The Tragic Hero in Literature


what is a tragic hero in literature

Tragic Hero Definition: A tragic hero is a person, usually of noble birth, with heroic or potentially heroic qualities. This person is doomed by fate, some supernatural force to be destroyed, or endure great suffering. The hero struggles admirably against this fate, but fails because of a flaw or mistake. A tragic hero is the protagonist of a tragedy in dramas. In his Poetics, Aristotle records the descriptions of the tragic hero to the playwright and strictly defines the place that the tragic hero must play and the kind of man he must be. Aristotle based his observations on previous dramas. Many of the most famous instances of tragic heroes appear in Greek literature, most notably the works of Sophocles and . According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is the protagonist of a tragic play who experiences a reversal of fortune from happiness to misery because of his own tragic flaw. 1. A tragic hero must be of a noble stature. He must hold a high position that exemplifies his nobility and Rucha Phatak.

Tragic Hero - Examples and Definition of Tragic Hero

A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedyand is usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes typically have heroic traits that earn them the sympathy of the audience, but also have flaws or make mistakes that ultimately lead to their own downfall. In Shakespeare's Romeo and JulietRomeo is a tragic hero. His reckless passion in love, which makes him a compelling character, also leads directly to the tragedy of his death. Tragic heroes are the key ingredient that make tragedies, well, what is a tragic hero in literature, tragic.

That said, the idea of the characteristics that make a tragic hero have changed over time. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to define a "tragic hero. As Aristotle puts it, when the tragic hero meets his demise, what is a tragic hero in literature, "pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Aristotle strictly defined the characteristics that a tragic hero must have in order to evoke these feelings in an audience.

According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must:. To sum up: Aristotle defined a tragic hero rather strictly as a man of noble birth with heroic qualities whose fortunes change due to a tragic flaw or mistake often emerging from the character's own heroic qualities that ultimately brings about the tragic hero's terrible, excessive downfall.

Nevertheless, the essence of a tragic hero in modern times maintains two key aspects from Aristotle's day:. According to the modern conception of a tragic hero, both an antihero and a Byronic hero could also be tragic heroes. But in order for a tragic hero to exist, he or she has to be part of a tragedy with a story that ends in death or ruin.

Antiheroes and Byronic heroes can exist in all sorts of different genres, what is a tragic hero in literature, however, not just tragedies. An antihero in an what is a tragic hero in literature movie—for instance Deadpool, in the first Deadpool movie—is not a tragic hero because his story ends generally happily.

But you could argue that Macbeth is a kind of antihero or at least an initial hero who over time becomes an antiheroand what is a tragic hero in literature is very definitely also a tragic hero, what is a tragic hero in literature.

The tragic hero originated in ancient Greek theater, and can still be seen in contemporary tragedies. Even though the definition has expanded since Aristotle first defined the archetype, the tragic hero's defining characteristics have remained—for example, eliciting sympathy from the audience, and bringing about their own downfall.

The most common tragic flaw or hamartia for a tragic hero to have is hubrisor excessive pride and self-confidence. Sophocles' tragic play Oedipus Rex contains what is perhaps the what is a tragic hero in literature well-known example of Aristotle's definition of the tragic hero—and it's also a good example of hubris.

The play centers around King Oedipus, who seeks to rid the city he leads of a terrible plague. At the start of the play, Oedipus is told by a prophet that the only way to banish the plague is to punish the man who killed the previous king, Laius. But the same prophet also reports that Oedipus has murdered his own father and married his mother. Oedipus refuses to believe the second half of the prophecy—the part pertaining to him—but nonetheless sets out to find and punish Laius's murderer.

Eventually, Oedipus discovers that Laius had been his father, and that he had, in fact, unwittingly killed him years earlier, and that the fateful event had led directly to him marrying his own mother.

