My Greatest Ambition (1) - The Grange English Department.

My Greatest
Morris Lurie
Presented By: Zaima Abdul Hameed & Humera Hasan
The title of this story is “My Greatest Ambition”. Firstly the title is in
first person perspective. This allows the reader to expect the story to be
narrated in first person . Secondly, the title states ‘greatest ambition’,
allowing the reader to perceive that the narrator of the story is most
probably narrating one of their greatest ambitions, either held in the
past or still pursued in the present.
The genre of the story is comical mainly. It also has a realistic tinge to
it as it evolves around the problems, insecurities and challenges one
has to face in life. (Revolves around Nu (author) and the problems he
faced accordingly as he tried to pursue his dreams.)
Time, place, duration, social situation
The setting mainly takes place in Australia. However the setting of different
events changes per situation. It takes place in the author's home, the school the
author attends and the office of BOY MAGAZINE.
The time period is limited to a certain few months during which the author is
thirteen years old.
The social situation of the author is strained. Like every child who has turned 13
years in age, the author to faces his first pressure: to choose a "secure"
occupation. However just like every 13 year old the author has his own way of
viewing the world and dreams that seem awesome to them. He is not fearful of
pursuing them: his views, dreams and hopes. And as a result he faces what every
incredible and different person faces from a society that has rigid ideals:
The story revolves around this situation and of how the author tries to fight it off
but in the end, ends up taking the same "safe and secure" road path everyone else
ends up taking in life.
b) Mood/tone: state moods at significant points, examples of phrases, words n
actions that develop and create it
• The story begins with the author stating a simple line: "my greatest ambition was
to be a comic strip artist, but I grew out of it." and then he begins his tale
immediately by describing the reaction of the people around him when he had
pursued this certain ambition.
• The tone seems as if the author is in a hurry to get the story started. It is odd that
the author did not linger on about his feelings when he let go of the dream of
becoming a comic strip artist. it is possible to assume that the author did not
want to get caught up in his feelings that were perhaps still strong for that
certain goal, as if he was trying to move on and let go of the past, perhaps not
forget but accept the past events and move on.
• Further on, while the author describes the reactions of the people surrounding
him, towards his dreams, we sense mockery directed towards the author. We too,
sense mockery directed by the author towards those who laugh at him, think of
him as a fool a "dreamer". It’s the same for the author. He describes his opposers
as: “Dreamers! Idle speculators! A generation of hopeless romantics!"
• When the author describes that he has finished his first comic strip we all are a
bit shocked to find that this dream, this ambition is purely pursued as it appeals
the author and gives him satisfaction, happiness and a feel of success! He is not
doing it for fame or money but to express himself to the world in his own way!
These are the feelings felt from the author's words: “..... Actually doing anything
with it hadn't even entered my mind. Doing it was enough." we feel the
innocence and childish happiness that surround the author and entwine with
these words and in a manner, make us smile with him. :)
• The author talks of the idea of "PUBLICATION" and we feel the excitement and
impatience within the author and our surrounding as we read his confused
thoughts of whether he ought to send his comic for publishing or not.
• The author moves on as to introduce his father and mother. we feel the author's
impatience towards them as the two parents, are more worried about their
public image rather than the desires and hopes of their own son i.e. the father
wants his son to do a job in which he will earn a lot of money (as he
continuously asks for a cheque) and the mother wants her friends to be
impressed by her son as seen (when she calls everyone within phone radius as to
tell that her son received a telegram and that she had a clever son after he
returns from his trip to BOY MAGAZINE.)
Point of view:
The story “My Greatest Ambition” is written in first person perspective. This is
justified due to the use of ‘I’, ‘my’, ‘mine’ etc. while the events are narrated through
the character’s eyes.
Further on, the story’s events are narrated in such a way that the thoughts,
feelings and actions of the narrator dominate the story, thus making the narrator
our main character. For e.g. :
“My greatest ambition was to be a comic-strip artist….”
