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Tragic Hero Examples

A tragic hero as a separate kind of characters was created for the genre of tragedy. Many great writers contributed to this type of characters, and an entire theory was built. We know numerous examples of tragic heroes whose primary goal is to convey the acutest feeling of pity and sadness. Aristotle called this feeling catharsis and saw it as an indelible part of the tragic. Today, however, tragic hero has changed. But the foundations of creating these characters can be still found in Aristotle's work.

The Traditional Setting of Tragic Heroes Examples: The Rule of Three Unities

All the great tragedians - Euripides, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Goethe and many others, brought something new to their characters. Over the course of time, we can see the methodological basis for creating tragic hero examples. In the ancient times, one of the fundamental conditions of creating a tragedy was the rule of three unities: the unity of action, the unity of time, and the unity of space.

The unity of action presupposes that everything done by all the characters, all the deeds of the hero, and all the events described in the play aim at achieving the ultimate goal of the tragedian. The unity of time and the unity of space were a necessity. All the action had to take place in 24 hours and in the same place. This was due to the fact that it was rather hard to stage a longer action or to switch the scenery. However, these requirements became an obligatory part of any tragedy. A lot of researchers state that the rule of three unities played one of the crucial parts in creating the best tragic heroes examples. Later, the rule was adopted in classicism, which is no surprise, as the writers of 17-19 centuries found great inspiration in ancient literature. It is curious that the rule of three unities was also applied to romanticism. Even short stories of that period featured the unity of space and time, not to mention drama. Edgar Poe gave us prototypes for characters of every contemporary genre, basing his narrations on, among others, this rule. The list of tragic heroes was considerably expanded in the periods when the rule of three unities was the dominating one.

However, there were those who believed that rules are set to be broken. Even Shakespeare did this from time to time, changing the scenery and intertwining more than one plot in his plays. Victor Hugo showed that the demand for three unities was gone forever in his tragedy Hernani in the mid 19th century. After this, the rule of three unities was not considered to be obligatory anymore.

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Who Are Tragic Hero Examples for a Heroic Essay?

When you start writing your paper, it is not easy to pick hero examples for a heroic essay. Before you make up your mind, you should consider the following aspects of a tragic hero as a character. Some of them are relevant to these days, and there are many modern tragic hero examples based on them. Others, on the other hand, are considered by writers to be archaic and unnecessary, just like the rule of the three unities.

  1. A tragic hero had to be a protagonist of the literary piece. We observe it in ancient plays, Shakespearean works, and in some of the novels and drama works written in the 20th century. Today, however, this is not so. Even tragic heroes examples in the contemporary media are not the main characters. It is peculiar that it would be natural to make them tragic, but today's writers prefer happy-endings for their protagonists, unlike other notable characters of their books and plays.
  2. A tragic hero had to be high on the social scale. Again, a high social position is not a must anymore. Although tragic heroes still have to be noble (in the general sense) and decent, their virtues can't be absolute. Otherwise, they wouldn't commit the mistake on which the whole plot is built.
  3. Any of the tragic hero examples for a heroic essay have to commit something terrible. It can be a crime, but sometimes, this is an action considered as a crime only in this particular situation.
  4. An indelible part of creating a proper tragic hero and one of the basics for you to analyze tragic hero examples for a heroic essay is hubris. This is the pride that leads the hero to the fatal mistake. The hubris can't exist in a tragic hero without the tragic guilt. The clash of these traits brings us to a particular outcome.
  5. All tragic hero examples in the history of literature have had a tragic end. But! Death is rarely the outcome. Usually, heroes are brought to a tragic revelation that the life they knew is over, but they continue existing with this truth.

Tragic Hero Examples for a Heroic Essay

  • Oedipus

Oedipus is the protagonist of Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus Rex created in the 5th century BC. Oedipus is the king of Thebes admired by his people for helping them in all their troubles. As we can see, the requirement of high (the highest, in this case) position is fulfilled. This is no surprise, as Aristotle considered Oedipus the best of tragic hero examples. The king's personal qualities are very high too. His moral standards never allow him to do anything indecent in his life. When he finds out that it is predetermined to him to become a murderer of his own father, he leaves his home without understanding that he has made a step toward his tragic destiny.

