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Tragic Hero Examples

All the tragic hero examples in the history of literature are based on six main aspects, unchanged since the ancient times. These are hubris, nemesis, anagnorisis, peripeteia, hamartia, and catharsis. They all were described by Aristotle in his prominent Poetica. A lot of principles of creating the tragic effect are now forgotten, but the basics remain the same.

Tragic Hero Hubris Examples: What Makes Characters Become Tragic Heroes

Hubris is one of the main distinctive features of a tragic hero. This is how you know that this is one of the good hero examples for a heroic essay. Hubris is a number of traits in his or her personality that pushes him or her to the greatest misdeed that leads to catharsis.

If we agree with Aristotle (why wouldn't we?) who claimed that Sophocles' Oedipus is the best of tragic heroes examples, we should find hubris in this character. But it doesn't seem easy. First of all, Oedipus is the king. Does he have to show less pride? He is the ruler of a huge number of people, but he seems to lack any arrogance. Unlike other rulers who appear to be real tyrants, Oedipus is extremely kind to his people and helps everybody he can. He doesn't think of his personal gain, all he wants is to SERVE those he is responsible for. But he also wants to escape his fate that has been foreseen in his past. He leaves his father and mother not to let the terrifying prophecy come true. And this is exactly what results in the most terrible crime he could have done. The hubris of the hero is shown by Sophocles through trying to fight destiny. Destiny is not an enemy you can trick. This is the highest power, and even the king can't face it as an equal.

Other tragic hero examples are too confident in their role in society. Among the best hero examples for a heroic essay, we can point out Rodion Raskolnikov who hits one of the top positions in the list of tragic heroes of the world literature. A poor student comes to a dangerous theory that people can be subdivided into two main groups: those who can make history and those who can't. The first group is allowed to violate the moral standards and the order in the society, as they are considered to be geniuses. One of them, in Raskolnikov's opinion, is Napoleon. The military leader sent 1000 people to die in Egypt and left the French army in Russian snows, without a tint of regret and just for the sake of ‘the ultimate goal.' The hero created by Dostoevsky also wants to be capable of such sacrifices without feeling sorry for them. He wants to become as cold-blooded as Napoleon, which leads him to the murder that ruins all his life.

Examples of Tragic Heroes with Different Kinds of Nemesis

Nemesis can have different forms, but, one way or another, it presupposes the conflict. It can be circumstances caused by the hero's hubris. Like in the case of Oedipus, when the hero kills his real father making the prophecy that he wanted to avoid come true. The same thing happens to Raskolnikov in The Crime and Punishment. Led by his illusions about a perfect society without injustice and his role in its creation, he kills a real person. His deed is awful, and he understands it quite well. The inner conflict is started at this point of narration, and Raskolnikov as a tragic hero will lose anyway.

One of the most popular hero examples for a heroic essay in contemporary literature is Severus Snape in Harry Potter books. Although this is one of the modern tragic hero examples, we see no difference in the nemesis pattern of the character. Yes, it was created despite the majority of rules set in the ancient times (it took the writer more than 18 years (!) of the plot to reveal it, as opposed to 24 hours in an ancient or classicist play), but the similarities are striking. The hero wants to avoid his calling to join the Dark Lord and starts acting as a double agent. Snape tries to help everybody he cares about without being exposed by all sides: Harry, as he feels his responsibility for the son of the woman he loved; Draco, as he can't let him commit the crime and turn evil; and Dumbledore, as he is the only person Snape can trust but is still forced to kill to stop Dumbledore's suffering and to raise their chances to win. After all, he dies from the hand of the Dark Lord, which brings a logical completion for him – he gave his life for the Good.

Tragic heroes examples shown in the cases above have only got enemies because of their decisions. Nemesis is predetermined but could be different in different situations. In The Great Gatsby by F.S. Fitzgerald, nemesis is demonstrated in the more literal way – this is an actual person, Tom Buchanan. Their rivalry is all about the woman. One may suggest that Gatsby could have avoided his nemesis if he understood that today's Daisy is not what he really craved, but without his love for her, he wouldn't be the same person. So, we can agree that this love for a perfect memory of a girl he once knew is a defining aspect of his personality, and nemesis is, therefore, very predictable.

