Ambition can lead one down many paths. These paths can make one great - or make one demented and radical. The praised 19th century author, Mary Shelley used ambition in her writing. Mary Shelley’s parents were the acclaimed writers William Godwin and Mary Wollenstonecraft. Unfortunately, her mother died giving birth to her, leaving her father alone to raise her and her sister. A few years after Wollenstonecraft’s death, Godwin remarried Jane Clairmont. Mary and Clairmont had many troubles, and that ultimately led to Mary’s estrangement from her father, whom she loved dearly. However, she did find a man whom she could love just as much. She fell in love with the acclaimed Poet, Percy Shelley. They eloped and went to Switzerland, where they stayed with Percy’s friend lord Byron. There, Byron challenged them to a ghost story competition. That ghost story competition lead to the beginning of her famed gothic romance novel Frankenstein. Frankenstein displays the many paths ambition creates. Thus, in Frankenstein, Shelley uses characterization, point of view, and allusion to depict how ambition can overcome rational thinking.
In Frankenstein, characterization is used to illustrate how ambition can conquer reason. Shelley’s main characters all have one thing in common: ambitious desire. Victor dreams of discovering the secret to life. Walton dreams of being the first man on the North Pole. The creation dreams of experiencing love and compassion from another being. Victor’s ambition is apparent from the beginning of the novel, as he goes to college and begins his natural philosophy class. Victor states, “From this day natural philosophy, and particularly chemistry, in the most comprehensive sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation” (Shelley 37). Victor’s obsession with discovering the secret of life begins to consume him. His ambition causes him to leave reality and ultimately makes him senseless to rationality. Victor’s character changes from a well thought of, rational man to a rash scientist. When he finishes his project and realizes that he has created a monster, he abandons his creation. The creation must learn to live life without a guide. The creation says, “I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects. This being you must create” (Shelley 133). The creation’s struggle with finding love and compassion is very apparent here as he begs Victor to make someone who will love him. The creation gives this assertion as more of an ultimatum then as a plea. He begins to lose reason and become a real monster, driven by the ambition to have love. Victor and his creation both experience a major change in character from an obsessive ambition, this adds to the emotional effect of the story in that the reader can relate to having a change in character from an aspiring desire.
Shelley uses point of view to depict how ambition can overpower rational thinking. Frankenstein employs first person point of view for each of the three main characters: Victor, Walton, and the creation. “Like Frankenstein, the best science fiction offers alternative viewpoints to the reader’s imagination and stresses consequences rather than techniques of science.” (Alkon) Each characters perspective of their situation elevates the reader to a more involved level, allowing the reader to see how each individual action from the other characters affects a certain character. Each character’s point of view in Frankenstein shows how one can forget reason due to ambitious desire. Walton says, “Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid” (Shelley 1). His dream of being the first man on the North Pole drives his ambition. He wants to discover the North Pole regardless of the fact that the circumstances are not at all optimal. He learns later through Victor that “the winds of promise” do not always promise success, but rather can promise downfall. “From my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition; but how am I sunk!” (Shelley 202). Victor realizes his ambitions made him blind to reason. When Victor relays this to Walton, he begins to see how dangerous his trip is for himself and his crew, and decides to go back home. Victor became conscious of his reckless ambition to late, but his perspective allowed Walton to realize how rash he was being due to his ambitious desire, and save Walton from the same ruined fate.
Ambition overriding reason is also illustrated through allusion in Frankenstein. Allusions have a major impact on the foundation of the creation. He states, “Fortunately the books were written in the language of which I had acquired at the cottage; they consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and Sorrows of Werter” (Shelley 116). He gains all his knowledge from a family of cottagers and the books they give to him. The creation relates to and learns from these particular books. He says, “But it was all a dream; no Eve soothed my sorrows nor shared my thoughts; I was alone. I remembered Adam’s supplication to his Creator. But where was mine? He had abandoned me, and in the bitterness of my heart I cursed him.” (Shelley 120) The creation sees a new vision of life with another like him, and uses biblical allusion to persuade Victor. His ambition to have an “Eve” makes him irrational. He becomes irrational enough to kill Victor’s wife, Elizabeth. Thereafter, he becomes irrational enough to literally make the rest of Victor’s life a living hell. The creation uses these book’s stories to fuel his wrathful ambitions.
Shelley’s novel as a whole depicts many aspects of the struggle of ambition and dreams. Characterization, point of view, and allusion aid Shelley in depicting ambition overcoming reason. Shelley’s use of characterization portrays the characters as blind to reason. Victor, Walton, and the creation are all ambitious in some way, and all of their ambitions lead to their downfall. Point of view is used to allow the reader the different angles of ambitious decline. Walton’s, Victor’s, and the creation’s stories all are different, yet resemble each other in that they all fail to succeed in the way that they had planned. From each point of view they realize that ambition leads to ruin. Allusions are also present to depict how ambition can overcome reason. The creation learns from and relates to the Bible to aid his ambition of having another to love him. Also, the books given to the creation make him go mad from the idea of having “Eve.” Shelley’s novel shows the reader the many paths of radical ambition, and keeps them entertained and grasping for more.