Tragic Hero As Defined By Aristotle Creative Writings Example
The tragic hero is defined by Aristotle as someone who finds himself having a flaw in judgment (hamartia), which reverses their fortune (peripeteia) and leads them to realize that this action was brought on by what the tragic hero did (anagnorisis). The tragic hero’s fatal flaw is usually brought about by hubris, or excessive pride, which brings him a fate crueler than he might have deserved. Tragic heroes are usually the victims of their own pride, which is the case in many of literature’s greatest tragic heroes, such as Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby, Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, and Hamlet from the William Shakespeare play of the same name. While all three of these characters differ in many interesting ways in the way their tragedies play out, they mostly all fit the criteria set by Aristotle of the tragic hero.
Hamlet, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is the ideal tragic hero in Aristotle’s model. At the beginning, Hamlet starts the play with the best of intentions, since he wants to kill Claudius for murdering his father and taking over his kingdom. In this way, he is a great man, as is required of Aristotle’s tragic heroes. However, his major hubris comes from his love of words and language, as it eventually leads him to second-guess himself at every turn. He gets so hung up on what things are or are not (“to be or not to be”) that he cannot bring himself to actually follow through with his own actions. At several points in the play, he stops himself from killing Claudius because he does not feel the situation is right, or that he cannot go through with it. This is shown to be not his fault, as he is naturally such a thoughtful man, Hamlet being shown spending a lot of his time thinking about the nature of the world and life itself. At the same time, his love of words leads him to make Ophelia go crazy and kill herself, and uses them as a weapon against Claudius when he makes a play to be performed in front of him that hints at his murder of Hamlet’s father.
In the end, Hamlet is so insecure and sad that he brings about his own death and that of his family. His messing with his family’s affairs leads his mother, Gertrude, to drink poison meant for Hamlet, and leads him into a duel with Laertes which leads to both of their deaths. Even though Hamlet gets to stab Claudius with a poisoned blade and kill him, fulfilling his revenge, he loses his life and leads to the death of many others in the process. This also follows Aristotle’s rule that tragic heroes must end the play worse off than when they started.
Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby is another tragic hero in a modern American sense of the word: his hubris is that he chases the American Dream as it has been set out for everyone at the turn of the century. Being a self-made man, Gatsby got incredibly rich by doing illegal things and lied about his identity. Despite that, though, he managed to make a name for himself in America. His tragic flaw, however, is his love for Daisy and his desire to be with her, which is an even more unrealistic dream than his wealth. Even when he is eventually able to be with her, Daisy’s presence and attitudes start to chip away at his Godlike behavior and control of his life Eventually, he starts to fall from grace, becoming petty and angry, and causing him to lose his power. In the end, he is killed by George out of revenge for his role in the death of Myrtle. The smallness of his funeral, as compared to his big, lavish parties, shows the real tragedy of Gatsby – that no one really mourned him at his worst, even though they loved him at his best. This is the real tragedy of Gatsby, and the reason he fits the model of Aristotle’s tragic hero so well.
Holden Caulfield fits some measures of the tragic hero, but there are some significant differences that set him apart from Gatsby and Hamlet. First of all, it is arguable whether or not Holden Caulfield is a great man who would be undone by his own hubris. Holden, for the most part, is a young teenager who just lashes out at the world around him in anger, and being unable to actually fix anything he might not like about it. Unlike Gatsby and Hamlet, Holden does not die because of his tragic flaw either, and so his journey is not ended. While Gatsby might try to get rich in America, and Hamlet has the honorable goal of killing the man who killed his father, Holden has no such goal: he is an angry young man who does not see the point of life. Holden constantly talks about what a great man he would be, but he does nothing to further these goals. When he talks about the Robert Burns poem the title of the book references, and how he would save the kids who would fall off an imaginary cliff, he would not actually do it. It is a fantasy about the hero he could be, not the hero he is. To that end, it is hard to have a fall from grace when Holden is not very graceful in the first place. Holden’s choice is to shrug and run away from his problems, choosing not to invest himself in the lives of others. While this may make him a lonely figure, he is not, strictly speaking, a tragic hero.
Through these different explorations of the tragic hero, as defined by Aristotle, it is clear that Jay Gatsby and Hamlet more or less fit these descriptions, but Holden Caulfield does not. Gatsby is a self-made man who becomes undone by his own arrogant assumption that he can achieve the American Dream and also keep the girl of his dreams, Daisy. Hamlet, however, has the most traditional tragic hero’s journey, as his hubris in believing he can get away with avenging his father’s death by killing his uncle leads to his own death. Holden Caulfield is constantly hurt by his hubris, which prevents him from actually engaging with the world on anything more than a hateful level, but does not fall from grace quite as much as the other tragic heroes being explored. While these three men may fulfill different parts of the tragic hero journey set out by Aristotle at different levels, they all still show the problem with arrogance and how that can lead people into darkness and tragedy further than they might expect.