Oedipus has all the important features of a classical tragic hero. Throughout the drama, he tries to do what is right and just, but because of his tragic flaw hubris he believes he can avoid the fate given to him by the prophet, and as a result he brings about his own downfall. Arthur Miller wrote his play Death of a Salesman with the intent of creating a tragedy about a man who was not a noble or powerful man, but rather a regular working person, a salesman.

The protagonist of Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman, desperately tries to provide for his family and maintain his pride. Willy has high expectations for himself and for his children. He wants the American Dream, which for him means financial prosperity, happiness, and good social standing. Yet as he ages he finds himself having to struggle to hold onto the traveling salesman job at the company to which he has devoted himself for decades. Meanwhile, the prospects for his sons, Biff and Happy, who seemed in high school to have held such promise, have similarly fizzled.

Willy cannot let go of his idea of the American Dream nor his connected belief that he must as an American man be a good provider for his family. Ultimately, this leads what is a tragic hero in literature to see himself as more valuable dead than alive, and he commits suicide so his family can get the insurance money. Willy is a modern tragic hero. He's a good person who means well, but he's also deeply flawed, and his obsession with a certain idea of success, as well as his determination to provide for his family, ultimately lead to his tragic death.

Tragic heroes appear all over important literary works. With time, Aristotle's strict definition for what makes a tragic hero has changed, but the tragic hero's fundamental ability to elicit sympathy from an audience has remained. The protagonist what is a tragic hero in literature F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsbyis Jay Gatsby, a young and mysterious millionaire who longs to reunite with a woman whom he loved when he was a young man before leaving to fight in World War I.

This woman, Daisy, is married, however, to a man named Tom Buchanan from a wealthy old money family. Gatsby organizes his entire life around regaining Daisy: he makes himself rich through dubious meanshe rents a house directly across a bay from hers, he throws lavish parties in the hopes that she will come.

The two finally meet again and do begin an affair, but the affair ends in disaster—with Gatsby taking responsibility for driving a car that Daisy was in fact driving when she accidentally hit and killed Tom's mistress named MyrtleDaisy abandoning Gatsby and returning to Tom, and Gatsby getting killed by Myrtle's husband.

Gatsby's downfall is his unrelenting pursuit of a certain ideal—the American Dream—and a specific woman who he thinks fits within this dream. His blind determination makes him unable to see both that Daisy doesn't fit the ideal and that the ideal itself is unachievable.

As a result he endangers himself to protect someone who likely wouldn't do the same in return. Gatsby is not a conventional hero it's strongly implied that he made his money through gambling and other underworld activitiesbut for the most part his intentions are noble: he seeks love and self-fulfillment, and he doesn't intend to hurt anyone.

So, Gatsby would what is a tragic hero in literature a modernized version of Aristotle's tragic hero—he still elicits the audience's sympathy—even if he is what is a tragic hero in literature slightly more flawed version of the archetype.

The novel contains various subplots but for the most part follows a character named Jean Valjean, a good and moral person who cannot escape his past as an ex-convict. He originally goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread to help feed his sister's seven children. After Valjean escapes from prison, he changes his name and ends up leading a moral and prosperous life, becoming well-known for the ways in which he helps the poor. Javert, known for his absolute respect for authority and the law, spends many years trying to find the escaped convict and return him to prison.

After Javert's lifelong pursuit leads him to Valjean, though, Valjean ends up saving Javert's life. Javert, in turn, finds himself unable to arrest the man who showed him such mercy, but also cannot give up his devotion to justice and the law. In despair, what is a tragic hero in literature, he commits suicide.

In other words: Javert's strength and righteous morality lead him to his destruction. While Javert fits the model of a tragic hero in many ways, he's an unconventional tragic hero because he's an antagonist rather than the protagonist of the novel Valjean is the protagonist. One might then argue that Javert is a "tragic figure" or "tragic character" rather than a "tragic hero" because he's not actually the "hero" of the novel at all.

