The Significance of Tragic Heroes in Literature

First and foremost, who is a tragic hero? Anyone interacting with heroes in literature thesis is confronted by the need to either ask or answer this question. This concept of a hero originates from ancient Greece, meaning an individual who comes across adversity and when faced with danger, they show stamina and courage. However, Poetics provides us with a simple understanding of what a hero in tragic literature means and what characteristics define them.

An individual only becomes heroes in literature of tragedy if his or her misfortune and doom emanate from their mistakes and errors in judgment. Importantly, such heroes must enkindle emotions such as anger, fear, pity, or happiness in a reader or audience. Heroes in literature essay which are tragic must confront their misfortunes and inevitable downfall, something which they have no power and control over.

Aristotle conceptualization of an ideal hero is simply a good character, neither to the extreme of a villain or a wicked individual, who has flaw and tragic trait in them. They show the best and worst forms of human nature.

It has been noted in articles by several academicians and literature experts that in the 21st-century hero in tragedy is not precisely similar to the one is classical times. In ancient period, in Poetics, a hero is only one who is virtuous, flawed and suffers greatly from a setback in luck from good to worse.

The Common Traits Found in Tragic Heroes

  • Possess a tragic weaknesses leading to their doom (Harmatia).
  • They are excessively proud and have no respect for normalcy and how things are ordinarily done (hubris).
  • At some point, they make an important discovery in the narration (anagnorisis).
  • They experience a reverse in fate (peripeteia)
  • Their downfall is unavoidable due to their actions and hubris (nemesis)
  • They bring about emotions in an audience due to their tragic end and doom (catharsis).

The above classical understanding of tragic heroes in literature may be summarized as characters possessing unique or heroic qualities whose fate and fortunes are intertwined with tragedy due to their mistakes and misjudgments (which are inherent traits).

In today's century, a hero concept has, to some extent evolved. A hero in a tragedy, from a modern perspective, necessarily does not have typical qualities of a hero and is normal or regular individual. Furthermore, unlike classical tragic heroes who were mostly men and nobles, today heroes in literature examples are from both male and female genders. They also come from various background and social class.

Despite the modern concept of a hero evolving over time, it still maintains certain crucial aspects of the classical understanding. These are; a tragic end as a result of flaw and being able to evoke emotions in an audience.

Let us look at an example of a tragic hero in the following literature and then proceed to look at how significant the hero is to the writing.

President Kennedy: The Tragic Hero of America

John Fitzgerald Kennedy is a president who inspired American generation to be responsible for their government by remaining active in socio-political matters. As a Democrat, he strived to ensure a widespread of equal basic rights, freedoms, and opportunities for all citizens. He encouraged the country and its citizens to never stop lifting up those who are poor and less fortunate.

His presidency challenged the nation to aim for and achieve the impossible. It is during his tenure that America undertook moon exploration. He also shaped international diplomacy and gave it a fresh and new direction by setting out to establish improved relations with Latin America and emerging free countries. Importantly, he calmed down the nuclear threat war by making open conversation channels with his Russian counterpart and offering himself to help in every way to make the world a better place for co-existence of diversity.

President Kennedy is best remembered for his visionary political actions and service to the public based on virtues such as courage, innovation, selflessness, and inclusive leadership. He managed to protect America's interests and power in an increasingly dangerous world where the threat of nuclear war was real and ensured that the nation remained a bastion of hope to the several countries, in Europe that were still reeling from the effects of the devastating Second World War.

On November 22 of 1963, tragedy befell the president. His motorcade was going through Dallas, exposed to a great extent to the crowd which had gathered in large number to greet him. As his car took a turn off the Main Street at Dealey Plaza and was passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunshots were fired. The president was hit, shortly later he succumbed to his bullet wounds at Parkland Memorial Hospital where he had been rushed. Alongside was Governor Connally who sustained injuries too but recovered later.

Prior to becoming the president, Kennedy came from a privileged background and lived comfortably. He had a short stint in congressional career. Kennedy's candidature for the top seat had elicited mixed reactions with many voters supporting him for the dynamism that his youth and politics meant, but there were also worries that his inexperience did not favor him as a top choice to lead America in such an interesting and challenging period.

The debacle at the southern coast of Cuba (recall The Bay of Pigs) and another misjudgement from the onset in deed lent credence to the fears about his inexperience to lead. Trouble began bedeviling Kennedy's administration by the summer of 1962. The Cold war environment became difficult abroad, the Cuban Missile crisis, Congress did not either make life easy for his administration, the incessant call for change by activist and pressure groups, and a dwindling economic growth contributed to an increasingly negative perception of his presidency.

In 1963 major worrying issues persisted; the south of Vietnam situation worsened; there was no cogent plan to address conclusively the conflict. In the sphere of civil rights, some progress had been achieved, but there was a bloody confrontation in the streets and more than ever injustice based on race and color remained common and widespread.

