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The Tragic Hero in Literature

A tragic hero in a literary work can be defined as someone who is endowed with a tragic fatal flaw that dooms him to make a serious error in judgment (ôMore Terms Definedö). As a result of this error in judgment, the hero falls from great heights or from high esteem, realizes that he has made an irreversible mistake, then faces and accepts a tragic death with honor, evincing pity or fear in the audience (ôMore Terms Definedö).

The fatal flaw is an essential element in the tragic hero, being the pivotal condition that causes his downfall. The concept of the fatal flaw derives from the Greek word ôhamartia,ö which is a word used frequently throughout the New Testament and is usually translated there as ôsinö or ômissing the markö (ôHamartiaö). The tragic hero is in effect compelled to sin because of his fatal flaw; he cannot escape it. The great tragedians, such as Sophocles, identify the tragic hero as one who is destined to fall because he carries the evil seed of a fatal flaw that at some point in the play springs up into a full-grown flaw that causes him to commit a fatal and irreversible mistake. The audience watching the tragic hero is touched with pity or fear, watching the downfall of the mighty from such a relatively small factor as a little flaw.

The characters Troy Maxson of ôFencesö and Oedipus of ôOedipus the Kingö serve as good examples of characters that can be analyzed, compared, and contrasted to determine whether they fit the classification of tragic hero and how they relate to one another. Oedipus fits all of the classic qualifications of a tragic hero, from his noble birth as a king to his fatal flaw, hubris. Although he becomes king, Oedipus keeps encountering clues that there is something in his past that must be uncovered. A brilliant man, he solves the riddle of the Sphinx but seems at first to overlook the clues that might have told him of his identity. Enmeshed in a


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The Tragic Hero in Literature. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:50, May 24, 2020, from