The reader cannot but sympathize the hero. None of Oedipus's misfortune results from his own misdeeds. However, there is hubris in the character. Oedipus thought that he could trick his destiny and he couldn't be more wrong. His destiny is his nemesis, another indelible part of the tragedy. All actions the characters do join in the highest act of destiny. So, we can observe a perfect example of the unity of action.

It is peculiar that Oedipus' mother takes death as freedom. That is why he can't allow himself to die because in his opinion he doesn't deserve freedom. And this is also a reason why tragic heroes rarely die in any literary works. Another tragic hero that stayed alive proves that sometimes living brings the greater catharsis to the reader than the hero's demise.

  • Raskolnikov

Tragic heroes don't always commit their crimes unconsciously. They may be planned and executed with a clear picture of the consequences in the hero's head. But these ideas are always delusional, and the hero always understands it, once the crime is committed. The most prominent example of such a crime is the murder described in The Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A young man, Rodion Raskolnikov kills an old money-lender and her sister who witnessed the first murder. At first, he is convinced that this is the right thing to do. He doesn't do it for money, although he is penniless. Raskolnikov has drawn the conclusion that killing this person will make the society better and some of the injustice can be stopped. Besides, he thinks that his intellectual level is higher than that of many others, which, from his perspective, gives him the right to decide what is better for his society and country. He can't be seen as a cold-blooded killer, somehow. His thoughts are occupied with the ideas of the perfect environment with no miseries that he sees every day. Dostoevsky describes the pictures of the city in detail for a good reason - this is a reflection of the despair that has mastered Rodion's mind.

The hero himself is opposed to this all. He is very handsome, and he is a good person, indeed. He saves children; he pays for the funeral of a person he knew. It may even seem that the good deeds Raskolnikov does in his life can compensate this terrible, terrible mistake he has done. But it wouldn't be one of the best examples of tragic heroes if Raskolnikov didn't have the tragic guilt we have discussed above. After all, he has a breakdown, and in the epilogue, he finally decides to confess. The name of the character speaks for the clash of his hubris and guilt, as in can be interpreted as 'controversy.'

  • Jay Gatsby

Mr. Gatsby is one of the most popular hero examples for a heroic essay writing. The plot of Fitzgerald's novel has all the required elements to make him a perfect tragic hero. Gatsby is also one of the latest protagonists known as modern tragic hero examples all over the world.

Although Gatsby appears to be very mysterious about his life and income (which is no surprise given that he is not exactly what everybody thinks of him), the reader can see him as a person led by his love through all his life. This doesn't make him flawless, but we still can understand his actions and sympathize with him. However, the hubris of the character is evident too. He thinks he knows better - he is sure that when he gets Dasy, the love of his life, everything will change and all the vanity around him will disappear because he doesn't need it. But this doesn't happen. Although, there is no unity of time at all in the novel and the unity of place in very vague, the unity of action is striking. All the character are used by F.S. Fitzgerald to bring the reader to the tragic end. Besides, all the people from the parties are used to demonstrate that even if Gatsby has a higher reason for gathering them together, he has failed to build a network that could have saved him from loneliness and, eventually, from death. Except for Nick, of course, who could have become a real friend, but didn't have an opportunity, because Gatsby didn't want him around. He wanted the only person, or even the image he created in his mind - Daisy he used to know. It was before Daisy declined to say that she never loved Tom, her husband when Gatsby understood that her love and the peace it would bring to his soul were an illusion.

Gatsby is a very, very lonely person. This is rooted in his mind. But, the catharsis is still devastating for the reader. He has done the noblest thing - took the blame for the terrible crime that he didn't commit. But this could change nothing. Daisy didn't leave her husband, in fact, she didn't even show up at Gatsby's funeral, knowing that he literally died for her. All the qualities that the author endowed to Jay Gatsby allow us to add him to the list of tragic heroes admired worldwide.

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