“Let me tell you about my father, a great scoffer…”
Also the events are written in such a manner that shows the main character
recalling a past event.
“My greatest ambition WAS to be a comic strip artist….”
“I WAS the only person in the class….”
“We WERE thrown out of class…..”
a. Protagonist:
• A school going boy, aged 13.
• Called as "Nu" by parents.
• Thought himself one of a kind, the only realistic one amongst a class full of
dreamers. ‘Dreamers! Idle speculators! A generation of hopeless romantics!’
• Hopeful: Exaggerated thinking/assumptions -thinking too far out/too highly:
sending a comic strip to a magazine had become strictly "business". He thought
that the appointment was held because they were going to offer him a job and
also imagined himself going to work every day.
‘ I had a picture of myself walking to work every morning through a garden of
exotic plants growing in white gravel, cacti, ferns. pushing open a massive glass
door under a neon sign and smiling at a receptionist with a pipe in my mouth’
• He tried to act mature but in reality was just a child. ‘Of course there’s no
cheque. How can there be? We haven’t even discussed it yet. Maybe ill decide
not to sell it to them. Which I will, if their price isn’t right.’ He appears a child
when he talks about trains and the fear he has of them and his spelling mistakes.
• Impatient : ‘…except for looking at my watch ten times in the next thirty
• Self conscious: worried about what to wear in the interview and how he looked ‘
My voice, when I was thirteen….. was, I must admit, unnecessarily loud’ , ‘My
school suit was out of question’, ‘And my Good Suit was a year old and too short
in the leg.’
• Though very young, he had a clear idea what a comic should portray and what
its philosophy should be.
• Nervous: “For some reason that caught me unawares and I flashed her a blinding
smile and kept standing there, wondering what was going to happen next, and
then I realized what she had said and I smiled again and turned around and
bumped into a chair and sat down and crossed my legs and looked around and
then I remembered the shortness of my trousers and quickly uncrossed my legs
and sat perfectly straight and still, except for looking at my watch ten times in
the next thirty seconds.”
• He believes that he would be a comic strip artist and never grow out of it.
• he believes that his idea of being a comic strip artist was the only real one amongst
a class full of dreamers who sought to become farmers, chemists, doctors etc.
• Later on when his friend introduces the idea of publication ad he has sent his
strip, he receives a letter for an appointment. His attitude is totally mature when
he says to his father:- ‘Of course there’s no cheque. How can there be? We haven’t
even discussed it yet. Maybe ill decide not to sell it to them. Which I will, if their
price isn’t right.’ He assumes that the appointment is to offer him a job -
throughout this time he acts all formal.
• He believes that school wasn't necessary-it wasn't very important, and in the face
of business he could easily take a day off.
"I didn't think these things were relevant to our business."
• Coming into the office he tries to act like someone coming to do business.
• His belief changed when he got his next comic strip back with a note that the
magazine was discontinuing publication .
• He now thought that being a comic strip artist was a risky job and hence he took
up other hobbies such as painting . But even as he took them up he felt that he had
become like everyone in his class - a dreamer ; he had grown out of the only thing
that seemed realistic to him/ that he held interest and passion in.
b. Antagonist:
 The society : they did not believe in *Nu* and they did not believe that he could
retain his passion for long
 Fate : it was unpredictable and harsh , bringing Nu back to reality and making
him see how risky his passion was and how it would be best for him to leave
it. Fate was the main cause of the change in Nu's belief ..
c. Other Characters:
 Father : was very scoffing and materialistic . He cared more for money than
for his son's passion and was very discouraging/ not supportive . HOWEVER
he is also very realistic ..
 Mother: very proud of her son's achievements .
 Michael Lazarus: Introduced the idea of publication.
 Mr. Randell: editor of ‘Boy Magazine’
1- Exposition: author briefs to us of the fact that he once pursued the ambition
of being a comic strip artist.
