Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s masterpiece, “Faust”, and Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, “Frankenstein”, both explore the theme of human ambition gone unchecked and its destructive consequences. Both works depict individuals who are consumed by their desire for power and knowledge at any cost, leading them down a dark path that ultimately ends in tragedy.
Through these works, we see how unchecked ambition can have devastating consequences not just for the individual, but also for those around them. Whether it is Faust’s deal with the devil or Frankenstein’s creation of his monster, these stories serve as cautionary tales about what can happen when we let our ambitions get the better of us. Ultimately, they remind us to be mindful in our pursuits and use wisdom in our decision-making, lest we end up like Faust or Frankenstein.
In their texts, both Goethe in Faust and Shelley in Frankenstein use two men whose mental and physical activities are similar to one another to frame their tales. Both stories feature individuals who strive to be the Übermensch in their respective worlds.
In Faust, for example, Faust strives for bodily and mental wholeness through knowledge and disaster through desire. Victor Frankenstein fights for domination over a part of nature while disastrously allowing nature to control him much more effectively than he controls it himself in Frankenstein.
Although Faust finds his way to redemption, Frankenstein cannot and therefore, both stories end in tragedy. At the heart of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic play Faust and Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel Frankenstein is the story of two men who strive to be übermensch – a type of supreme being who possesses limitless power and knowledge. In both stories, these protagonists embark on a quest for physical and mental wholeness through their pursuit of knowledge.
However, while Johann Faust ultimately achieves redemption at the end of his journey, Victor Frankenstein fails to find closure in his pursuit and instead meets with disastrous consequences. Ultimately, both stories end in tragedy as they highlight the dangers of trying to control nature and human beings beyond our limits.
In the end of their stories, several powers are far too powerful for human souls, with Frankenstein and Faust learning this lesson. Both characters accomplish a portion of their objective while excommunicating themselves from society, but they are nevertheless unhappy because they never have complete control over the “perfect” life they have created for themselves.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are, in a way, victims of their own hubris. Faust is an ambitious man who yearns for knowledge and power beyond that of mortal means. He makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles, in order to gain these things. For a time, it seems as if Faust has won. He has acquired wealth, fame, and the love of a beautiful woman named Margarete.
However, Mephistopheles always reminds Faust that he is only on Earth for a limited time and will eventually have to go to Hell. This reminder preys on Faust’s mind and leads him to believe that he has not truly accomplished anything. In the end, even though he has all of the things he wanted, Faust is still unhappy because he knows that he will have to give them up.
Frankenstein is also ambitious, but his goal is to create life. He succeeds in doing this, but the creature that he creates is hideous. Frankenstein rejects his creation and, as a result, the creature becomes vengeful. The monster kills Frankenstein’s brother, best friend, and wife. Just like Faust, Frankenstein realizes too late that he has not achieved what he set out to do. He has only caused pain and suffering. Although he has created life, it is not the “perfect” life that he wanted.
In Faust, the brilliant gentleman attempts to attain spiritual perfection through knowledge. Faust becomes well-versed in mathematics, science, and religion over time, yet he is unable to have romantic or physical relationships with the outside world. As a result of his quest for enlightenment via knowledge, Faust realizes that books will not satisfy his hunger for knowledge and that sensual pleasures may. As a consequence of this development of his new life, Faust becomes alienated and uninterested in all things real and human around him.
While in Frankenstein, the doctor Frankenstein, also chases after knowledge that will make him well-known. Unlike Faust, Frankenstein is not interested in personal gain or relationships, but he only wants to be known for his scientific discoveries. When his experiments are complete and he has created life, Frankenstein is horrified by what he has done and abandons his creation. It is only until the monster shows up at his doorstep, begging for a mate, that Frankenstein realizes the consequences of his actions.
Both Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein can be seen as cautionary tales about the dangers of seeking knowledge for its own sake. In both works, the protagonists become so wrapped up in their quest for knowledge that they lose sight of what is important in life. For Faust, it is his relationships with other people and for Frankenstein, it is his moral responsibility to his creation. In the end, both characters are left alone and isolated because of their obsession with knowledge.
The pursuit of the unattainable has resulted in Faust’s fall into an unethical condition of existence, as was evident from his covetousness. He becomes greedy and desperate, and feels justifiable in whatever measures are necessary to achieve a position of dominance over others. Christians at the time condemned his quest for lust as immoral, unjust, and irresponsible.
Faust sets his sights on an object, whether it’s knowledge or women, and he expects nothing less of himself than what will enable him to get it. Many events may be characterized as dedicated; education, sports, and employment are all examples. It follows that in order for one to be the übermensch and pursue perfection, one must remain committed to one’s goal while consciously disregarding the world around him.
However, when the pursuit of excellence is at the cost of humanity, as it is for Faust, then it is an inhumane and immoral goal. Frankenstein can be seen as a warning to the overreaching ambition of men. Mary Shelley’s novel presents a case where science goes too far and nature takes its revenge. Victor Frankenstein’s experiments with life lead to tragic consequences, not only for himself but also for those around him.
In his quest to create life, Frankenstein fails to consider the ethical implications of his actions and ends up paying a heavy price. The creature he brings to life is an abomination in the eyes of society and is rejected by everyone he comes into contact with. As a result, the creature becomes embittered and seeks revenge on Frankenstein.
Ultimately, Faust and Frankenstein are cautionary tales about the dangers of pursuing inhumane goals at all costs. In both cases, men’s desire for power and knowledge leads to death and destruction, proving that there is a fine line between ambition and obsession. Society must carefully balance their pursuits with compassion for others, or else risk becoming lost in a world of darkness and despair.