Une saison blanche et sèche

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André Brink

Letter One

The first letter after the preface is one that Robert Walton is writing to his sister in England, Margaret Saville. Walton is well-off and passionate about seafaring, so he agrees to captain a ship headed to the North Pole. He is telling his sister about the preparations he made for his departure and how he desires to do something great with his life. Among his desires are to locate the source of the magnetism of the Earth, discover a different passage to the Pacific Ocean, or just find completely undiscovered territory on which he can be the first person to set foot. By using the letters, the narrative is better able to stay grounded in reality. It is easy to see how passionate Walton is for the life of a seafarer and how much his job means to him. Also easily seen in the letter is the love that Walton has for his sister back in England. He fears he may not see her again because the life of a sailor can be very uncertain, but yet he is so passionate about his job that he feels he must undertake the voyage even if it means he will never come home to England. He speculates on what he might find at the North Pole, and whether it will be anything like the vision he sees in his mind.

Letter Two

Letter two has Walton writing about how he does not have any friends. He finds himself isolated by the job he has, and he is getting increasingly lonely. He does have a crew onboard the ship he captains but he does not get along with them. He is a dreamer and a very sensitive person. His crew members are not. He is a romantic at heart and he loves and believes in the marvelous beauty of nature and exploration. That belief is what sends him down the path toward loneliness and solitude. It also leads him to keep exploring the world because he wants to discover all that it holds. The second letter is written four months after the first one, while Walton is busy getting together a crew for his expedition. He has not been able to find a friend to share in his desires for exploration, and this frustrates him. However, he is making progress on hiring a crew. Walton appears to be almost depressed, and the contrast between his desire for a friend in this letter and the monster's desire for a friend in later chapters of the work is quite notable. This helps to tie the story together as it unfolds.

Letter Three

The third letter is extremely brief. It is only focused on telling his sister that the ship is sailing and that he is confident he will meet his goal. Still, this letter shows that Walton sends letters to his sister frequently. This one comes four months after the last one. He is very sad at the beginning of the letter because he is not able to see and enjoy his native land anymore. However, he is very proud of his crew. They are pressing on with the planned voyage and they mostly shrug off the dangers they are facing on a daily basis. He does not write about his insecurities regarding the journey, but only how warm it is where they are. Even though he constantly reassures his sister about being rational and composed it appears more as though he is working to reassure himself that he is trying to stay focused and calm. The closer they get to their destination the more Walton feels the burden of increasing responsibility for himself and his crew. He appears more optimistic, but it is difficult to tell if he is consoling himself or is genuinely feeling better.

Letter Four

The fourth letter is written as the ship gets stuck between two enormous ice sheets. Walton and his crew see a sled being guided by a huge creature, but it appears to be nearly one-half mile from them. The next day they find another sled stuck on a flow of ice. Most of the sled dogs have died and the man – who is different than the man or creature they saw the previous day – is nearly dead, himself. Weak and starving, it is clear that he needs help. They want to help him but he will not get on the ship. When Walton says that they are heading north the man changes his mind and decides to get on the ship after all.

He is not even able to speak for the first two days, but he slowly starts to recover as he is nursed back to health by Walton's crew members. The crew really wants to start asking the man questions and finding out his story but Walton sees how fragile the man is. He insists that his men do not start bothering the man with questions until he has improved. Walton and the man become friends, and eventually the man decides to tell his story to Walton. By the end of the fourth letter to his sister, Walton is stating that the stranger will start telling his tale on the following day. Walton’s part in the narrative ends at that point (at least until the end of the novel) and the stranger takes up the tale from the beginning. This letter is by far the most significant in the group. The entire tone of it is different from the first three and it is clear that Walton is very excited about finding the stranger and getting to hear the man's tale of all that he has been through.

There is a very strong similarity between who the stranger used to be and who Walton currently is. They have a kinship with one another because of that, and Walton conveys that information in the letter he writes to his sister. The stranger finds out about Walton's plans and attempts to talk him out of them. It appears as though the stranger knows something about the kind of path Walton is taking and the kinds of sacrifices that he may make for that life. While this is fascinating to Walton, there is clearly an element of danger and concern provided by the stranger. He is uncertain why Walton would want to give up so much to achieve his goals because he knows the price that a person can pay for those kinds of desires. He has paid it himself, and decides that the best way to convey that information to Walton is to tell him the tale of the monster he created.

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