I am going to use Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero in order to ascertain whether the main characters in Mayor of character of Michael Henchard as a tragic hero as he adopts fatal flaws which result in an eventual downfall. He then recognises his faults and inspires pity from the reader. This novel was first Casterbridge and Frankenstein can be viewed as tragic heroes. Hardy presents the published on the 2nd January 1886. To date, his fictional writing had received mixed reviews but this particular novel was well received by his contemporaries and critics alike and given high marks. In Hardy’s autobiography it states, “Others thought better of it than he did himself.” Mary Shelley’s fictional novel, Frankenstein was first published in 1818. In this novel I have focused Victor Frankenstein, the main character, and have studied him thoroughly throughout the events in the novel. There is an ongoing and controversial debate as to who actually is the tragic hero of the novel as both Victor Frankenstein and the monster both qualify. In this essay, I will discuss this view and indicate who I believe to be the tragic hero.
The first element I will look at is Harmartia which is Greek, meaning fatal or tragic flaw of judgement. In the novel, Henchard makes many fatal flaws which, in turn, causes the occurrence of other tragic events. I will concentrate on his first flaw which we come across right at the beginning of the novel. Henchard actually sells his own wife and infant daughter at a furmity tent while he is in a totally drunken state despite being disapproved of alcohol consumption by his wife. His flaws in being disobedient and inconsiderate are completely evident when he shouts, “Will anybody buy her?” This not only humiliates Susan, his wife, but also shows us a very bitter side to his character which is most definitely flawed. According to Samuel Pyeatt Menefee, “Contemporary critics who could not believe, apparently, that such transactions had ever occurred on English soil in the nineteenth century.” Hardy surprises the audience as well as the critics with the use of this plot device and gives the audience something to look forward to later in the novel. The flaw of consuming alcohol itself is a tragic flaw as it leads him to insult and blame his wife during her presence and makes drastic decisions.
Hardy also describes Henchard as a “women-hater” which shows us that he has little respect for the opposite sex and thinks that they limit his opportunities of being successful. This is also corresponds to what happened at the furmity tent with his wife and shows his attitude clearly towards women. From this we can see that extreme hatred is definitely one of his flaws. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein is considered to be a tragic hero as he fits in the mould of Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. Frankenstein’s tragic flaw is that he is overpowered by his ambitions and aspirations which drives him to create the monster. This is highly evident when he says, “when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy.” This shows how he is driven by success and ambition and shows that his creation means everything to him. Critique, Anne K Mellor states “Frankenstein has clearly substituted his scientific research for normal emotional interactions” in her thesis (Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fictions, Her Monsters (1988).
This not only supports the fact that Frankenstein has flaws but also introduces the fresh idea of ignorance in Frankenstein which could be a potential and hidden tragic flaw. He also attempts to play god and mess with the beauty of nature which results in something extremely ugly. This is explored through after creating the monster, Frankenstein is unable to face the consequences of his own scientific actions and rejects the monster. It is evident that Frankenstein was only concerned about the outer beauty and we see this when he says “breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” This expresses his emotions towards his own creation and highlights his error of judgement which proves that Frankenstein himself had flaws. Peripeteia is a Greek element which involves a tragic downfall of character.
As we have already established, Henchard has many flaws which start a chain of downfalls for him in the novel. The first fall he experiences is when he loses Donald Farfrae as both a manager and a friend. This impacts on Henchard’s business greatly as Farfrae is a great asset to the business as a result of his rational decision-making. Due to Henchard’s flaw of jealousy, he loses Farfrae in both of these capacities. Henchard then proceeds to make very bad business decisions which result in bankruptcy and the eventual loss of the business. Just as we believe that he has nothing left to lose, we are surprised when his secret is revealed in court by the furmity women. The secret, of selling his wife and daughter, is now revealed. This then effects Henchard further as he loses his house, his position as Mayor of Casterbridge and loses his reputation within the community. Eventually, we see Henchard depicted as a beggar during the Royal’s visit and is described as wearing “fretted and weather-beaten garments of bygone years”.
