Manfred typifies the Romantic mindset partly because he is, or sees himself, an outcast. Like Faust, he is dissatisfied with "life" in its mundane form and wishes to transcend it, to experience some ultimate transformation that will enable him to break free of the ordinary, banal world. A major theme...
Manfred typifies the Romantic mindset partly because he is, or sees himself, an outcast. Like Faust, he is dissatisfied with "life" in its mundane form and wishes to transcend it, to experience some ultimate transformation that will enable him to break free of the ordinary, banal world. A major theme of the Romantic movement was this striving after the impossible and the perception of man as a rebel, a god-like being with the potential to venture beyond the ordinary limits imposed upon him by the laws both of God and of men.
Manfred seeks "forgetfulness." It's almost an inverted form of the seemingly positive experiences that other Romantic heroes strive for. Faust seeks some ultimate moment in time so beautiful to him that he will wish it to linger—unlike all that he has experienced in his long life and with his great knowledge. But he must make a pact with the Devil in order to accomplish this. Frankenstein wishes to do what only God has done, to create life, and he does so, but the experiment backfires. Manfred similarly seeks the impossible, but it is a negation of life—the ability to erase memories so awful that he is being destroyed by them. In all these cases the Romantic hero wishes to transcend what others have been capable of and thus to become a kind of god himself.
The dissatisfaction and lack of fulfillment that motivates these figures is expressed throughout much of Romantic literature. It is as if even when man accomplishes something it's not enough, or it does not give him the feeling he expected. In The Prelude Wordsworth describes crossing the Alps, but in a way that indicates he and his fellow traveler are over the crest without even realizing it at first. This is a prototype of Romantic thought in which, in ordinary life, one misses the impact of achievement, and therefore must strive for something more, something out of bounds, as it were. Manfred's seeking "oblivion" is Byron's personal expression of this thought and this desire.