through his journey in order to find knowledge just as Walton, however his ambition is not as pure as Walton’s. “Wealth was an inferior object; but what glory would attend discovery, if I could banish disease from human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death” (Shelly, 42). The ambition that Victor holds dear is selfish, as seen by his sole purpose of hunting down the secret of life. Before Victor’s journey, he seems like a man who upholds his morals as he describes a child newly born as a great responsibility. “Their child, the innocent and helpless creature whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot in their hands to direct to happiness or misery they fulfilled their duties toward me.” (Shelley, 35). However as his journey progresses, Victor abandons not only his creation, but most importantly, his morality.
“I was dependent on none and related to none. The path of my departure was free, and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic” (Shelley, 208). With Victor disclaiming his creation, he loses his sense of morality by not being responsible for what he created. This irresponsibility affects him in the future, as it draws him nearer to his death. His journey to test nature and its boundaries throughout England and the North end in failure. This journey serves as an example of self destruction, as Victor’s lack of self control against his ambition lead to his demise.
Throughout the novel, Walton serves as a foil for Victor. Walton makes a choice that is significantly different to a choice made by Victor, that demonstrate two distinct paths. “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” (Shelley, 234). Walton is a character that adds meaning to the world in which the story is set. Unlike Victor, Captain Walton knows when to stop pushing his limits, which is why he discontinues his journey and saves his life. Walton realizes that he wants his life more than exploration.
Victor does not have the capability to stop himself from seeking power and knowledge within nature, which costs him his life in the end at the hands of his own creation. Captain Walton’s physical journey and Frankenstein’s intellectual quest are a warning in response to the scientific revolution during their time period and the idea of self destruction through the ambitions these two characters hold dear. The scientific revolution was a time period full of change and innovation, as well as uncontrollable determination. People such as Victor insist on their goals to the point of death, even if it means throwing morals out of the window.
With the novel in mind, the delusions of ambition the characters suffer from show the danger that it can be to the human mind. With the physical journeys of Walton and Victor in mind and the overall meaning of them in the work as a whole, Shelly conveys a message against journeys that are fueled by dangerous ambitions like those of Victor Frankenstein.