NCEA 1.8 – Significant Connections. Ambition

The significant connections between how the nature of ambition is employed in the texts; Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Gattaca by Andrew Niccol, Ozymandias by Percy Shelly and The Climb by Ludovic Bernard. 

Ambition is a powerful characteristic, but the nature of it, whether it has pure or dark intent determines what the ambitious person becomes. The four pieces of literature; Macbeth by William Shakespeare,  Ozymandias by Percy Shelly, Gattaca by Andrew Niccol and The Climb by  Ludovic Bernard each have a distinct ambitious character and so, offers themselves as a valuable learning opportunity to explore the nature of ambition. What comes of hearty or greedy or selfish ambition? Love? contentment? Dust?

Macbeth was famously ambitious, what’s a bigger goal than becoming king? Having a strong drive is beneficial, it’s basically what gives life purpose. In Shakespeare’s Scottish Play, Macbeth does achieve his goal, but the way he got there disintegrated his morals. To satisfy his ambition he did many terrible things that were against his values, and eventually, he deteriorated into a poisoned version of himself with no morals. “I am in blood. Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more. Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” This metaphor Shakespeare has used says that Macbeth has already traveled so far down his dark path that it is the same distance to evil as it is to return to his good self, so he may as well keep on going further. By, the end of the play, Macbeth had ‘scorpions in his mind’. The pull of his ambition was overpowering and so it took away his purpose instead. In act 5, scene 5, Macbeth almost invites his death; “The way to dusty death… It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This extract is another of Shakespeare’s metaphors and it describes Macbeth’s epiphany. His life is compared to a play that is “full of sound and fury” so it is full of dramatic, intense events but it signifies nothing. Macbeth’s nature of ambition was born in greed and a thirst for power so even once he achieved his goal it actually meant nothing to him, he was not content in himself. He had lost his pure spirt on his journey. Instead, he was left with a grey cloud of his conscience that overshadowed any new gained power. So, Macbeth was headed to a “dusty death”, meaning that he no longer believed he could go to ‘heaven’. When he dies he will simply become dust. The lesson from this piece of literature is that possessing ambition for something that only benefits you will end up meaning nothing.

The likeness between the two characters, Macbeth and Ozymandias seems uncanny but another significant connection between the two texts is the reference to dust. This poem is a traveler talking about a sculpture that remembers the past king, Ozymandias. Again, this king was incredibly ambitious but in the end was also left to dust as described in the setting of Percy Shelly’s poem. Ozymandias did big things with his life as we know from segments like “king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair”. Look at what he has achieved, look how mighty and then think about how sad you are that you could never achieve what he could. This seemed to be a mindset Ozymandias lived by; ‘how amazing am I and how petty you are’. No matter how much power he had nor how impressive he was, it didn’t matter because no one else benefited from his drive. “The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed” is a metaphor Shelly seems to use to show the situation between Ozymandias and his subjects. He was cruel to his people, he did not care about them one bit and that filled their hearts with hate for him. So, when this king of kings died he had a grand memorial structure but no one who would come to appreciate it. Therefore, it’s surroundings were “boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away.” Just like Macbeth, Ozymandias was possessed with selfish ambition thus they met the same end. Dust once again. The author warns that the nature of Ozymandias’ ambition is toxic, so one should take a hard look at themselves and think whether their craving of power should be appeased at the expense of others.  

Gattaca by Andrew Niccol, on the surface is starkly different to Macbeth and Ozymandias. It is set in the future while the other two are set more than 500 years ago but, there is an underlying similarity; an ambitious man and a dusty end. Jerome, the DNA donor to the main character Vincent, had a big ego and an even bigger ambition. He had a backstory of being an Olympic swimmer and all he wanted was the gold. But, he got silver. That tossed him into a violent downward spiral. He did attempt suicide, became paralysed in his legs and that is how he came to meet Vincent. Niccol’s plot line involved Jerome gaining a new ambition; to help Vincent achieve his goal. Yet, it seems Jerome’s ambition really only had eyes for one thing, Olympic gold which was now an impossible goal. He of course was not a terrible man, he had a drive that a lot of people wish for. But, he had a narcissistic ambition. It was too late for Jerome, when we met him in the film. He could not live without his glory. So, the film ends with an epic scene flashing to and fro from Vincent living his dream (blasting into space) and Jerome making his way into the incinerator. The visual reference of the flames in the incinerator and Jerome literally turning to dust relates back to the previous two texts. Each an ambitious man after glory or power, that comes to dust. This film leaves you wondering is ambition good or bad? It worked out for Vincent, he kept on going against all odds with his ambition, he achieved his goal and in the end he felt fulfilled. But if you can’t achieve your goal? Then ambition is a prison. You can think of nothing more than the path to your goal but it’s hopeless. You just can’t get there. So, we learn we must tread lightly around ambition because we do not want to let it over power us. Because we do not want to end up like Jerome; incinerating ourselves. 

The three former texts competently scare us away from ambition but ambition is a natural and necessary trait of humans. We need it to achieve our goals. In contrast to all the pieces of literature noted above, The Climb by Ludovic Bernard follows a character called Nadir Dendoune who climbs Mt Everest in the name of love. Obviously, it is a heart warming story, and whats more, is based on true events! The text also has the unifying elements that links all the texts together; each describes a challenging journey the character goes through on their way to satisfying their ambition, with reference to dust. Nadir has ambition but a very different kind. His ambition is to love a girl and for her to love him, which already would benefit more than himself, unlike Macbeth, Ozymandias and Jerome. When Nadir and his Sherpa make it to the summit the Sherpa Bernard makes visual and verbal references to a box of cremated ashes that is under the flags. Again dust, but this time the feeling is warm not like cold particles of waste matter as it they seems with the previous texts. The difference is the nature of their ambition. These ashes were of climbers who loved what they did. Certainly they would receive attention from summiting Mt Everest but you would have to really love climbing mountains to put your life on the line like they did. They are inspiring people. Because their ambition benefited others the dust is valued. It is locked up tight in a box and the people whose ashes they are are thought of often. This film teaches that ambition will take you places, to the top of the world even. The ending might be tragic like it was for those climbers in the box but the intent was inspiriting. 

All four of these texts expand one’s insight into the nature of ambition. Each of them intertwine but have varying spots on the spectrum of right and wrong, which is one of the most valuable of the lessons these texts have to offer so we know how to avoid to avoid the wrong end. We learn that ambition can be dangerous, leading you to having a poisoned mind or to be hated by many but it also lets you achieve great things. Each of these authors and directors have issued a warning of how powerful ambition can be but still we cannot live without it. Even more interesting, each of the authors show dust and ash as an end to the raging fire of ambition, which seems quite fitting in truth.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. It is better to burn out than to rust.

One Reply to “NCEA 1.8 – Significant Connections. Ambition”

  1. 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.


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