Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein, as told by Victor Frankenstein is a tale of morality used to caution Robert Walton and the reader against man’s capacity for evil. Frankenstein’s monster is a personification of the natural disposition of man, as opposed to a true sentient being, and is a tool used alongside the modes of persuasion to convey Victor Frankenstein’s message. Victor Frankenstein, seeing himself in Walton, uses Ethos, Pathos, and Logos to impart the wisdom he has amassed in his lifetime to warn Walton about his isolationist tendencies and hubristic attitudes towards scientific advancement.
Frankenstein uses the mode of persuasion, Ethos, to establish to Walton that man cannot conquer nature. Both men are enchanted by the sublimity of nature, resulting in Walton embarking on a treacherous expedition and Frankenstein reanimating the dead, respectively. Walton’s fixation on the sublime is expressed in a letter to his sister Margaret, “There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. I am practically industrious- painstaking, a workman to execute with perseverance and labor- but besides this there is a love for the marvelous, a belief in the marvelous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wold sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore” (8) This headstrong attitude and determination to pursue his ambition is the direct reason he is gambling his life on a high risk expedition. Frankenstein takes note of this attitude and interweaves this particular characteristic in his tale, recounting how his fixation on nature had led him to creating a monstrosity. He recounts, “A flash of lightning illuminated the object, and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon, to whom I had given life.” (69) Frankenstein particularly emphasizes the negative repercussions of the dangers of an overly ambitious pursuit of scientific advancement by establishing his authority based on his experiences. Frankenstein utilizes Pathos and insinuates that Walton will experience the same misfortune if he does not heed Frankenstein’s advice.
Pathos is used to warn Walton of the dangers of Isolation due to unhealthy pursuit of ambition. In Frankenstein’s retelling of the story, he describes to Walton the genesis of his fervent scientific pursuits. “I threw myself into the chaise that was to convey me away and indulged in the most melancholy reflections. I, who had ever been surrounded by amiable companions, continually engaged in endeavoring to bestow mutual pleasure-I was now alone. In the university whither I was going I must form my own friends and be my own protector.” (34) Frankenstein alludes to the need to distract himself from melancholy while due to his solitude whilst pursuing his education and accredits this as the reason why he has taken up a passion for intellectual study. Walton has expressed his need for companionship in a letter to his sister, Margaret. “But I have one want which I have never yet been able to satisfy, and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate in my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavor to sustain me in dejection.” (5) In drawing a similarity between the two, Frankenstein elicits an emotional, sympathetic response, in hopes to deter Walton from continuing with his expedition.
Logos is utilized as Frankenstein implores the consideration of ethical responsibility in the face of scientific ambition and advancement. However, Frankenstein simply suggests a logical response, as opposed to telling Walton a story in which he is to be persuaded by emotion or authority. In a letter to his sister, Margaret, Walton describes the risk of peril that he is encountering during his expedition. Frankenstein further emphasizes the dangers of the high seas, as recounted by Walton, “He reminds me how often the same accidents have happened to other navigators who have attempted this sea” (222) Walton begins to be persuaded into retreating southward and abandoning his pursuits due to the logical conclusion that it is too dangerous to continue. This thinking is continued in another letter addressed to Margaret. Walton describes, “The cold is excessive, and many of my unfortunate comrades have already found a grave amidst this scene of desolation. Frankenstein has daily declined in health.” (223) Frankenstein and Walton’s men punctuates this thinking in his decline in health, eliciting the logical response that they must return from their voyage promptly.
Victor Frankenstein chooses to relay this message to Robert Walton at the end of his life because he finds his characteristics, his strengths and his weaknesses reflected in Walton’s personality and wants to prevent Walton from making the same mistakes that he has made. Walton’s headstrong attitude and boundless scientific ambition was reminiscent of his own before he has made the choices that brought madness upon himself and wishes to prevent others from doing the same. Through the various modes of persuasion in his cautionary tale, Frankenstein succeeds in his pursuit to convince Walton to terminate his travels, and imparts the wisdom of the importance of ethical responsibility despite great ambition.