2- Initial incident: people mock the author. Author prevails valiantly.
3- Rising action : author has designed his first comic strip. Author decides to
publish it in a magazine as advised by a classmate.
4- Climax : author has already send his comic strip to magazine who have
actually liked the comic and called him for an appointment. Author skips school
for the appointment. Author has a job now ( or he thinks he is about to have
5- Falling action: when the author sends his second magazine a few weeks later
it is returned to him with a letter proclaiming that the magazine was discontinuing
publication and could no longer facilitate his comics.
6- Resolution: author believes work of comic strip artist too risky.
7- Conclusion: author decides to become a painter, to grow up and like
everyone else: "...become a dreamer."
The story begins with the writer telling that his greatest ambition at the age of 13
was to become a comic-strip artist. He believed himself to be the only realistic one
in a class full of dreamers and ‘a generation of hopeless romantics’ and didn’t
believe people when they said he’d ‘grow out of it’.
He completed his ‘first full length, inked-in, original, six page comic-strip’ at this
age and on the suggestion of his friend sent his work to be published in the BOY
MAGAZINE. When a note came to him for an appointment with the editor he got
excited thinking that he was going to get a job.
During the meeting though there was an awkward silence, no one knew what to
say and in the end Lurie ended up touring the factory, eating an ice cream without
any mention or hint of a job.
Though he got a lot of praise when his comic was published, he was internally
disappointed and when his second comic strip was rejected, he gave up on his
ambition saying it was risky and unsure, here today and gone tomorrow.
The story ends with the author/Lurie/Nu realizing that he was just like everyone
else – ‘A Dreamer’.
• Disillusionment and reality: the disillusionment of a thirteen-year-old boy as he tries to live
a dream that he initially thought would set him apart from all others. Nu expects the
building itself to be grand and imposing but instead he sees a very mediocre building that
“looked like a factory”. He outlines his disappointment when he says: “No neon, no massive
areas of plate glass, no exotic plants growing in white gravel”. Each time he repeated the
word “no”, it added to his growing sense of disappointment. He also uses repetition with the
word “ordinary” as he describes the details of the building, which emphasizes his realization
of disillusionment. When Nu is being toured around the factory he says, “…I was eating an
ice-cream”, which indirectly makes Nu seem more immature and out of place. This contrasts
from the illusion that Nu had earlier of himself “walking to work every morning…with a
pipe in my (his) mouth.” Since his fantasy of being a grown man smoking his pipe and going
to work had turned into being a 13 year old in a ridiculous suit eating ice-cream, the
disillusionment becomes a more prominent factor in the story.
• Unpredictability of Fate/Life is full of Disappointments : The main theme is the
disappointments life brings to adolescents. Nu wants to be a comic strip artist more than
anything else. He confides in his friend Michael Lazarus and not his parents. The parents are
dysfunctional, trying to live their lives through their son’s. Like all adolescents, Nu is
worried about what to wear to the interview than about his comic. Where the comic is
concerned, he is on surer ground. He knows its worth.
The parents and Nu are definitely not on the same wavelength. The father thinks only of the
money the son will earn and the mother basks in her son’s fame. our fates are very
unpredictable - we can not expect things, passions , hobbies to last forever.
1) Person v/s self : This is seen at the beginning when the narrator is unsure of
wether he should send his comic strip for the magazine or not.
2) Person v/s Parents : There is conflict present between the narrator and his
parents . This is evident when Nu is shouting at his mom for checking his mail and
how negatively he describes his father and his actions.
3) Person v/s Society : the society did not believe that Nu wouldn't be able to
withhold his passion for long - that he would grow out of it. Nu , on the other
hand scoffed at the idea of him growing out of his interest in becoming a comic
strip artist.
• Narration- first person narrative. A memoir .