Anagnorisis: The Lessons That a Tragic Hero Is to Learnstrong

All the examples of tragic heroes experience anagnorisis somewhere in the plot. This term is used for a sudden revelation or a discovery that changes the hero’s life completely. Thus, in Oedipus Rex, the hero understands who are his real parents, that he killed his own father, married his mother, and all his attempts to change his destiny were in vain.

In Shakespeare's tragedies which have given us plenty of hero examples for a heroic essay, the most vivid life-changing anagnorisis is the moment when Romeo and Juliet understand that they belong to the warring families, and they should consider each other to be blood enemies. Here, anagnorisis is strongly contrasted to this sudden pure love they felt once they met.

As far as a tragic hero may not be a protagonist anymore, anagnorisis may be connected to the hero but be experienced by the main character. In J.K. Rowling’s novel, it is Harry Potter who experiences the main anagnorisis about the Snape's personality and his real intentions that allows us to add Snape to the list of tragic heroes. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that Snape didn’t have his own cases of anagnorisis that set his life on a completely new course. These cases are just not so vivid as the one in the scene of Snape’s death.

Tragic Hero Examples and the Cases of Peripeteia They Might Experience

Peripeteia is another way for an author to change a tragic hero's life - this time, with the help of circumstances. There is usually more than one peripeteia in the plot. For example, in Sophocles' work when Oedipus leaves the parents who adopted him, what were the chances that he would meet and kill his father? What were the chances that, of all women, he would choose his own mother to marry? Peripeteia in the play is also connected with the act of gods, like the plague that has been sent on Thebes, which resulted in Oedipus desire to find the murderer and understanding that it was him.

Hamartia: The Tragic Flow of the Character

The reader observes the latest part of revealing tragic hero examples with hamartia as the background. This is the tragic flow of events that, eventually, leads the hero to the tragic end. Unlike peripeteia, hamartia is the whole course of events based on the hero's hubris and the wrong choices made because of the hero's delusions. We can predict hamartia to a certain extent, as it is not hard to understand. This is the part when we start comparing the tragic hero to ourselves and wonder what we would do in such situations. Besides, we can already feel that something terrible is going to happen at the end. The writer's aim when using hamartia is to make readers sympathize with a tragic hero, to make catharsis logical, and not to give too much away. It is perfectly applied in The Great Gatsby. We start feeling a little sad for the main character; then, we get a little sadder and sadder, and at the point of catharsis - shocked and truly surprised. The hamartia of the novel suggested that Gatsby could have been sent to jail, or killed by Tom, but his end is quite unexpected, but still logical, so catharsis is much stronger.

If you choose Raskolnikov as on of tragic hero examples for a heroic essay, you will have to point out that the hamartia here is based on his ideas about how the society should work. He doesn't only make the wrong conclusion about himself and the society, but also about the concepts of right and wrong.

Catharsis: The Highest Feeling of Pity and the Purification Through the Pain

Catharsis is the highest point of the reader's sadness towards the tragic hero. This can also be a combination of fear and pity. The hero doesn't scare readers, of course, as it is the prerogative of the antagonist. We are terrified of the fate which appears to be inevitable and, therefore, even more sinister. Initially, catharsis was mainly based on the rule of the three unities. It is preceded by hubris, nemesis, anagnorisis, peripeteia, and hamartia. Today, this is the highest point of revealing any of modern tragic hero examples, too.

It is interesting that many readers are aware of how tragic heroes are created. They know that the hero will think of his or herself, commit a tragic mistake, which will be followed but the flow of tragic events with a couple of twists. The hero will also have one or a number of important revelations and teach readers something about life. And, at the end of the story, something remarkably bad will happen to the hero. However, each play, short-story, novel, or another piece of writing featuring a tragic hero, plunges the reader into a great shock. As we said above, catharsis itself is predictable, but no one should foresee what is going to happen exactly. Like in the case of Oedipus, who made the decision to punish himself severely, instead of many other decisions he could have made under the circumstances.

Tragic hero examples for a heroic essay of all times have a certain set of personal qualities: they may be kind and noble, but never too much. They always commit mistakes driven by their delusions about themselves and the world around them. But it is not enough for a writer to describe these features to make the hero tragic. The stages, such as hubris, nemesis, anagnorisis, peripeteia, hamartia, and catharsis, have to be present in all the works revealing a tragic hero.

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