There exists varied opinion about the assessment of President John Kennedy's administration. However, in America's memory, John Kennedy remains one of the most charismatic leaders who steered the nation during a period of immense challenge.

The above story offers us a glance of a tragic hero. What makes J.F. Kennedy a tragic hero?

  • He possessed flaws and made decisions that were unpopular to a section of the nation. Perhaps this motivated his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was a Marxist.
  • He was an ordinary man who decided to seek the highest office in America to serve the people and change the world to a better place. He had good intentions from the beginning.
  • He had an unconventional style of operating the government which guided his judgments of situations and decisions.
  • He made important contribution to the country's image and stature as a powerful nation.
  • Even after becoming the most powerful man in America and in the world, he experiences misfortunes and tragic end. His reversal of fortune moves from happiness to death.
  • His story evokes feelings of sadness and empathy. His death remains horrific to date. And some have even pointed that he is among the most popular presidents of America.

From the above tragedy, President Kennedy is significant in the following ways;

  • He supports the story; that is, his actions to a great extent are attributed to his tragic end.
  • There are lessons to be learned from Kennedy's life and tragic flaws. He made some mistakes and unpopular decisions in his administration and in This is important because literature should inform and educate.
  • The story of Kennedy evokes emotions among a reader or an audience. This emotional engagement is the purpose of having a tragic hero in literature. Feelings of pity, fear, love, hate, and sadness should engulf anyone reading or watching a tragedy.
  • President Kennedy illustrates dilemmas people in a position of leadership experience and the pressures they have to undergo when carrying out their mandates.
  • John F. Kennedy's imperfection makes him identifiable or relatable with many. Something every author of creating heroes in literature wants to achieve.

It is necessary for an author of heroes in literature thesis to contemplate on why it is important to create the hero in their work. In most heroes in literature examples or essays, two types of characters that can easily be misconstrued with the tragic hero; semi-villain and villain.

The semi-villain hero varies from a villain to be discussed shortly. In most case, the semi-villain hero is a thoughtful, clever, and intelligent male character. He tends to be extremely popular. Nevertheless, they have deeper flaws and mistakes which cause them to do things that are ordinarily considered as not acceptable socially due to the nature of their controversy with the larger society. They are motivated and directed by their thoughts and beliefs, and they just do not conform or yield for anybody. While the quality of selfishness might not be explicit from the beginning, as the story progresses, this quality becomes more evident and apparent.

The other common hero in literature thesis is the villain. A villain is a character that lacks the most obvious qualities which are linked with heroes. Most heroes are courageous, honest, intelligent and possess integrity. A villain still gets sympathy from the reader or an audience and may do something right but for the wrong reason. Tommy Egan, for example in the American TV Series called Power, is a selfish and ambitious character. His desire to control the drug world in New York makes him kill anybody who gets in his way, including his father whom he had longed missed and also going to war with James ‘Ghost' St. Patrick. To this point, Tommy is definitely not a good. But as a villain, he's not outrightly rotten. He has a compassionate side of him as is seen in his belief about family and how he loves his women and strives to make them happy. Tommie is the villain who at times does a few conventional things, but only if such action advances his interests and suits his cause.

In Summary

This article has taken us through the concept of heroes in literature. Tragic hero concept was first used in Aristotle's work. The philosopher also went further to identify certain key traits that qualify a tragic hero. These are harmatia, hubris, anagnorisis, peripeteia, nemesis and catharsis.

We have seen how far the modern understanding and portrayal of the tragic hero is removed from the classical concept. Modern tragic hero varies in gender and social background. They are more ordinary normal folks who live amongst us. This is a departure from the classical conception of tragic heroes who were mostly men and came from noble stature. They were also perfect and mighty. In spite of this, a hero in a tragedy still must; come to a tragic end as a result of flawed actions and should be able to inspire love, fear, pity, anger and admiration from readers or those watching a play.

A creator of heroes in literature must show their significance. Generally, tragic heroes are significant in literatures given that they serve the purpose of bringing out feelings of sadness, pity and fear, emotions which makes a reader or an audience experience what is known as catharsis or the act of relieving all the bottled up emotions. The inherent flaws of a hero brings on his death or reversal in fortunes from good luck to bad, causing their downfall and ultimately tragic end. This provides an audience with some lessons to avoid making certain mistakes or errors in judgment in their day to day undertakings and in their relationships with fellow humans. The extreme sufferings and doom of a tragic hero in literature examples is meant to arouse feelings of sympathy, pity, love, anger, and fear through already described catharsis, leaving a reader or audience better.

President Kennedy's story has given us a much more understanding of the concept of tragic heroes and how important they are in literature.