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How To Write An Essay On A Tragic Hero

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 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.

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.'

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.

Do you ever get so connected to a character that it almost physically hurts when the character gets killed off? For me, it happens all the time when I watch Game of Thrones.

You don’t have to watch an HBO series to get this reaction—characters in books can lead to the same feelings. Whether on screen or in text, many of these characters are what’s known as tragic heroes.

Tragic heroes are the types of characters you really bond with and that you see making mistakes that lead to their death, loneliness, despair, or some other kind of undoing.

Don’t worry if it isn’t all completely clear right now … I’ll explain in more detail what makes a character “tragic” and give you some tragic hero examples you can use as inspiration in your own essay.

What Is a Tragic Hero?

Okay, so you might be wondering what a tragic hero is exactly. The name is a pretty good clue—a hero or protagonist that is, in some way, tragic. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

A tragic hero is a character, usually the main character, who makes a mistake in judgment that ultimately leads to his or her undoing.

Aristotle had a lot to say on the subject of tragic heroes, including certain characteristics their stories possess. Some of these characteristics include some scary-looking Greek words (thanks, Aristotle), but here’s a basic breakdown of what they mean.

  • Hamartia: The tragic flaw that leads to the hero’s demise or downfall.
  • Hubris: When the hero disrespects the natural order because of his or her own pride.
  • Peripeteia: When the hero experiences a reversal of fate.
  • Anagnorisis: When the hero makes an important discovery.
  • Nemesis: An unavoidable situation the hero is in, typically related to hubris.
  • Catharsis: The pity, sadness, or fear the audience feels toward the hero after his or her downfall.

The main two qualities about tragic heroes, though, is that they are just like you and me and that they suffer more than they deserve to.

This is critical to the response writers want to evoke from readers. By making tragic heroes generally neutral on the moral scale, it makes them more relatable, which makes readers upset when they finally die or suffer some other tragic fate.

Furthermore, they must suffer more than they should. This really gets the pity party going in the audience.

Lastly, tragic heroes are undone by their own actions or flaws. They understand this by the end of the play or novel. What’s more, they couldn’t have helped what had happened because their flaw—pride, love, etc.—isn’t something they could control.

How to Choose Your Own Tragic Hero Examples

Now that you’re feeling a little more sure about what a tragic hero is, it’s time to start looking for tragic heroes in the literature you’re reading.

Probably the easiest place you’re going to find a tragic hero (but maybe not the easiest to read about) are from William Shakespeare. He’s kind of the king of tragic heroes.

Pretty much any tragedy he wrote has one, and the tragic hero is typically a title character—Romeo, King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth … the list goes on. (I’ll give more details about a couple of these later.)

But Shakespeare wasn’t the first, last, or only author to use this type of character in literature. So how do you find tragic hero examples of your own?

First, pick a tragedy. Now, it doesn’t necessarily have to be labeled as a tragedy. You can choose from epic poems, young adult novels, and even children’s books. The point is that something tragic happens to one of the characters. They don’t have to die—they just have to suffer.

Secondly, as you are reading, pay attention to your connection to the character.

  • Can you relate to him or her?
  • Does he or she have human flaws?
  • Do you feel bad about his or her downfall?

Answering yes to all of these questions is a pretty clear sign you have a tragic hero on your hands.

Lastly, think about the reason for the character’s downfall. Even if it’s technically by the hand of someone else, if it can be traced back to the flaw of the hero, it makes the situation tragic.

  • Uncle Ben from Spiderman, for example, is not a tragic hero. He died in a random act of violence, not because of any flaw he possessed.
  • Cinna from The Hunger Games, on the other hand, was killed by the Capitol, but because of his own pride and rebellious nature. And all the readers felt awful about it. He’s not a main character, but I’d argue that he’s a tragic hero.

6 Tragic Hero Examples for a Heroic Essay

Want a little bit of help getting started? Here are a few tragic hero examples I was able to find. First, let’s address two from the king of tragic heroes himself—Mister Bill Shakespeare.

1. Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his indecisiveness and obsession. He’s a smart guy, but he gets stuck in his head a lot. How does his indecisiveness and obsession lead to his downfall?

Well … he has to avenge the death of his father but doesn’t act quickly. Instead, he remains indecisive about whether his uncle, Claudius, was the murderer.

Even after he discovers his uncle killed his father, he can’t decide on how to enact his revenge and obsesses over it. Because he wastes all of his time trying to decide what to do, his uncle is able to poison Hamlet’s drink.

Hamlet’s mother drinks it by mistake and dies, after which Hamlet overcomes his flaw, kills Claudius, and promptly dies.

2. Romeo from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Romeo is undone by his heads-over-heels, hyper-emotional love for Juliet. While love itself is not a tragic flaw, a love so fast and heavy is.

Romeo’s obsessive love is what causes him to kill himself at the thought of Juliet being dead (if he had held out another hour or two, he would’ve been fine). And inadvertently, it’s Romeo’s suicide that causes Juliet’s death.

I could write a whole post about Shakespearean tragic heroes, but how about tragic hero examples from some different authors?

3. Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jay Gatsby is a tragic hero because he dies chasing an ideal that will never come true.

Unlike Romeo, Gatsby is completely idealistic in his love for Daisy—he’ll do anything for her, but she wouldn’t do the same for him. It’s not her fault, though. Gatsby is so busy reaching for an ideal that he’s never satisfied.

He surrounds himself with money and parties even though he doesn’t take any real pleasure from them. In fact, he says it’s all for Daisy.

When he finally gets the girl, he still isn’t satisfied. But he takes the blame for Daisy hitting Myrtle with a car and gets shot because of it.


4. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Severus Snape, I have to admit, is a tragic hero according to many readers, but others might not think so. That’s the point of your essay though, right? To prove a character is a tragic hero.

So it doesn’t matter if some people say Snape isn’t, as long as you can back your writing up with evidence that he is.

Spoiler alert: If you aren’t up to speed on this series, you might want to skip the next paragraph.

Snape’s flaw is his undying love for Lily—even after she’s long gone. He watches after Harry even though he really doesn’t like him and serves as a double agent for Dumbledore against Voldemort (who killed Lily).

It’s this last relationship that is his undoing. He dies trying to protect Lily’s only son while working against her murderer.

5. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan as a Disney character is a happy-go-lucky kind of kid. But literarily speaking, he’s a tragic hero. His flaw is his fear of growing up or getting old.

It’s because of this flaw that he ends up alone—everyone grew up and moved on except for him. He forgets everything within a very short time, which, honestly, makes the whole story even sadder.

6. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree is maybe the first tragic hero example many of us ever read. The Tree’s flaw is that it loves the boy more than itself. It gives and gives and gives different parts of itself over the years until there’s nothing left but a stump in the ground.

The Tree’s love and giving nature literally whittles it down to almost nothing.

Need some more inspiration, check out these tragic hero essay examples:

Different Approaches You Can Take With Your Essay

There are lots of ways you can approach your essay, but before you get too creative, check out the assignment instructions first. If your instructor wants you to write a five-paragraph essay, that’s what you need to do.

However, if you have more creative leeway, try thinking outside the box a little bit. You could write an alternate history. Think and write about what would have happened if the character had overcome a tragic flaw sooner.

Another option is writing your essay like a mock interview with the character explaining his or her actions, the reason for taking those actions, whether he or she would’ve done anything differently.

There are a number of different angles you could take with your essay, so use your imagination. If you’re having second thoughts about your approach, you can have the Kibin editors look it over. They’ll make sure your essay doesn’t end up as a tragedy.

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

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