• Atmosphere created :
1. At home: uncomfortable
2. In the meeting: awkward
• Straightforward language with the use of imagery quite often
• Structure: Sentence vary in length and create a sense of conversation
• Humour/wit: ‘a real fountain’ , ‘fifty times a night at least’ , ‘six two-and-a-half's
are fifteen. Exactly.’ , ‘my father was shorter than me and twice the weight.’
• Irony: ‘I knew what was coming. A job.’ , ‘They were all dreamers’
Language Techniques and Literary Devices:
• Autobiography
• Use of Imagery
• Story written in 1st person in voice of young narrator. Tone shows a wry
humour – adult reflecting on youth seems more likely. Language is
straightforward and relies on variety rather than image creating. Sentences vary
in length and create a sense of conversation. Humour of opening sentence
implies adult looking back with affection.
• Memory as narrative tool: memory is always unreliable. Narrator counters this
unreliability by frequent corrections and apologies for inaccuracy.
• Title puts ambition against “dream” as writer is scathing of dreamers, yet the
whole story is a dream of his. This becomes increasingly obvious.
The story my greatest ambition is a narration of one of the past experiences of the narrator. It
evolves around of one the greatest dreams the writer ever had and once pursued. So great was the
desire to accomplish this dream that it seemed to have taken form in his mind and others ambitions
seemed meek and impractical before his desire.
For example when the writer narrates his want to become a comic strip artist, he scoffs at the
dreams his class fellows pursue and calls them ‘dreamers’ despite being a dreamer himself at that
time. Secondly, it is apparent that the dreams formed reality when the narrator describes his dream
“….I had a picture of myself walking to work every morning through a garden of exotic plants
growing in white gravel, cacti, ferns, pushing open a massive glass door under a neon sign and
smiling at a receptionist with a pipe in my mouth.”
If one reflects, he/she too may once have pursued or are pursuing such an ambition that makes
others ambitions meek in contrast. They may also have thought strongly or think of it strongly that
it takes form in their mind allowing them to imagine it and let the dream take hold of them.
Moving on in the story, we find that the narrator has drawn up his first comic strip but has no idea
of how to deal with it or what to do with it. He is simply confused of how to take the next step. This
confusion is cleared by a fellow classmate, Michael Lazarus, who suggests the idea of sending the
comic for publishing to a magazine.
As the narrator drew up the comic strip for his self satisfaction:
“Actually, doing anything with it hadn’t even entered my mind. Doing it was enough.”
There are many amongst us who can relate to this, the most creative in fact, who design and make extraordinary things
for their self satisfaction. However they are extremely carefree and do not worry about making use of their works as
they do not will to gain success, fame, or power. Their work is made only to satisfy their hearts, ease their minds, and
give light to their dreams. Others who seek fame, wealth, success and power may not be as extraordinary as the
creative ones but are those who know what, how and when to take initiatives. In a manner, they are practical.
Further on in the story, the narrator is unsettled and is worried whether he really ought to deliver his comic or not.
Often when it comes down taking the initiative causes one to become hesitant. Will it work? Is it ok to do so? Are there
more merits on non-merits? These are the first possible questions that arrive in ones mind. More over, one becomes
more anxious over the initiative if it is related with the future of their work what they consider, ‘their masterpiece’! As
seen in the story when the narrator ponders over the fact whether he wants to publish his comic:
“Did I want my comic to appear in a magazine which printed stories, where it would be read by the sort of people
who were always taking books out of the library and sitting under trees and wearing glasses and squinting and turning
pages with licked fingers? An awful prospect!”
And so, giving in to fear and doubt he disposed of the idea of sending his comic for publishing.
But what caused him to change his mind?
“… But the last thing I saw before I finally fell asleep was Lazarus’s face and he was saying, ‘Publication!’ and that
decided it. Away it went.”
And so, the comic was sent to the magazine editors.
However, what is astonishing for us to see, is that why would someone want to publish his work? Someone who creates
for self satisfaction, what caused him to want to take the path of success?
