Ambition in Frankenstein
With ambition follows responsibility and the necessity of harnessing it so that the consequences don’t backfire on the individual or those around them. In the novel Frankenstein, the renowned author Mary Shelley explores the aftermaths of chasing ambition in the absence of deliberation. Blinded by their dreams of transforming society and bringing glory upon themselves, both Victor and Walton set out to accomplish their own scientific successes. Consumed by longing for glory and dignity, they fail to consider the consequences of their actions, and despite their aspirations, their ambition paves way for fallibility.
Victor’s action of creating and bringing a monster of his own to life, making himself a god, only highlights his frailty when he is completely incapable of fulfilling the responsibilities that are expected of him. Created as a hideous outcast against his will and constantly rebuked by others, the monster forms his ambition of avenging his creator for bringing such a ruthless fate upon him. The fact that Victor and Walton never end up escaping from their blinding ambitions, suggests that those who pursue the action of exalting themselves in glory above the rest of society, are in fact impetuous and “unfashioned creatures” with “weak and faulty natures” (Shelley 27). Driven by the same blind ambition, Victor, Walton, and the monster serve as a warning of what repercussions may follow with reckless decisions that are not met with reasonable accountability.
Upon discovering the source of human life, Frankenstein becomes completely absorbed in his mechanism of creating a human being out of different portions and pieces from various unknown sources. Victor’s boundless desire to create life and to fulfill his greatest ambition, leads to his most prominent source of devastation and misery. Despite his initial anticipation, after finishing his masterpiece, “…the beauty of the dream [vanishes], and breathless horror and disgust [fills his] heart” (Shelley 56). Victor’s overwhelmingly strong desire for success had inhibited him from considering the immense weight and the possible grave dangers of his project. People are often blinded by ambition, like a madness, from seeing the dangers of his/her actions.
During his first experiment, …a kind of enthusiastic frenzy had blinded [him] to the horror of [his] employment (Shelley 157). He was oblivious and chose not to acknowledge the prospects in danger. After realizing his wretched appearance and what a horror he is, the abandoned monster demands that Victor create him a rightful partner to spend his lonely life with. Even just the preparation and collection of the materials necessary for his new creation feels like torture to him. Victor’s raw ambition, his search for glory, has diminished. As he proceeds, …it [becomes] every day more horrible and irksome to [him] (Shelley 156) and Victor finally begins to comprehend and grasp the magnitude of his experiments. Occupied with his eagerness to become glorified, he had never considered the unbearable outcomes of his actions, therefore was unprepared and unwilling to handle the liabilities.
His eyes have been opened to see his horrible doings, and what have and could become of his creations to both himself and those around him. As a result of his foolishness, Victor suffers agony and guilt as he experiences loss from the death of his loved ones caused by the product of his own scientific achievement. Subsequently, Victor realizes that his decisions could possibly serve as a threat to others and regrets doing what he now knows he can never turn back.
Never once accepted nor understood by people, the monster was driven to isolation after numerous encounters with judgemental and unjust humans. Despite being wounded from the disgusted reactions, the monster still envies these people most; the perfect beings, without his horrible defects, he desperately dreams he could be. Inflamed by pain of knowing that he could never interact with such humans, “…he [vows] eternal hatred and vengeance to all mankind (Shelley 135), and more than all, against Frankenstein who formed him and sent him forth to this insupportable misery. Overcome by the agony of his wound, the monster seeks a deep and deadly revenge to …compensate for the outrages and anguish [he] had endured (Shelley 135).
The monster turns to cruelty as his last option and kills Victor’s brother, William, as an expression of his loneliness and grief. He makes his mind to rob Victor of all happiness by making all those of his enemy …towards whom [he has] sworn eternal revenge” (Shelley 136) his victims. The monster not only wishes to kill Victor for creating and abandoning him, but to end the life of everyone associated with his eternal enemy. The monster has been pushed to an extent that he chooses not to give any humans a chance, the same chance he once desperately wanted but never received. The monster diverts his growing loneliness into cruelty and ultimately chooses to express his pain and anger by returning the treatment he received to William, with no remorse. Driven by anger and pain, the monster and his ambition of reciprocating the injustice he received from his creator and those around him, leads to destruction and brings no satisfaction.
Walton is motivated by the desire for recognition and accomplishment, and would rather die glorious than return home alive. His ambition to receive honor and prestige is magnified by his belief that “one man’s life or death [are] but a small price to pay for the acquirement of knowledge” (Shelley 26). Walton’s wish to peruse glory at any cost is evident and this prominent need for recognition and glory leaves no room for rational thought of what is possible or impossible. Walton is a foil for Victor, both seeking greatness and imagining the impossible. In the process of endeavouring to be remembered for something no human has ever done before, Walton’s own dreams imperil his fellow crew members, endangering the lives of those relying on him. Without fully processing the weight of his decision and the effects it could have on the people surrounding him, Walton tells his sister of his ardent curiosity and …the inestimable benefit which [he] shall confer on all mankind (16). Walton’s ambition for glory entices him to make a decision to sail to the North Pole, an extreme dedication with many possible consequences and dangers.
Blind ambition and the inability to take responsibility eventually leads to the downfall of Frankenstein and the monster. Although Frankenstein discovers the secret to life, his application of knowledge and ambition to his own selfish goals winds up destroying him and all those closest to him. Walton, sharing many similar traits with Victor, is different in the way that he eventually decides to turn back before further harm is inflicted, though he does so with the angry conclusion that he has been robbed of glory. Ultimately, lying on his deathbed, even Frankenstein realizes the harsh reality and consequences of his actions.
He learns the importance to “seek happiness in tranquility, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries” (Shelley 206). Ambition is not without merit but Shelley connects ambition with responsibility, posing such a question of what the creator bears to the created. Often ambition consumes and morphs into obsession if one cannot be satisfied at a certain point, and blindly pursues for more. Willing to take responsibility for their actions, one must carefully consider each decision and have ambition act as a catalyst for growth, instead of a pathway to destruction.
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