Ambition; The strong desire to achieve or top something. A desire for success, power and wealth. A wish to achieve something. The definition may seem set in stone but ambition itself is a varying concept for everyone. I have chosen to explore the theme of ambition and how it is presents itself differently through different characters. I believe that various perceptions of ambition are seen clearly through the text Macbeth written by William Shakespeare, the poem Ozymandias written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the film Gattaca directed by Andrew Nicoll and the song DNA written and composed by Kendrick Lamar.
In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare conveys ambition in an unhealthy form. Macbeth, the main character, begins the play as a honest and loyal soldier with an ambition for power. Eventually his drive to have this power causes him to lose sight of his morals and develop devious attributes of his personality. His thirst for power first overpowered his morals in the beginning of the play when he made the decision of killing the king to take his position on the throne. This decision was made because Macbeth was so overwhelmed with the intense desire to sit in a place of power to the point that it blurred his perception of what he truly wanted and sent him down a path of lies and deceit. His choice to kill the king was followed by a string of decisions that all lacked a sense of morals. As the play continued Macbeth became more consumed and confused by his own ambition which had caused a clear distortion of his morals and a deterioration of his mind. The degeneration of his mind is referenced in the line “I have lived long enough. My way of life, Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf,”. Macbeth draws a parallel between himself and a yellow leaf, just as a yellowing autumn leaf has come to the end of it’s life and is ready to fall from the tree so is Macbeth. It shows how Macbeth’s mind, morals and purpose are falling apart and he is stuck living a life he no longer wants to live. This is as a result of his overpowering ambition for greatness and authority. Ultimately Macbeth’s ambition was so strong that it became an unhealthy obsession and had a negative affect on him.
The theme of ambition is also present in the the poem Ozymandias written by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is identified in the character Ozymandias who is a powerful king with ambition to have infinite control and dominance over his surroundings. Both he and Macbeth are similar in their ambition to achieve a powerful position in the societies they live in. His ambition is to reach eternal power but he is restricted from doing so because of his mortality. Ozymandias may reach a position of power but inevitably that power will one day die alongside him. Unfortunately, like Macbeth, Ozymandias’ desire for superiority is so obsessive that it alters his view of the world and, in his case, greatness. It is evident that Ozymandias perceives his own status incredibly highly and that is proven through the line “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings.” Referring to himself as “king of kings” is an inaccurate depiction of the true extent of his greatness. It indicates how his obsessive ambition has resulted in a contorted sense of the power and status he obtains. The downfall of his ambition appears in the line “Half sunk a shattered visage lies”. This line emphasizes the collapse of Ozymandias and the power he obtained. It accentuates the unattainability of his goals and how his intense ambition warped his perception of life. Conclusively Ozymandias’ ambition for power was negative and resulted in an inaccurate depiction of his own power and dominance.
Contrary to my two previous pieces of evidence, the film Gattaca, directed by Andrew Nicoll, communicates the theme of ambition that has a positive effect. Vincent, the lead character of the film, obtains this ambition and uses it to achieve his goals without distorting his morals or views. In the film Gattaca there is a strong value placed on the genetic makeup of a person and your genes supposedly define your ability to excel. At birth children are genetically modified in order for them to be given the best chance at succeeding in life. Although, amongst all the genetically modified children there is the occasional child who was naturally born without modification, these people are known as god children. As a result of being naturally born, god children have a less desirable genetic makeup defining there place in society as inferior. Vincent was born a god child with a genetic makeup that subtly stated the most successful career option for him was going to be a janitor. Although Vincent was constantly reminded of the restrictions and dull career choices that were placed on him, from a young age he had the ambition to become an astronaut. During the film he was told by his father “the only time your going to see the inside of a space shuttle is when your cleaning it.” this line highlights the difficulty of the goal Vincent is trying to achieve and the lack of support he had. It accentuates the amount of drive and ambition he obtains just to make the decision of following his deemed impossible dreams. During his journey he travels to lengths in order to achieve his goals; faking his own identity, disappearing from this world and dedicating his life to study and training. His ambition was present throughout the entire process as he pushed himself to the limit trying to achieve his goals. Eventually Vincents dreams are achieved as he is selected to travel to space determining Vincents ambition as something which had a positive impact on his life.
The song DNA written by Kendrick Lamar has similar attributes of ambition to that of Gattaca. The theme of ambition appears in Kendrick Lamar himself as he raps about his hardships and the drive and ambition that lives inside of him and his culture. Just like Vincent in the film Gattaca, Lamar is being discriminated on because of how he was made. Being an African American born in Compton, California, Lamar has experienced discrimination his entire life. He was exposed to hardships growing up, told through the song in the line “Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA”. This line references his family’s history of selling cocaine and the constant battle (“war and peace”) that he experienced when growing up. It is followed by the line “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA” which focuses on the different and contrasting aspects of his life. The “poison” inside his DNA represents alcoholism and drug abuse from his past. The “pain” in his DNA aligns with the “poison” referencing the calamity that has occurred in his life from discrimination, to drug abuse. The “power” represents the ambitious side of Lamar that has looked past the difficulty in his life and has gone on to be one of the most critically acclaimed rappers of all time and the “joy” is emotion that comes with his achievement. Lamar then goes on to say “I got hustle though, ambition flow inside my DNA”. In this line Lamar takes pride in his culture and heritage and considers it to be the reasoning of his ambitious character. I think this defines why Lamar’s ambition is so positive. Contrary to the ambition of Macbeth and Ozymandias, Lamar uses his ambition to align himself with his morals and culture. He doesn’t become unhealthily obsessed with his goals and stays true to himself in the process of achieving them.
I think that ambition is an important factor of every life and a defining part of every dream. Macbeth from the play Macbeth, Ozymandias from the poem Ozymandias, Vincent from the film Gattaca and Kendrick Lamar and his song DNA have all communicated very different perceptions of ambition. It has made me realise the importance your morals and core beliefs and the dangers of losing sight of them. It has demonstrated the results and consequences of various types of ambition and has made me come to a conclusion that following your ambition is best achieved by staying true to yourself.