This description contrasts greatly with Hardy’s earlier description of Henchard’s clothing when he first becomes Mayor of Casterbridge. This contrast shows exactly how much of a downfall he has suffered. In comparison, Frankenstein also has downfalls which are caused by his own actions. Frankenstein suffers emotionally when he loses his wife Elizabeth and his friend Clerval as the monster kills them both which in turn, kills his own happiness. He expresses his “Overflowing misery” and “Agony of despair” and this is an indication that he is suffering and the great pain he feels. The word “overflowing” also implies that the grief he is trying to endure can no longer be contained and that his misery is reaching insurmountable levels within him. The phrase “Agony of despair” also gives the impression that his tolerance towards his own unhappiness will be prolonged, permanent and everlasting.
The third element I will look at is Anagnorisis which is Greek for recognition of fatal flaw of character. In mayor of Casterbridge, Henchard falls from a high social status to a low one but does become aware of his fatal flaws and wrong-doings to others. The first flaw he admits to is selling Susan in the furmity tent in front of a court of magistrates .This is apparent when he says in court “‘Tis as true as the light.” This quote shows how Henchard realises the mistake he made with Susan and surprises the reader with this truthful attitude. Here, we see him in a different light from the character we have witnessed and come to know. It also causes confusion for the reader as to why he actually told the truth at this point when he knows that it can remain concealed. Similarly, the element of realising own tragic flaws is present in Frankenstein but instead Frankenstein realises when it’s too late. After the death of several people, he realises that his own creation was a mistake and that he only deserves the same fate as those the monster had killed. He describes himself as being “Unfeeling, heartless creator!”
This indicates that he regrets making the monster which contrasts with his attitude at the beginning when he is driven by excessive curiosity. Frankenstein also admits that he cannot play God through the quote “Fright must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.” The quote is his own realization that he, in his arrogance had mocked God, because the only consequence that can be had by playing God is frightful. It is true to say that Victor Frankenstein realises that his own creation was a mistake and that, as a consequence, he too deserves the same fate as those his monster has killed. He describes himself as being “Unfeeling, heartless creator!” This indicates that he regrets making the monster which contrasts with his attitude at the beginning where he was wholly driven by excessive ambition and curiosity.
However, Unlike Henchard, it is evident that Victor has learned little from the suffering he has caused. This lack of self-awareness is indicated before his death when he speaks of “Another” who “may succeed.” This implies that he doesn’t recognise his flaws completely. or fear by the character. Despite his bitter character portrayal, Hardy also tries to create an innocent side Catharsis is an element of the tragic hero which is evident in the character of Michael Henchard. This forth element is Greek and it means to inspire pity ewual amount of sympathy towards the character. We come across this when Henchard states, “Here and everywhere are folk dying before their time like frosted leaves, though wanted by the world, the country, and their own families, as badly as can be; while I, an outcast and an encumbrance, wanted by nobody, I live on, and can’t die if I try.” Henchard feels like an outcast; no one cares whether he lives or dies, and yet he “lives on.”
He uses the simile of “frosted leaves” to describe people “dying before their time,” perhaps because people have as little control over their deaths as they do over the weather. Henchard mainly inspires pity towards the end of the novel when he dies and leaves a will behind for his daughter and Farfrae. In this will he expresses his feelings of regret and starts to show that he thinks of others before himself. This is evident in the will when it states “that no man remembers me.” This particular line in the will is the last line of all of his other wishes that are completely selfless and expresses the hatred towards himself. This inspires pity in the reader as we feel a great amount of sympathy for Henchard when he wishes that no one would know and commemorate him regardless of his death.
Henchard’s final will and testament sums up the dissatisfaction of his life. He doesn’t want to be remembered or mourned; he doesn’t even want a grave marker. In Frankenstein, the character of victor Frankenstein doesn’t entirely create sympathy for himself as he is responsible for his own actions but there are other things that we might empathise with. Frankenstein’s character shows determination and works hard when trying to create the monster. This is evident when he states “I failed; yet still I clung on to the hope.” For obvious reasons, his hard work was not reflected which is apparent upon seeing the monster.
We can somewhat relate to this as he worked so hard and spent much time on his creation but the desired results were not shown at the end. This is where we might feel sympathy for him. Overall, in my opinion I believe that both characters adopt the necessary characteristics in becoming a tragic hero as they both fit in the mould of Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. Both characters do have fatal flaws and make errors of judgement which cause them to suffer a downfall in society. The characters then recognise their flaws and realise the wrongs they have done and try to make amends. They also inspire pity or fear, but in these cases, I feel sympathy for both characters, particularly, Henchard as we see a drastic change in personality from the beginning to the end.
Courtney from Study Moose
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