Tragic Hero

I am a big fan of the tragic hero.

For those who are unfamiliar, a tragic hero is a central figure in a story who, despite his best efforts and intentions, fails miserably. Think Oedipus. Hamlet is perhaps my favorite example from literature, even though it could be argued that through vengeance he succeeds in achieving his goals to a certain extent.

The point of tragic hero stories is similar to my point in the previous post, On noble defeatimportant lessons can often be learned through defeat. Moreover, Hollywood-style stories where the hero always wins are not realistic. Heroes, or those who wish to be heroes, often lose. Sometimes they win, but the result turns out to be something different from what they expected. Other times there is no win-lose binary to speak of.

I personally feel that stories involving defeat or misadventure are far more interesting. Perhaps the first classic example is Don Quixote. Why do we always need to admire the protagonist? Isn’t it more fun to laugh at him or feel better about ourselves that we are not in such a pitiable situation: that we can, for example, distinguish between a giant and a windmill? The story of Oedipus, for example, is so horrible that the reader cannot help but feel relieved that it is fiction. There are few things worse than finding out that you unknowingly murdered your father and conceived children with your mother.

The key to dealing with your own personal tragic hero adventure is finding the underlying meaning. It would be hard to find any meaning in life if every endeavor led to success. This would be heaven, and the only meaning of heaven is that you ‘passed the test of life’ (so to speak). Heaven is a reward for overcoming the many pitfalls of the harsh reality you must face before getting there. Of course, assuming that heaven does not exist, the real necessity is accepting life (and enjoying) life for what it is.

It would logically follow that even defeat must be accepted and, perhaps, enjoyed — enjoyed in the same way the reader enjoys Oedipus’s grandiose displays of suffering, Hamlet’s epic existential crisis, or Don Quixote’s blind commitment to self-degradation. These are just as much a part of the human condition as any depiction of success or happiness. Life would be incomplete without them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s