18th October 2018

Text Connections

When examining four texts, all of which centre around the main character archetype of a tragic hero, it is important to note the deep connections that span setting and context.   The convention of the tragic hero and on a more detailed level, the aspect of Hamartia or fatal flaw is one that leaves a wide brush stroke across the record of literature and storytelling from the very first classics of Sophocles’, Oedipus Rex to the more modern takes such as Ridley Scott’s, Gladiator. In between are texts such as Shakespeare’s, King Lear and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American Tragedy, The Great Gatsby. The genre of tragedy and the convention of a tragic hero are extremely well defined and laid out in Aristotle’s Poetics. Although this text is old and based on the original Ancient Greek interpretation of the genre, tragedies and tragic heroes haven’t varied too widely from the essential elements Aristotle identified. Poetics outlines five main stages of a tragic hero’s life that makes them a compelling and relatable character. These stages are initial happiness and goodness, this is then followed by the audience’s identification of a fatal flaw or Hamartia in the character, this was often pride or impiety in Greek times, morphing into greed and blindness in more modern texts. This, in turn, leads to his Peripeteia or sudden reversal of fate which is soon followed by Anagorisis, or the hero’s sudden realisation and acknowledgement of the part he has had to play in his own suffering. The final stage of the process is what Aristotle believed to be the purpose of the piece. It is the final part of a hero’s life cycle and often ends in death, this stage is called catharsis. Catharsis is known as the cleansing of emotions from the audience experiencing a Tragedy. It is achieved when an audience feels both pity and fear for the character and that in the end, their suffering is more than they deserved. Without a hamartia or flaw, the audience would not feel that the suffering was in any way deserved and there would be no satisfaction or emotional relief when the hero did meet his fate. There had to be, according to Aristotle, a balance between goodness and mistakes that make a character both relatable and admirable. 

Oedipus Rex holds the firmest grasp over the concept of a tragic hero. Held up as a triumph and perfect example of the genre by Aristotle, the text is a brilliant template by which other versions of the convention and character archetype can be compared. Aristotle felt that what made Oedipus so perfect in its portrayal of the tragic hero was Sophocles’ exact use of the formula that Aristotle had theorised made a great and cathartic tragedy and by extension, a great and captivating tragic hero. Much of the beauty of Oedipus is in its irony, a common convention of the genre and a language device often used in the portrayal of Hamartia. Oedipus Rex is originally a good man, this is shown in his leadership and bravery. His life follows the pattern of a Greek hero; noble blood, a humble upbringing, a journey, the slaying of a sphinx and the attainment of a Kingdom. Once he becomes king, Oedipus is a respected and loved monarch. When Thebes suffers from a plague, Oedipus’ sentiment is firm in that “their plight concerns me now, more than my own life”.The chorus echoes the sentiment that he is a compassionate leader. Soon, however, under the pressure of distrust and disaster, the less heroic traits begin to dissipate to be replaced with tyranny and impiety. Oedipus disregards the loyal prophet Tiresias calling him a “brainless, senseless, sightless sot” when confronted with the truth that he has in fact fulfilled the prophecy of the gods. He then proceeds to proclaim that “Kingdoms are won by men and moneybags”, a statement which would not sit well with the democratic Greek audience, in addition to the impiety and disrespect he shows towards the gods.  In Oedipus Rex, the audience knows from the beginning what Oedipus has done. They know he has fulfilled the prophecy, they know he has killed his father and married his mother. Oedipus, on the other hand, is completely unaware that he has committed these sins and remains unaware until his moment of recognition later on in the play. The words “How terrible– to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees!” show the suffering his realisation brings to him. In the case of tragic heroes, the realization that their own flaw has caused their suffering is more painful than the suffering itself. Oedipus realizes at this moment that his own impiety and pride are the very things that have bought about this horror in his life. His cursing of the one who is hurting Thebes is ironic as it is he who becomes the recipient of his own curse. The idea of the tragic hero in Sophocles’ time was not only supposed to provoke the feeling, of pity and fear that would lead to catharsis; It was also meant to have a somewhat political impact on the audience watching. The Ancient Greek Drama festivals where this piece was originally performed were thought to be compulsory events for voting men in the city of Athens. They often, as Oedipus does, had themes that warned men of the dangers of becoming prideful, impious or tyrannical. The plays tried to portray these behaviours so that when voting, audience members could identify these traits and downfalls and make decisions based on this.