He's a useful example, though, because he shows just how flexible the idea of a "tragic hero" can be, and how writers play with those ideas to create new sorts of characters. Above all, tragic heroes put the tragedy in tragedies—it is the tragic hero's downfall that emotionally engages the audience or reader and invokes their pity and fear.

Writers therefore use tragic heroes for many of the same reasons they write tragedies—to illustrate a moral conundrum with depth, emotion, and complexity. Besides this, tragic heroes serve many functions in the stories in which they appear. Their tragic flaws make them more relatable to an audience, especially as compared to a more conventional hero, who might appear too perfect to actually resemble real people or draw an emotional response from the audience.

Aristotle believed that by watching a tragic hero's downfall, an audience would become wiser when making choices in their own lives. Furthermore, tragic heroes can illustrate moral ambiguity, since a seemingly desirable trait such as innocence or ambition can suddenly become a character's greatest weakness, bringing about grave misfortune or even death.

Sign In Sign Up. Tragic Hero Definition. Tragic Hero Examples. Tragic Hero Function. Tragic Hero Resources. LitCharts Teacher Editions. Teach your students to analyze literature like LitCharts does, what is a tragic hero in literature.

Detailed explanations, analysis, and citation info for every important quote on LitCharts. The original text plus a side-by-side modern translation of every Shakespeare play. LitCharts From the creators of SparkNotes, something better. Download this entire guide PDF. Tragic Hero Definition What is a tragic hero? Some additional key details about tragic heroes: The idea of the tragic hero was first defined by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle based on his study of Greek drama.

Despite the term "tragic hero," it's sometimes the case that tragic heroes are not really heroes at all in the typical sense—and in a few cases, antagonists may even be described as tragic heroes. Tragic Hero Pronunciation Here's how to pronounce tragic hero: tra -jik hee -roh The Evolution of the Tragic Hero Tragic heroes are the key ingredient that make tragedies, well, tragic.

Aristotle and the Tragic Hero The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to define a "tragic hero. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must: Be virtuous: In Aristotle's time, this meant that the character should be a noble. It also meant that the character should be both capable and powerful i. These traits make the hero attractive and compelling, and gain the audience's sympathy.

Be flawed: While being heroic, the character must also have a tragic flaw also called hamartia or more generally be subject to human error, and the flaw must lead to the character's downfall. On the one hand, these flaws make the character "relatable," someone with whom the audience can identify. Just as important, the tragic flaw makes the tragedy more powerful because it means that the source of the tragedy is internal to the character, not merely some outside force.

In the most successful tragedies, the tragic hero's flaw is not just a characteristic they have in addition to their heroic qualities, but one that emerges from their heroic qualities—for instance, a righteous quest for justice or truth that leads to terrible conclusions, or hubris the arrogance that often accompanies greatness.

In such cases, it is as if the character is fated to destruction by his or her own nature. Suffer a reversal of fortune: The character should suffer a terrible reversal of fortune, from good to bad. Such a reversal does not merely mean a loss of money or status. It means that the work should end with the character dead or in immense suffering, and to a degree that outweighs what it seems like the character deserved. The Modern Tragic Hero Over time, the definition of a tragic hero has relaxed considerably.

It can now include Characters of all genders and class backgrounds. Tragic heroes no longer have to be only nobles, or only men. Characters who don't fit the conventional definition of a hero. This might mean that a tragic hero could be regular person who lacks typical heroic qualities, or perhaps even a villainous or or semi-villainous person.


Tragic hero in literature? -


what is a tragic hero in literature


Aug 13,  · A tragic hero can be defined simply as the protagonist of a tragedy. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, however, endowed this individual with a . Tragic hero definition, a great or virtuous character in a dramatic tragedy who is destined for downfall, suffering, or defeat: Oedipus, the classic tragic hero. See more. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is the protagonist of a tragic play who experiences a reversal of fortune from happiness to misery because of his own tragic flaw. 1. A tragic hero must be of a noble stature. He must hold a high position that exemplifies his nobility and Rucha Phatak.