Frankenstein

by: Mary Shelley

Preface and Letters 1–4

Summary Preface and Letters 1–4

Another theme that Walton’s letters introduce is the danger of knowledge. The stranger tells Walton, “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been.” The theme of destructive knowledge is developed throughout the novel as the tragic consequences of the stranger’s obsessive search for understanding are revealed. Walton, like the stranger, is entranced by the opportunity to know what no one else knows, to delve into nature’s secrets: “What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?” he asks.

Walton’s is only the first of many voices in Frankenstein. His letters set up a frame narrative that encloses the main narrative—the stranger’s—and provides the context in which it is told. Nested within the stranger’s narrative are even more voices. The use of multiple frame narratives calls attention to the telling of the story, adding new layers of complexity to the already intricate relationship between author and reader: as the reader listens to Victor’s story, so does Walton; as Walton listens, so does his sister. By focusing the reader’s attention on narration, on the importance of the storyteller and his or her audience, Shelley may have been trying to link her novel to the oral tradition to which the ghost stories that inspired her tale belong. Within each framed narrative, the reader receives constant reminders of the presence of other authors and audiences, and of perspective shifts, as Victor breaks out of his narrative to address Walton directly and as Walton signs off each of his letters to his sister.