Ambition is usually seen as the primary tool to promote achievement. In the novel Frankenstein, there are three outstanding examples of people with ambitions, and each person achieves their goal in a different way. Mary Shelley uses the journeys of Robert Walton, Frankenstein, and the creature to warn against ambition for the purposes of self-gratification, as they ultimately lead to the detriment of the lives of others. In his letters to his sister, Walton is clearly aware that his ambition travel to the North Pole is mostly for his own personal fulfillment.
He writes, “And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some purpose? My life might have been passed in ease and luxury, but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path” (12). When he and his crew encounter danger, Walton hesitantly decides to abandon his mission, and he and his crew are able to safely return home, unlike Frankenstein who dies before he is able to see his creature again and exact his revenge. Although Walton never realizes his ambition, he is able to learn from the story Frankenstein and his creature about what is truly important in life.
He understands that his achievements are meaningless if they come at the cost of the lives of himself, his family, and his friends. Walton’s decision to abandon his goal to reach the North Pole ultimately results in the preservation of his own life, as well as the lives of his crew members. Walton’s ambition begins as a selfish aim to establish himself in the scientific community, but his ability to sacrifice his desire in order to protect his crew demonstrates his thoughtfulness. Walton’s passionate determination to journey to the North Pole alarms Frankenstein.
He is reminded of his own greatest ambition which caused him to create the creature and indirectly cause the deaths of William, Clerval, Justine, and Elizabeth. After realizing the parallels between Walton’s ambitions and his own, Frankenstein warns Walton, saying, “You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been” (26). When Frankenstein succeeds in creating the creature, his overwhelming shock and terror causes him to become depressed.
He becomes uninterested in every subject he had once been passionate about, and his physical health dramatically declines. Because of his experience, Frankenstein acts as a father figure to Walton, wanting to protect Walton from repeating his past mistakes. However, unlike a typical father figure who encourages his child in their endeavors, Frankenstein cautions Walton against becoming too passionate, warning, “Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be the only apparent innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this?
I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed” (236). Frankenstein does not completely discourage Walton from continuing his journey because he still hopes that Walton will have more success than he did. Although Walton does not succeed in his ultimate ambition, his failure saves the lives of his crew members, while Frankenstein’s success in creating the creature resulted in many deaths. Frankenstein ultimately achieves his ambition of creating life with science, but his self-serving ambition to become a prominent figure in science causes hardships for his creation.
Frankenstein acknowledges the creature merely as a contribution to science, not as a living being with human qualities. Because of Frankenstein’s failure to acknowledge the creature’s human need of companionship, the creature is forced to look elsewhere for compassion and the basic knowledge of emotion and language. The creature finds comfort in watching the De Lacey family’s everyday lives and desires to have companions of his own.
The creature finds difficulty in talking to thers because people are repulsed at his displeasing physical appearance, but he is able to talk to De Lacey whose blindness makes him unable to judge a person based on their outward image. De Lacey reassures the creature, saying, “”Do not despair. To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate, but the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly love and charity. Rely, therefore, on your hopes; and if these friends are good and amiable, do not despair”” (144).
When Felix, Agatha, and Safie enter, they reject the creature because of his grotesque features, causing the creature to become violent due to his frustration at his inability to form relationships with others. The creature later explains this frustration to Walton, saying, “Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding. I was nourished with high thought of honour and devotion. But now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest animal” (239).
The creature states that, had he achieved his goal of finding friendship, his positive qualities would have been exposed rather than his cruel and murderous qualities. When Frankenstein fails to create a female companion for him, his violent tendencies only intensify. The ambitions of Walton, Frankenstein, and the creature all have selfish aspects involved. Both Walton and Frankenstein wish to establish themselves in the scientific world, and the creature desires to have a companion to fulfill the lack of meaningful relationships in his life.
Frankenstein is the only one who truly achieves his ambition, but his achievement has the most devastating consequences. Although Walton never achieves his scientific ambition, he is able to protect his own life and the lives of his crew. The creature’s failure to achieve his goal of companionship causes him to ruin the lives of others, destroying their abilities to achieve their own ambitions. The novel does not serve as a warning against ambition, but as a reminder to think about how the ambition is achieved, and who it may effect.