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A Theme of Ambition in Macbeth and of Mice and Men

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Ambition can be described as the desire to achieve something or to succeed with motivation, determination and an inner drive. In the play Macbeth, a powerful man is tempted into murder. In the novella Of Mice and Men, an unlikely pair try to follow their big dream. In both works, similar ideas and outcomes to ambition are portrayed through different situations and complications. Though, oftentimes being ambitious can also be involved with negative behaviour rather than just positive. Ambition in Macbeth and Of Mice and Men resulted in a change of personality, a self-sacrifice, and a terrible demise.

To show two contrasting ways ambition influences a person’s character, one can look at the main protagonists for example. In Macbeth’s case, his strong determination made him blind to what was right. He lost his compassion and became greedy later in the play. This was depicted when he would let his selfish desire of becoming king result in him making inhumane decisions, such as sending for Banquo to get killed in fear of getting exposed. In opposition, George’s determination made him more hopeful later in the novella, where before he felt he didn’t have anything to look forward to in life because his dream was not realistic. This is evident from when Candy suggests they let him help because he has the money, and George responded with, “Jesus Christ! I bet we could swing her.” These differing results may have something to do with the status of the two protagonists. While George stayed humble due to being in a lower class, Macbeth was able to do whatever he wanted with his social standing and he abused the power he had.

One of the more similar results of ambition, self-sacrifice, is quite evident in the two works. Macbeth was willing to do anything to get what he wanted, and because of this, he lost his own sanity and his happiness. What he did to achieve becoming king, it took a toll on his mind. He felt like he was hallucinating and seeing ghosts, such as when he ‘saw’ Banquo at the banquet. Also due to his quick, forceful actions, he and his wife had to suffer the consequences. Likewise, to get what George wanted, he had to sacrifice his happiness in a way too. He continuously mentioned how he would be better off and could do so much more if he didn’t have Lennie holding him back. But he had to give up the possibility of a better future for Lennie and for the dream. He was too driven about the dream to think about if he was even happy or not. These results show how you cannot succeed with your aspirations without losing something, even a part of yourself, along the way.

Lastly, another common result that occurred in both Shakespeare’s play and Steinbeck’s novella was a demise. In Macbeth, the protagonist gave in to his desires, despite them being dark and immoral. He went as far as killing people who would try to stop him or get in the way of his success. The most obvious example would be Duncan’s murder. Even though Macbeth did not want to kill the former king, his hunger to steal the position took over his mind. His wife also died because of what he did, which made him realize the mistakes he had made. In the case of Of Mice and Men, when George realized the dream could come true, he paid less attention to Lennie and was ignorant of what was best for him. He focused on the plan instead, and because of that, Lennie got himself into trouble. George realized this could go on no more, and had to end Lennie’s life. The similarity of these deaths in the two works is that neither of the protagonists wanted to kill, but they knew they had to if they desired the futures they hoped for. There was another murder in Of Mice and Men as well, when Lennie killed Curley’s wife in his ‘ambition’ to keep his permission to tend to the rabbits. The only difference between the two murders though is that Lennie did it on accident and Macbeth had it planned. How the deaths happened aside, somebody still had to face a gruesome fate just so the ambitious protagonists could achieve their hopes and dreams, which just goes to show how a person’s drive for something will not just affect themselves but others around them.

A change in nature, self-sacrifice, and grim murder were all results of ambition in the two works. A strong will can make a person selfish or aspiring. It can also take a toll on their mind and body. But at worst, it can end in a way that is fatal to themselves or others. Events in Macbeth and Of Mice and Men sufficiently prove how ambition cannot have one consistent outcome as it affects everyone differently depending on their situation and how they handle it. 

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