What catastrophe has occurred to set Victor Frankenstein on his tragic journey?

What terrible thing happened to set him on this journey

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Victor's departure from home is both a coming of age and a dark foreshadowing of things to come. There is nothing affirmative in his departure from home: it is immediately preceded by his mother's death, the journey itself is "long and fatiguing," and he knows no one at all at Ingolstadt. At university, the obsessive pursuit of knowledge will come to take the place of Victor's friends and family; it will both substitute for human connection and make any such connection impossible.

The epic rhetoric of Waldman's lecture is quite striking, in that he makes the scientist out to be a god:

"...[They] have performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens...They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows."

That this rhetoric inflames Victor is telling: what seduces him back to the world of natural philosophy is the hope of becoming a god, free of earthly law and limitations. He has become mad with the desire for not only discovery, but also for omnipotence (the state of being all-powerful) and omniscience (the state of being all-knowing). Victor tells us that Waldman's words were the "words of fate"; it was at this moment that his destiny was decided.