What pieces of literature portray the negative effects of ambition?Anything will work, books, films etc. I already have William Shakespeare's Macbeth as an example but I need to think of another...

What pieces of literature portray the negative effects of ambition?

Anything will work, books, films etc.

I already have William Shakespeare's Macbeth as an example but I need to think of another one

A quote or example(an event) from the piece of literature that demonstrates the negative consequences of ambition would be greatly appreciated.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, the ambition of Claudius to be king in "Hamlet" is pivotal to the tragedies that follow in the play. In fact, Claudius himself falls victim to tragic consequences.  In Act IV he exclaims, "My soul is full of discord and dismay"(IV,i,45).

Because of his father's murder, Hamlet sinks into deep melancholia; he feels antipathy toward his mother and  Ophelia, whom he really loves.  In fact, Hamlet develops a mistrust of nearly everyone.  In speaking of his mother, for example, he remarks, "That one can smile and smile and be a villain"(I,v,23).

A classic, "The Count of Monte Cristo," by Alexandre Dumas has a plot set around the evil ambition of three men who have falsely sent to prison an innocent young man.  Having escaped, the innocent man returns to the world to act as nemesis for these exigent men and their careers are destroyed as their pasts and all their evil deeds exposed by Edmund Dantes.

Charles Dicken's novel, "Great Expectations" demonstrates the falseness of Pip's ambitions to become a gentleman.  In his ambition to attain social status and be a respectable gentleman of property, Pip makes many mistakes and hurts those who really love him.  His false values do not serve him, and he must return to the genuine love of family and friends.

A short work that parables the negative effects of monetary ambition is "The Pearl" by J. Steinbeck as greed destroys a family. 

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A good example of the downfall of someone who was too ambitious was Peter Keating from "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand.  Peter was a sub-par arcituecht, but he had ambitions to be rich and powerful.  He used the work of Howard Roark to reach his goal and in the end it created his downfall.  "Keating achieves success rather quickly by learning, under Guy Francon's tutelage, how to manipulate others. Harboring no illusions about his lack of creativity, Keating easily accepts the help of others; in some cases he actually puts his name on others' work.

"His lack of a clear vision of self is evident in his difficulty in making decisions, as he shows when he cannot decide at the beginning of the novel whether to continue his studies or to join Francon's firm. As a result of this insecurity and his desire for approval, he surrounds himself with things he thinks will help define him: expensive clothes, important friends like Ellsworth Toohey, and Dominique, his trophy wife. He subordinates any sense of self to his drive to succeed, evident as he discards Catherine Halsey, the woman he loves, for Dominique because of her beauty and stature in society. His refusal to develop his own identity results in his downfall when the public discovers that he has been claiming others' work as his own."

mrerick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If we're throwing out Shakespearean examples of ambition, we'd better include Julius Caesar, both for Caesar and for Cassius.  It was Caesar's ambition to become king that leads to his assassination; Cassius's ambition to control Rome leads to his own death (along with the other conspirators).

Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby is so blinded by his drive to be with Daisy that he destroys several lives in the process.

Jack in Lord of the Flies allows his ambition to become a leader turn him into a power hungry savage intent on killing his peers for sport.


e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Crime and Punishment is largely about ambition and the tragedy that befalls a man who oversteps his limits.

All the King's Men is a novel on this subject which has been made into a movie (twice). Heart of Darkness has already been suggested - that's a good one. I'd suggest also:

  • "How Much Land Does a Man Need" (Tolstoy)
  • "Everything that Rises Must Converge" (O'Connor)
  • The Piano Lesson (Wilson)
morrol eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A great example of the destruction caused by ambition is "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. Dorian desires a combination of success and hedonism that leads to the loss of his life.

"The Oedipus Trilogy" by Sophocles is also a great example of the downfall of a king caused by his excessive pride.

"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad also has a character, Kurtz, who loses his humanity in the quest for power.

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Along with the others: "Bonfire of the Vanities" by Tom Wolfe; "The Great Gatsby" by F. S. Fitzgerald; "Kane and Abel" by Jeffrey Archer; "The Carpetbaggers" by Harold Robbins; "Giant" by Edna Ferber--Jett Rink is the epitome of how ambition can turn ugly.

eabettencourt eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Frankenstein" for sure!

jieran | Student

"Lord of the flies" by William Golding tells how the good English schoolboys have become savages. It portrays violence like slaying a "nursing sow" and cutting off its head. It also portrays greediness of power among the peers and killing own friends.

"Faust" by Victor Hugo is also an example of violence. It tells how Faust , in his search for perfect happiness, sold his soul to the devil to gain pleasure and satisfaction.

The famous tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare  portrays how excessive love put them into a terrible suicide!

Romeo and Juliet

janetbaum | Student

metamorphosis by franz kafka