Frankenstein

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Themes and Colors
Family, Society, Isolation Theme Icon
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon
Romanticism and Nature Theme Icon
Revenge Theme Icon
Prejudice Theme Icon
Lost Innocence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Frankenstein, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Ambition and Fallibility Theme Icon

Through Victor and Walton, Frankenstein portrays human beings as deeply ambitious, and yet also deeply flawed. Both Victor and Walton dream of transforming society and bringing glory to themselves through their scientific achievements. Yet their ambitions also make them fallible. Blinded by dreams of glory, they fail to consider the consequences of their actions. So while Victor turns himself into a god, a creator, by bringing his monster to life, this only highlights his fallibility when he is completely incapable of fulfilling the responsibilities that a creator has to its creation. Victor thinks he will be like a god, but ends up the father of a devil. Walton, at least, turns back from his quest to the North Pole before getting himself and his crew killed, but he does so with the angry conclusion that he has been robbed of glory. Neither Victor nor Walton ever escapes from their blinding ambitions, suggesting that all men, and particularly those who seek to raise themselves up in glory above the rest of society, are in fact rash and "unfashioned creatures" with "weak and faulty natures."

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Ambition and Fallibility Quotes in Frankenstein

Below you will find the important quotes in Frankenstein related to the theme of Ambition and Fallibility.
Letter 2 Quotes
I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavour to sustain me in dejection.
Related Characters: Robert Walton (speaker), Margaret Saville
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of his second letter, Robert Walton confesses to his sister, Margaret, that he longs for a companion, another person with whom he can share the joys and sorrows of exploration. While the first letter introduces the reader to Walton's quest – he hopes to discover a new passage to the North Pole – this second letter offers more insight into his personality.

Walton writes with the arrogance that unites many of the book's male characters: he does not consider his travel companions to be his intellectual equals. He doesn't believe his peers can understand his lofty ideals. This quote foreshadows the arrival of Victor Frankenstein, who appears in the fourth letter and goes on to become Walton's close friend. Victor will tell Walton a cautionary tale about ambition and pride – a tale full of even more extreme success and dejection, and which serves as the novel's central plot line.

In addition, this quote introduces loneliness as one of the book's major themes, a state of being that plagues both Walton and Victor, as well as the Monster himself. Isolated and unable to assimilate into human society because of how he looks, the Monster blames Victor for his predicament, and much of the action of the novel rests on the monster's efforts to get his creator to build him a female companion. 

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Letter 4 Quotes
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.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), Robert Walton
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Victor Frankenstein prepares to tell Walton his story, a story driven by Frankenstein's own brush with maddening ambition. Once again Mary Shelley draws the reader's attention to parallels between Victor and Walton: the men are both well-educated, adventurous, and hungry for glory. Here, though, Victor speaks of his own goals in the past tense, and the reader can infer that he has suffered a dismal reversal of fortune, that his quest for glory and knowledge has ended in despair.

Victor's mention of a metaphorical "serpent" in this section is one of the novel's many allusions to the Bible and John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic poem that dramatizes Satan's rebellion against God and his subsequent role in Adam and Eve's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Once an angel, Satan led an unsuccessful rebellion against God, who cast him from Heaven. He later appears in Eden as a snake and corrupts Adam and Eve, encouraging them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (This transgression, in which Adam and Eve disobeyed God's laws and gained corrupting knowledge, matches Victor's transgression in creating the monster, which was a perversion of natural laws.) Many Romantic writers (including Mary Shelley) actually saw Satan as a sympathetic character, awesome in his ambition and intellect. Victor and the Monster have much in common with Milton's Satan: they lead isolated lives, they have sinned against mankind, and they usually act with passion. In this quote, Victor describes the Monster as the "serpent," a manifestation of Satan himself—though it is certainly possible to argue that Victor is misguided in identifying the Monster, rather than his own ambition, as being the serpent.

Chapter 4 Quotes
Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In Chapter 4, Victor describes how he pursues his scientific studies under Waldman's tutelage and discovers the "cause of generation and life." He decides to put this knowledge to use and build a new, gigantic human being. Here, Victor is still describing his unflagging enthusiasm to Walton: he has not yet made the Monster and come to regret it.

Shelley highlights Victor's arrogance and ambition in this section, and the obvious absurdity of his goal, by using the verb "appeared." Only in retrospect does Victor understand that life and death are vast, complicated concepts that cannot simply be manipulated by science. But at the time, in his ambition and belief in the primacy of knowledge, Victor ironically lacks the wisdom to see these deeper truths. The symbol of Light plays into this relationship between enlightenment and blindness. For instance, a "flash of lightning" illuminates the Monster in Chapter 7. Victor wants to bring light (i.e. scientific knowledge) into the world, and yet he cannot control its radiance and the light becomes terrifying, dangerous. Put another way: the "light" Victor seeks is so bright that it blinds him to the consequences of his actions. In this way, Victor is indeed the "Modern Prometheus," following in the footsteps of the Classical Greek Titan who first gave humans fire, and in so doing disobeyed the Gods and was terribly punished. 

