25th September 2018

Ozymandias analysis

Question: How does Shelley convey the idea of Ozymandias’ hubris in the poem?

Shelley conveys the idea of Ozymandias’ hubris in the poem through many techniques, and through this also conveys the idea that sometimes great and powerful things aren’t quite as great and powerful as they seem. 

Shelley begins the poem by describing Ozymandias’ broken statue in the desert. He uses the adjective ‘shattered’ to describe the face of the statue of Ozymandias. Half sunk in the sand, its face is ‘shattered’ or broken up into many small pieces. Shelley uses the word ‘shattered’ specifically to show that perhaps the statue of Ozymandias, while it seemed great and powerful (as we learn later in the poem), that is in fact quite fragile and easily broken. This conveys the idea that even great and powerful things can break or be broken, which is something that Ozymandias evidently did not believe would be true as shown by the irony later in the poem. Through the use of this technique to describe the broken statue, it shows that humans are perhaps not as strong as we think – which is used to convey Ozymandias’ hubris in the poem because he clearly believes he is very strong and powerful. 

Ozymandias, as written on the pedestal, describes himself as the ‘king of kings.’ This repetition shows how he believes how he is extremely important, as a King is a very important person held in high esteem. If he believes he is the king of kings, the ruler of the most powerful people on the planet, then it is clear he believes himself to be well above all other people and more important than anyone else. This conveys the idea of Ozymandias’ hubris through how Ozymandias clearly believes he is more important and better than simply the king, but he is the ‘king of kings’.

The pedestal shows that Ozymandias states ‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ The verb ‘look’ is in the imperative and comes across as a command – showing that Ozymandias is ordering people to do something and therefore believes he is very important and above everyone else. He obviously thinks highly of himself and this shows his hubris nature. Ozymandias is telling everyone, even the mightiest and most powerful people, to look on the work he has done and ‘despair’ or be very scared. He tells them to look at all the wonderful things he has done and lose all the hope they have. This shows Ozymandias’ hubris through how he believes the things he has done are so wonderful and important that others should despair when seeing them.

However, Shelley further conveys the idea of Ozymandias’ hubris through the irony that in fact, there are no wonderful works around the ‘colossal wreck’ that is Ozymandias’ “mighty” statue. “Nothing besides remains” and “the lone and level sand stretch far away”. The word ‘lone’ shows that there is in fact nothing around Ozymandias’ statue – no wonderful works that Ozymandias’ believes he has done. The desert is also described as ‘boundless and bare’. This alliteration draws attention to the words when the reader reads them, making it prominent in the text and even more obvious that there is in fact nothing in the desert. The irony of this fact shows how Ozymandias is arrogant and prideful – he believes he had done all these amazing, powerful things when in reality nothing is there. Shelley uses the technique of irony to further show Ozymandias’ hubris and also convey to the reader that sometimes, not everything is as amazing as it seems. Sometimes people believe they are better than they really are, or believe they are better than other people when they really aren’t, and this can be a dangerous trap. Through these techniques to show Ozymandias’ arrogant nature, it shows the idea that sometimes people aren’t as powerful or great as we think we are. 

Ozymandias’ hubris is conveyed by Shelley through many language techniques. They all contribute to the overall idea of how great and powerful things often aren’t as wonderful as they seem, and sometimes when people believe they are better than others it sets you up for failure or embarrassment. The statue of Ozymandias is found simply as “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone”, with a shattered head in the sand. Something that was once powerful and believed to be eternal is suddenly broken and meaningless, and this idea is conveyed throughout the poem. 

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