The two most probable notions that were present in the narrator’s mind were; that he didn’t want to be scoffed by others
over his dreams and desires. Secondly, it is possible that he wanted others around him to realize the genius of the work he
was committed to. He wanted them to see that what he is doing is something worthwhile, amazing, and new!! He wanted
to prove himself and fit in!
And so, following the desires of his heart, he faces all sorts of opposition, criticism, and difficulties.
For example the criticism from his father who instead of being a supportive person, played the role of ‘the great scoffer’.
The father mocks his son when he receives a letter from the magazine the comic had been sent to:
“… Ha, listen, listen. ‘We are very interested in your comic and would like you to phone Miss Gordon to make an
appointment to see the editor.’ An appointment? That means they don’t want it. If they wanted it, believe me, there’d be a
The fact that he bears the attitude of his parents, that he is not allowed privacy even in his own house over his own
matters is another problem.
“… I made a phone call to Miss Gordon from a public phone and not from home. I wasn’t going to have my father
listening to every word.”
Also when his mother opens up the contents of a telegram the narrator receives to every single person within call radius.
Side by side, he has to deal with the fact that his trousers are to short, he has to skip school for his meeting, and that the
place of meeting was twelve stations out of town where he had to go alone.
With great patience and strength, he faces these situations to the day he goes for his meeting. He also faces a few
disappointments at the offices of Boy Magazine when he realizes the settings aren’t what he imagined them to be.
If this point is reflected upon, we see that this situation is a very common occurring one. Whenever one faces a hardship,
it depends on them, if they are truly committed they struggle to survive the situation and break free from it. Perhaps this
was the same way the boy had felt.
He believes in himself. Despite the fact that there’s no one to support him, no one to cheer him on he struggles hoping that
he may win a companion in this struggle and move forward.
Is that not a common struggle in us humans? Do we not fight in order to achieve a companion even if we are unable to
win in certain circumstances?? But we are humans are we not?? We have limits do we not?? The thing is, when the boy
received a harsh blow from Boy Magazine he had reached his limits. After he received a letter saying that the magazine
was closing down and that they could not accommodate his comic at all, he was at the end of his wits, of his strength. He
could no longer stand up strongly because he knew that if he did, he would be mocked twice as much before due to this
first failure; hurt twice as much before because he lost in his battle with life. And just as the narrator says, he had become
like everyone else, a dreamer.
In my view, this story sucks. Why, because the boy didn’t stand up again. He didn’t stand up, look into the eyes of life’s
hardships and challenge it.
That is what life is about. The more it pushes you down, the more you stand up and struggle to prove to life, to people
that you are someone extraordinary and that life and the mockers who live around us, picked the wrong fight with the
wrong person.
But unfortunately, in life many of us forget about this important lesson. There are only a few who have been able to do
so, Martin Luther king, when he stood up to protect the aboriginal society in America. Quaid e Azam, Muhammad Ali
Jinnah, is the man who faced the British and the Hindus of the Indian subcontinent for a free, new, better home for the
Muslim society and succeeded. His works are in visual form, they have been since 1947, and have survived till today
2014. Allama Iqbal, philosopher-poet, more famously known as, Poet of the East too has played an important role. His
works have since the 1900’s continued to aspire many today. Steve Jobs, was the founder of the Apple Company, now the
most famous and outstanding company in the world. Did these people not face opposition against communities, nations,
and the world?? Did they not rise despite the severity of the situation?? They did. And because of their bravery, they are
our heroes today.
That’s why I not only feel that the story sucks, but also that it’s incomplete because it’s related to the people who forget
their purpose in life and give in to life by accepting defeat. Life is about struggle, about standing up every single time you
fall. Its about finding and losing people, its about discovering yourself, its about facing danger, looking danger in the eyes
and making fear strike through its, not our, eyes.
That is living.

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