Ambition can be interpreted in many different shapes and forms and is spread from person to person since they were young, inflicted by literature for thousands of years. Whether its a dream to achieve a goal or an emotion to break through, ambition is everywhere. Take for example these four texts; the novel ‘The Art of Being Normal’ written by Lisa Williamson, the film ‘Gattaca’ directed by Andrew Niccol, the Shakespearean play ‘Macbeth’ and the poem ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley. These texts are linked by their drive of ambition, although their stories are different, all are connected by the way they provoke the reader/audience to think about whether the characters ambition is good or bad.
One aspect of ambition is the need for happiness presented by Lisa Williamson in her novel, The Art of Being Normal. This idea of ambition is represented by the closeted transgender teen David Piper and the decisions he makes leading up to his coming out at the end of the novel. Williamson promotes the idea that your ambition can drive you to do things that you previously thought weren’t possible. In Davids case, his ambition to be accepted by his peers and family eventually drove him to tell his family who accepted him for who he was without a doubt “before we say anything more, we want you to know one important thing. And that’s that your mum and I love you very much.” – Davids father. David Piper’s ambition to be happy as himself and his urge to present himself as a girl is similar to that of Gattacas Vincent Freeman. Vincent is defined by his differences growing up and his only wish is to show others that he can do what they say is impossible because he is still human like them too. David Piper is the same in the idea that he wants to show others that even though he is different from his peers he is still human and is no worse nor better than anyone else. “tonight I can’t help but feel like no matter how hard it gets, everything might just be ok in the end.” – David Piper
The film Gattaca directed by Andrew Niccol conveys a similar aspect of ambition. Vincent Freeman lives in a world where children are born through genetic selection and if you were conceived out of love you were considered ‘invalid’ and in danger of severe health risks. Vincent grew up with a genetic heart defect and was disadvantaged and discriminated on by ‘valids’ and even by his own father and younger brother Anton. Since childhood Vincent was deemed ambitious but useless, he dreamed of traveling into space but was told countless times to give up and that he would never achieve his dream. “Vincent, the only way you’ll ever see the inside of a spaceship is if you’re cleaning it” – Vincent’s father. Vincents drive and ambition came from being told that he would not be able to achieve his dream because he’s different and not perfect in society’s eyes, “There’s no gene for fate” – Vincent. This causes him to feel the same need for success as David Piper in the previous text The Art of Being Normal. Although, the main difference between the two characters is that Vincent intends on achieving his dream to prove a point to society and because he really just wants to go to space. While David’s ambition was to break out of his comfort zone and become the person he had only dreamed of becoming. Throughout his life, Vincent kept his morals intact and did not stray from his main objective. During this process, he never planned to harm others for his own benefit and although he does break the law, his ambition to the audience pursuing as good rather than bad.
The Shakespearean play Macbeth plays with the idea that if you forget your morals and let your ambition run free, it can lead to a dangerous and dark path of death and destruction. Represented by main character Macbeth, the ambition conjured inside his tainted mind caused Macbeth to stumble and stray from his beliefs. He became corrupt with greed and discovered an unnatural thirst for power that caused him to eventually lose everything, including his own life and gain nothing in return. In Act 1 of the play, Macbeth meets the witches that trick Macbeth into giving in to his perfidious ambition to become King of Scotland. “Shalt be king hereafter” – The Witches. Macbeth decides to seal his fate and fulfill the apparent prophecy spoken by the witches by murdering his friend/cousin with his wife Lady Macbeth. Macbeth begins the play as a loyal friend and is a trustworthy and respectful man, but his greed and excitement gave way to his unhealthy addiction to power, which allowed his cruel and corrupt ambition to wipe away his morals and overcome him. “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other.” – Macbeth. Macbeth says that he has no ‘spur’ only ambition that drives him to follow through on his murderous intentions. In Act 3 of the play, Macbeth says “I am in blood, stepp’d in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er”. Macbeth is saying that he has waded out so far in unholy ambitious waters/deeds that if he were to not continue and to try and return back to everyday life it would be more troublesome than continuing. Macbeth is similar to Gattaca because both characters strive for success. The difference between Macbeth and Vincent Freeman is that Vincent didn’t intend on hurting others for his own personal gain. While Macbeth purposely murdered others to climb his way to the top before he had realized what he had done. Shakespeare used Macbeth and his choices to show the audience that if you sacrifice your morals for personal gain and allow your ambition to drown out your beliefs and take control of your mind, it will significantly affect you and lead you down a path often darker than the one you began on.
The poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley also conveys similar aspects of the dangers of ambition as Macbeth does. Ozymandias is about how destructive the power of pursuing your ambition while blinded by selfish greed can be to a person. Although, Percy Bysshe Shelley also includes the hidden message that often things that you believe are powerful and great are deceiving you and are not as important or powerful than you thought. This idea is represented by a stone statue of Ozymandias that a “traveler from an antique land” describes as broken and abandoned in a desert. The statue says “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings! Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” Ozymandias believes he is the “King of Kings!”, the most powerful and important person, he told even the mightiest of people to gaze upon his work and despair. Ozymandias bases his opinion off of his great statue that stands above the others that he believes are lesser than him. However, his apparent great and powerful statue is seen as broken masses of stone that stands alone in an abandoned desert surrounded by nothing but itself. “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.” Percy Bysshe Shelley included many different themes and ideas in Ozymandias. Including the danger of greed and exaggerated importance. Like Macbeth, Ozymandias is obsessed with his power and in the end, both characters unhealthy greed for importance leaves them unhappy. Their success was achieved by their immoral ambitions and in the end, was meaningless.
After analyzing these four texts we understand the complexity of the word ambition. Each text conveys a different idea and understandings of the word that allows the audience to process whether or not the characters intentions are good or bad. David Piper’s ambition was to be happy as his true self and to stop hiding from his peers and family, and in the end, he did exactly that and was much more positive. Vincent Freeman’s ambition was to achieve his dream and prove to others that even though he is different he is still human and by the end of the film although he had broken the law he had stayed true to his morals. Macbeth’s ambition to be king drove him mad with paranoia and by the end of the play, he lost everything including his own life. Ozymandias’ drove him to be selfish, greedy but in the end, his only achievement was a broken statue in a deserted wasteland. These four texts show that ambition is best used when you respect and remember your morals. Ambition can be dangerous if pursued with greed and power-hungry intentions. These texts present warnings to their readers and audiences, ambition is a complex word and controls more than we often think so feel free to follow your ambition to your heart’s content but remember your morals and beliefs and be wary of the dangers that lie ahead.