In a psychoanalytic view of Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, Robert Walton develops, during a dreadfully severe trip through the Arctic, a type of schizophrenia; this mental condition enables him to create a seemingly physical being representing each his superego and his id (9). In his mind, Walton creates Victor as his very own superego and the monster as his id. The superego and the id battle throughout the story to produce the final result: Walton, the ego.
Many of the qualities Walton develops during his trip are symptoms of schizophrenia. His letters exude an aura of depression, loneliness, In his second letter, Walton emphasizes an obsession with his aspiration to lose his loneliness. He desires the company of a man who could sympathize with him (Shelley 7). According to Merrell Dow,
Preoccupationsare fixed ideas, not necessarily false (like delusions) but overvalued. They take on extraordinary importance and take up an ordinate amount of thought time. One idea often returns and returnsCharacteristically, the worry grows and becomes unrealistic (par 16).
Walton reiterates his loneliness; even though he is surrounded by people on his ship, he has no friend (Shelley 7-8). Contributing to this feeling of isolation, Walton uses a tone of depression in his letters, a recurring feeling he experiences. He hints in nearly every letter clues indicating his fear of death. He wants his sister to remember him with affection; should she never hear from him again (Shelley 10). By constantly mentioning the possibility of his own death in his letters, Shelley stresses Waltons overvalued worry of dying. Walton longs to see his sister; his mental condition leads him to even consider himself abandoned. Walton admits that success during this mission will lead to many, many months, perhaps years before they would meet again; however, failure results in either quick departure for home, or death (Shelley 6). Whether he succeeds or fails, he will have negative results. These constant recurrences emphasize the validity of his mental illness. As he develops the mental disease, Walton creates a world that makes sense in his mind, and his mind alone; he lives in a Paradise of his own creation with characters whom spawn from his own psyche (Shelley 5).
Once schizophrenia becomes severe, Walton develops two seemingly real characters in his imagination. Waltons mental condition and obsessive longing for someone to connect with leads him to separate himself mentally from his superego and id. In Waltons mind, Shelley introduces the monster, Waltons id, as his first mental creation; when something is first born, its natural inclinations coincide with the primitive and self-concerning, yet natural, inclinations exhibited by an id. For this reason, Shelley introduces the monster as the first character of Waltons mental creation. Walton only sees this id from far away at first, and in his mind, this structure has yet to solidify enough to be active and influential in his life. The monster becomes more active as Waltons condition enhances into a state of complete separation between his id and superego and development of the monster and Victor.
His second mental creation, superego Victor, holds the qualities that Walton feels that he should possess himself. Victor holds morality very vital during his contact with Walton; he refuses to board the ship when found, even in his state of near death, until he knows the ship has good intentions on its mission. A pure superego could never expose itself to any being with a wicked purpose. Walton personally takes care of Victor; in reality, he must care for him because he does not really exist physically to the other shipmates. Walton claims that Victor intrigues the other shipmates, but actually, the sides of himself that Walton express due to his disorder intrigue the men. He believes the men aboard the ship adore Victor in the same respect as he adores Victor; of course, he would believe this–no one could dislike such a noble heart. Walton loves Victor; he fills the void that Walton longs to have filled. This superego side of his own persona, Walton believes of Victor, is so cultivated (Shelley 16). Victors constant and deep grief fills Walton with sympathy and compassion, and Walton finally feels as if he belongs to a true friendship (Shelley 16). In all actuality, this seems very upsetting because the only person he can find to relate to and befriend resides within the boundaries of his own imagination.
The superego and the id must constantly battle in order to keep Walton alive on this voyage. Walton may not return to sanity until the superego and id leave as for Waltons beliefs the monster and Victor, without either overpowering the other. If one were to overpower the other, Walton would change forever into the direction of the victor, if he would survive. While residing on the ship, Victor refers to the monster as the dmon, a quite appropriate term for an archenemy (Shelley 15). When asked to make the monster a female counterpart, Victor refuses. If Victor did make a mate for him, the superego would be succumbing to the id, and Walton would change from ego to pure id, because the superego did not balance everything. The monster destroys Frankensteins entire family. Family and society forces the ideals for Victors life upon him. The family represents forced, yet unwanted, things in Waltons life. In the story, Victors mother raises him to marry Elizabeth. His mothers dying wish clamps Victor into having no choice as to whom he may marry. Victor, who represents Walton before the birth of the monster, is a victim of society. As a child, Victor has a violent temper and vehement passions, but society forces him to control his emotions (Shelley 28). Society also drives Victor to change his dreams; his professors discourage his interest in alchemy and other mystical sciences. The birth of the monster parallels the development of Waltons schizophrenia, and the division between evil and good. Victors monster destroyed things forced onto him, such as the marriage of his sister. As a balanced ego, Walton cannot rid himself of these things; his separated id only possessed the immorality to proceed. The monster never kills Victor as a superego–he merely tortures him. If the monster had successfully killed Victor, Walton would have become pure id, if his mortal body could withstand the change. Because Victor does not die at the hands of the monster, Walton does not run the risk of permanent damage at the hands of his own id.
With approximately one percent of the human race affected by this disease, one can see how the pressures of Waltons situation drove his mental state to a point of schizophrenia. Waltons mental battle between good and evil leads the reader to a better understanding of the dangers of intellectual solitude. Shelley warns us throughout this novel not to let the worst of things get the best of us.
Bettelheim, Bruno. Freud & Mans Soul. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1982.
Dow, Merrell. Understanding and Responding to Symptoms of Schizophrenia. http://salmon.psy.plym.ac.uk/year2/schizophrenia/symptoms.htm
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1993.
Weiss, Joseph. How Psychotherapy Works. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993.