Shakespeare is an author who seems influenced directly by the Aristotelian and classical Greek interpretation of a hero. King Lear is a text that follows the stages laid out in Poetics closely. Lear has a similar noble birth and initial fortune as Oedipus, he also falls from grace in a similar way as his Kingdom crumbles around him. His initial goodness is implied, through the loyalty displayed by Kent and Gloucester, nobles in his court who stand by him even when he banishes them from his court. Also his daughter, Cordelia remains loving and devoted even after he allows his pride and emotional instability to get the better of him and he acts cruelly towards her. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an example of a modern American tragedy. Therefore some of the themes remain where others differ. A key difference in Gatsby compared to Lear or Oedipus is the absence of noble birth. Gatsby is initially a poor farm boy born James Gatz. He abandons this life to become seek wealth and create a new identity for himself that is respectable and high flying. Still, Gatsby possesses the essential Hamartia that all tragic heroes do. His is an insistence that he can repeat the past and a deep inner pride that means he drowns himself in material luxuries and cares deeply about his own appearance as a wealthy man. More so, some may say, than he does about his own morality. However, he is still admirable, as a hero must be, in the eyes of Nick at least who claim that Gatsby is “better than the rest of them put together. Unfortunately, Gatsby believes so fervently in the American dream and desires the idealistic version of Daisy so greatly that he is willing to lie, cheat and bribe his way to ‘success’. As the narrator of the novel notes, Gatsby “paid a high price for living too long with a single dream”. This delusional pursuance of an unobtainable dream is, in essence, his greatest flaw. Like Lear, Gatsby is blind to who truly cares for him. Lear chooses his corrupt and plotting daughters against the one who is loyal and good. Gatsby chooses the shallow and cruel Daisy who Nick states “they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness…” This quote indicates Gatsby’s own faults and the part he had to play in his own fate which being shot for taking the fall for Daisy’s carelessness. It also shows, however, that Gatsby was in some ways a victim to the people around him, specifically Daisy. Fitzgerald’s intent has connections to Sophocles intent in that it sought in a way to approach a socio-political issue from an emotional standpoint. As well as feeling pity and fear for the character there is also a message about how they have let wider society influence them. Where Gatsby has not kept his down to earth way of life and goodness because of the time’s hysterical pursuit of wealth, so, Oedipus has not kept his level ruling and piety when he is given both power and pressure where his goodness turns to impiety and tyranny. 

Finally Gladiator, a film created in 2002 captured the classic Greek tragedy whilst taking elements of the modern tragedy that is seen Gatsby. Maximus, a Roman general who is cheated of his place in the Roman Empire 

It is interesting to note on the topic of Hamartia that there is scholarly debate over what the term truly means. The Greek word itself is an archery term and translates to ‘missing the mark’ or 

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously “Why of course you can!”

natural world, the bay, the rain,

A specific connection between Lear and Gatsby is the language feature of metaphor and symbolism that is embedded in the rain. For Lear the rain and the storm represents his own madness and loss of control over his mind. For Gatsby, the rain represents the inevitable flow of time. The quote “and so we beat, boats against the 

In conclusion, the Tragic heroes of these 4 pieces are all strikingly similar whilst being distinctly different in their own ways. There is a common belief that they can somehow defy the natural laws of the world or of God. Oedipus believing he can escape his divine fate. Gatsby believed who could defy the laws of time. Lear believed he was entitled to break the chain of being and that his own anger could prevail against overwhelming odds. Maximus believed he could defeat the standing Roman Emperor through sheer force of will and moral fibre. All of these beliefs have a common strand of arrogance and pride. However, they are also examples of courage is some ways. Thus the split of the tragic hero between good and flawed. He is neither completely and he 

It is interesting to note on the topic of Hamartia that there is scholarly debate over what the term truly means. The Greek word itself is an archery term and translates to ‘missing the mark’ or

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Dara,

    Your knowledge and understanding of the construct of the tragic hero has become well refined over the course of this year. Your articulation of this has also become more sophisticated.

    You need to look to move into your exploration of how each text specifically deals with the construct of the tragic hero. Once you have completed this, you can begin to communicate the connections between each tragic hero and their authors construction of them.

    Mrs. P

  2. Dara,

    In our final periods of assessment, you need to organise all your material into the most logical format you can think of.

    I also encourage you to consider how, when looking at the connections across texts, meaning can be found for the audiences of these texts and your essay. What do/should readers of your essay realise about these connections when they are reading your essay. What meaning is created by the connection?

    Mrs. P


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