Frankenstein

by: Mary Shelley

Ambition

1
My life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path.

Walton writes these lines to his sister as he describes his motivation for his voyage of exploration, and his justification for why he feels he deserves to be successful. The lines foreshadow the similar experience of ambition that Victor will also experience. Walton implies a moral superiority as a result of choosing to commit to hard work in service of his passion for discovery. However, his motivation for exploration is still the fame and respect he thinks he will receive, not the possible benefits to anyone else.

2
For when I would account to myself for the birth of that passion, which afterwards ruled my destiny, I find it arise, like a mountain river, from ignoble and almost forgotten sources; but swelling as it proceeded, it became the torrent which, in its course, has swept away all my hopes and joys.

Victor speaks this quote as he reflects on the origins of his obsessive fascination with artificially creating life. The poetic style reveals Victor’s education and eloquence, but the quote also reveals his fundamental lack of self-awareness and moral responsibility. He describes his ambition as an external force beyond his control by comparing it to a raging river sweeping away everything in its path. His ambition might have been a powerful desire, but it was still an internal feeling that he could have tried to control rather than allowing it to direct his actions without considering consequences.

3
So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Victor, -- more, far more, will I achieve: treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.

This quotation shows how profound Victor’s ambitions are. As he learns about the progress that contemporary science has made, his first reaction is to fantasize about how much further he could go. This reaction shows his lack of humility and his arrogance. Rather than pausing to consider how impressive the discoveries of others have been, Victor immediately focuses on outdoing them. His drive to surpass the accomplishments of others may be part of why he fixates on the bold and reckless goal of artificially creating life.

4
Seek happiness in tranquility, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.

Victor speaks these lines to Walton toward the end of the novel. As his life is drawing to a close, he reflects on all his mistakes and regrets, and tries to offer some wisdom to Walton in hopes of preventing him from making similar mistakes. Victor can tell that Walton also has tendencies toward reckless ambition and encourages him to abandon this behavior. He also astutely notes that ambitions directed towards science and discovery can seem on the surface to be less risky than political or military ones, but that these goals carry similar risks if taken to the extreme.