Finally, Shelley shows us here that Victor has the violent impulses (as shown by the words "break" and "torrent") and lofty dreams that are typical of a Romantic hero. He refuses to abide by conventions and exists outside society, tormented by a heightened understanding of the world. Interestingly, the Monster will go on to exhibit many of these same traits. 

Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), Robert Walton
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Victor begs Walton to reconsider his own ambition and look for fulfillment and satisfaction not in discovery but in daily life. Shelley shows us again that the two men share several qualities, including an obsession with knowledge and glory. She makes it clear that ambitious men are doomed, using the words "dangerous" and "allow."

In this sentence, Victor establishes a distinction between two types of men: one who "believes his native town to be the world" and one who "aspires to become greater than his nature will allow." The first is a happy member of society because he is "native" to the world — he considers his fellow men to be his peers and does not reject them in favor of scientific discovery. The second, on the other hand, resembles a Romantic hero in his isolation, ambition, and misery. He has no "native town," no real domestic comforts, and in trying to become great cuts himself off from the rest of the world. Victor's mastery of life and death made him such a person, and Walton risks becoming one if he does not abandon his plans. 

Chapter 5 Quotes
For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), The Monster
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

Victor has finally accomplished his goal: he has brought the Monster to life. However, he is immediately disgusted by his creation, such as the Monster's pale eyes and taut skin. In this section, he explains to Walton how his scientific enthusiasm suddenly morphed into repulsion. 

This is an essential moment in the novel, as it marks the beginning of Victor's disillusionment, a progressive loss of innocence. While his innocence is certainly beautiful, Shelley shows us that it is necessarily fleeting — the noun "dream" implies that reality and innocence are at odds with each other. They cannot coexist, and not one of the novel's characters escapes unscathed, unharmed by human ambition or injustice. 

Here, Shelley also introduces us to the Monster's unfortunate appearance, one that elicits "horror and disgust" in Victor. The creature will face such visceral reactions and intolerance from everyone he meets throughout the novel. Yet Shelley depicts the Monster as a complex, intelligent, and sympathetic figure, asking us to think about prejudice and empathy as we form our own opinions of him. 

Chapter 22 Quotes
If for one instant I had thought what might be the hellish intention of my fiendish adversary, I would rather have banished myself forever from my native country and wandered a friendless outcast over the earth than have consented to this miserable marriage. But, as if possessed of magic powers, the monster had blinded me to his real intentions; and when I thought that I had prepared only my own death, I hastened that of a far dearer victim.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker), The Monster, Elizabeth Lavenza
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

Victor has returned to Geneva, following Henry's death and his own nervous illness. He has become engaged to Elizabeth — and though he thinks about the Monster's final threat a great deal ("I will be with you on your wedding night"), he fails to understand that Elizabeth is in danger. Shelley makes no attempt to disguise Elizabeth's future demise in this section: we have no doubt that the "far dearer victim" is Victor's fiancée.

Victor believes he has grasped the situation, and this arrogant certainty "blinds" him to the truth. (He even announces that the Monster "blinded [him] to his real intentions.") Victor's ambition and his fallibility are inextricable: beset by lofty desires (either for revenge, glory, or the peace of death), he cannot always see the reality of a situation. 

Shelley reminds us of Victor's curious position, at once a loving family member and an outcast, and the word "native" is crucial to this quote. It should remind us of Chapter 4, when Victor tells Walton that a "man who believes his native town to be the world" is happier than an ambitious one. Victor is too caught up in his research to belong to his family or his environment; like Robert Walton and the Monster, he is not at home in the world. Shelley does not present this as a desirable state. 



Walton, in continuation Quotes
Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.
Related Characters: Victor Frankenstein (speaker)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

These are Victor's final words to Walton, as he breathes his last aboard the ship. It is a final, explicit statement of advice that both Walton and the reader have already inferred from earlier conversations (including Victor's statement "Learn from me [...] how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge" in Chapter 4). Shelley writes these statements as commands (in the imperative), lending them even more weight and solemnity. 

Not only does Victor tell Walton that he should "avoid ambition," but the dying man goes on to condemn "science and discoveries" in particular. Scientific ambition is only "apparently innocent:" it appears noble and worthwhile, yet leads to the same misery and arrogance. Tranquility, then, is of the utmost importance, and Shelley seems to support this point of view. The Romantic heroes in the novel (e.g. the Monster, Victor, Walton) have either endured a solitary, abnormal life or sought out such an existence. Ambition leads to isolation; isolation, in turn, leads to misery and anger.

Victor does not die a fully reformed man, however. In the sentences leading up to this quote, he asks Walton to take on his burden and exact revenge against the Monster. We see that he remains conflicted until his final breath, wavering between revenge and forgiveness, ambition and tranquility.