In life we are often told to be ambitious and ambition is seen as an admirable quality, but this is not always so. Ambition can also be a bad thing, for to much of it can be harmful. How much are you willing to give up to obtain your goals? For this essay i have chosen the multi facetted concept of ambition, which is an idea present in the texts, ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare, ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, ‘GATTACA’ by Andrew Niccol, and ‘Ozyimandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley. In each of these texts ambition is used to present a different idea in order to achieve a different intention.

Morals are the things that we apply to our lives to provide structure and boundaries concerning what we can, and cannot do. Morals are the things that stop us from descending into chaos as a society. In William Shakespeare play ‘Macbeth’ the main character abandons his morals in order to achieve his goal of becoming king. This shows the concept of ambition as something that is bad, for Macbeth ended up losing everything. With this Shakespeare is conveying the idea “it is not good to sacrifice your morals for ambition”. He does this by showing his audience all the bad things that happen to Macbeth because he killed his king, his best friend and many others, which is definitely not a moral thing to do. “I’ll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on ’t again I dare not”. This hunting quote, said by Macbeth in the play after he kills Duncan, tells us that he knows he has given up his morals and that he is disgusted in what he has done. But this does not stop him from continuing on his dark path. When Macbeth says “life is but a tale, told by a fool, full of sound and furry, signifying nothing.” the full extent of his misery is exposed to us. With this William Shakespeare is warning his audience not to abandon there morals, for if they do they are in danger of losing everything, just like Macbeth.

Another text that uses ambition to show an idea is ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte. In this book the character Heathcliff is a gypsy boy of unknown decent, brought to Wuthering Heights and raised by the master of the house. Through out his childhood Heathcilff is made to feel in-superior because of his birth by his foster brother. As time went on Heathcliff developed a intense relationship with his foster sister Catherine, however, due to there difference in social class it would not be prudent for them to ever be together. This caused Heathcliffs fondness for Cathy to turn into obsession. Bronte uses Heathcliffs ambition to transcend the restrictions of his birth, to show her idea that obsession will only lead to pain, for in the end, Cathy dies, and so Heathcliff loses everything. When he finds out Catherine is dead Heathcliff cries out “Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you – haunt me, then! “. this demonstrates to the reader that Heathcliffs love for Cathy has crossed into obsession because he would not allow her to rest in peace on account of his own desire not to be alone. This is not love ,for if he truly loved he Heathcliff would want Cathy to be happy. He also says ‘Two words would comprehend my future—death and hell: existence, after losing her, would be hell.”.In this Bronte is expressing Heathcliff’s deep pain in losing Cathy, for he believes life without her is not worth living. Through this melancholy display of emotion, Bronte ingrains the warning about obsession into the readers mind. This is very similar to what happens in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. Macbeth has a obsession with becoming king even though he was not born to inherit this title, and this causes him to lose everything, including the one he loves. In the end both the characters of Macbeth and Heathcliff feel like life is meaningless. In both theses texts the authors show the dire consequences of obsession through the characters ambition to be something they were not born to be. Their intention with this is to discourage the reader from obsessive behaviour, and to warn them of the perils of striving for things they are not suppose to have.

GATTACA, a 1997 film by Andrew Niccol, is set in a dystopian future where your value to society is based on your genetics. The movie follows the story of Vincent, a genetically invalid young man on a mission to achieve his dreams despite his disadvantages. In this movie Andrew Niccol wants to show that ambition is the greatest human quality, by letting his viewers see how Vincent gains successes with nothing but ambition, and will power. “You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.”, a powerful quote from Vincent when he is telling his brother  how he had managed to get so far when genetics weren’t on his side, through which we see his will to keep going and how this brought him success. Vincent has a kind of obsession with becoming an astronaut, but unlike in Wuthering heights, this obsession is shown to be a good thing. This is because in Wuthering heights Heathcliff brakes his moral code where as Vincent dose not. Genetic selection can be seen as morally wrong, and Vincent is the the only character in GATTACA who is shown to have great success and he is the only one who has not had his genetics modified, unlike Jerome/Eugene. “Eugene suffered under a different burden – the burden of perfection.”.  The reason for this difference in outcome is that in GATTACA Niccol is trying to show the viewer that ambition is good, were as in Wuthering Heights Bronte is saying that ambition is bad. The difference in these two artists opinions on ambition depends on weather or not any morals were broken.

The poem ‘Ozymandias’ is about a great statue that now lies in ruins in the desert. The ruins were once the monuments of the king Ozymandias’s power and influence, but now they are only dust and sand. In this the author, Percy Bysshe Shelley, shows how the kings ambition turned to nothing in the end. This conveys his idea that power is something that dies with you. 
‘”My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare’
with this quote we see how Ozymandias think’s himself mighty and invincible, stark against the juxtaposition of the desolate desert. Shelley uses emotive language such as ‘decay’ that encorage feelings of hopelessness in the reader with the intention of drawing attention to the fact that what once was great and mighty is now insignificant and decayed. In GATTACA the character Jerome is powerful. He is born with genetics that would allow him to be, and do, whatever he wants, and this gives him power in his society. Niccol uses Jerome’s lack of ambition to show how power is nothing in the end, by making Jerome end his life by burning himself to death. In both texts the symbols of power, in Ozymandias’ case, the stature, and in Jerome’s case, his genetics, are reduced to nothing but dust. This use of symbolism causes the reader or viewer to draw connections in their mind between power, and insignificant dust, showing us that power is nothing after we die, and that time and death, the great equaliser’s, make everything we think is important nothing in the end. Their intention with this is to help the reader/viewer realise that life is short, and power is not important, in the hope that they will devote more appreciation to the present.

Ambition is a complicated idea and there are many ways in which it can be interpreted. In the four texts, ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare, ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, ‘GATTACA’ Andrew Niccol, and ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley, ambition is a concept used to convey an idea. In doing this each author portrays there own opinion on ambition; if its good or if its bad, if it serves a purpose or if its pointless, but because each text says something different about ambition it is impossible to draw a simple conclusion. It seems from theses text’s that ambition is good, as long as you do not sacrifice your morals because of it. The authors’ use ambition to warn their viewers/ readers of the consequences of braking their morals is done with the intention of, stopping them from making the same mistakes as Macbeth and Heathcliff, helping them to use ambition to succeed without deserting your morals, like Vincent, and to be more humble about their achievements, unlike Ozymandias, for they really amount to nothing in the end.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. This is going well.

    You have a clear and precise understanding of the ideas and connections you’re trying to draw.

    The piece can be improved by:

    • using quotations that more closely express the ideas you want to communicate
    • developing a more fluent way of incorporating quotes. Ideally you won’t use phrasing like “This is shown in the quote…”. You’re better to simply express the idea and weave the quote into that – almost as if the authors words are adding to your own. I can show you examples of this – but this is also something we covered earlier in the year, so you’ll be able to go back to the class website to see this in action.


  2. Achievement Achievement with Merit Achievement with Excellence
    • Explain significant connection(s) across texts, using supporting evidence.
    • Convincingly explain significant connection(s) across texts, using supporting evidence.
    • Perceptively explain significant connection(s) across texts, using supporting evidence.



Respond now!