Aristotle?s definition of tragedy says that the story in question should evoke both pity and fear in the reader. The tragic character must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous. This character must also have a fall from glory. He doesn?t have to die, but must have a fall from glory caused by his own fatal flaw. Two stories, which fit this definition, are The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, and The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
In The Awakening, Edna Pontellier dies because of her tragic flaw. Her tragic flaw is wanting to be free, and she does everything possible to achieve this. Mrs. Pontellier and her family are very well regarded. Mr. Pontellier supports her and the family very well, and everyone believes him to be the perfect husband. But Edna isn?t happy. She doesn?t want to have to conform to being the perfect mother, perfect wife, and a perfect lady. She wants to be her own woman. This is what brings about her downfall.
Her life had become very repetitious and boring. ??As we walk, move, sit, stand, go through the daily treadmill of the life which has been portioned out to us? The treadmill is symbolic of a dream, and her life. She doesnt have to think to go through her life, it?s too repetitious. She is going nowhere in life, just as you go nowhere on a treadmill.
Edna starts to free herself form her marriage, and her life. She starts to do all the things she wants to. She has Robert teach her how to swim. She doesnt listen to Mr. Pontellier when he requests her to come inside. In fact she stands up to him.
When he tells her to come in she responds with ?Don?t speak to me like that again; I shall not answer you.? She is standing up for herself. She winds up falling in love with Robert, and she eventually moves out of the Pontellier house, and moves into her own house, and lives there alone. She does everything she can to be free.
Throughout the whole story the reader genuinely feels both pity and fear for Edna. We feel pity for her because she cannot be free. She is living a life in which she isn?t happy. The reader wants her to be free. Edna tries so hard to free herself, but she can never truly be free. We feel sorry for her. We fear for her, because we know the only way she can ever be free is by killing herself. She was scared when killing herself, and that scares us when we are reading it.
Committing suicide was the only way she could be free. Death sets her free. She no longer has to conform to what society wants. She doesn?t have to listen to, or take care of anyone. ?Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone.? She realized that she had basically been sacrificing her life this whole time and death would be the only thing to set her free.
In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby himself ends up dying because of his flaw. He would have done anything to win over the woman of his dreams, Daisy. He devoted his whole life to her. He did everything he could to be near her, and impress her. He built his house close enough to her, so that he could see the green light on her dock. He threw huge parties in hopes that she would come. He was basically living a fake life, just for her.
He was living his life just to impress Daisy. He had these huge parties, but never attended the parties himself. ??I made an attempt to find my host but the two or three people of whom I asked his whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements?? Even his house was in a way fake. Although everything in it was real, nothing was used or needed. He had a huge library filled with real books, but not one had ever been read. ?It?s a bona fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me?What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop too-didn?t cut the pages?? Even his pool. He has a pool, which he pays to keep maintained, yet he never uses it. ?You know, old sport, I’ve never used that pool all summer?? All of this just to impress Daisy.
There is a great deal of pity felt by the reader for Gatsby. We are all hoping that he can win over Daisy. When Daisy reveals to everyone that she did truly love Tom, we feel pity for Gatsby. ?I did love him once-but I loved you too???You loved me too?? This is when Gatsby realizes that he has wasted his whole life trying to impress Daisy for nothing. He has wasted his life.
There is also a great deal of fear felt for Gatsby. When Myrtle Wilson is killed, and we find out it was Gatsby?s car that hit her, we immediately believe it was Gatsby driving. We fear that he might have killed her, and ruined his life. We also fear for him when we realize that Wilson is going to kill him, and that Tom has ratted out Gatsby. We fear for him right up until his death.
There are many stories in modern literature that seem ?tragic?, but they are not truly tragedies. To be a tragedy the story must fulfill all the criteria of Aristotle?s definition. Just as The Awakening and The Great Gatsby do.