How is Authur Dimmesdale a tragic hero in The Scarlet Letter?
(A tragic hero has the potential for greatness but is doomed to fail. He is trapped in a situation where he cannot win. He makes some sort of tragic flaw, and this causes his fall from greatness. Even though he is a fallen hero, he still wins a moral victory, and his spirit lives on.)
TRAGIC HEROES ARE:
- BORN INTO NOBILITY
- RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN FATE
- ENDOWED WITH A TRAGIC FLAW
- DOOMED TO MAKE A SERIOUS ERROR IN JUDGEMENT
EVENTUALLY, TRAGIC HEROES
- FALL FROM GREAT HEIGHTS OR HIGH ESTEEM
- REALIZE THEY HAVE MADE AN IRREVERSIBLE MISTAKE
- FACES AND ACCEPTS DEATH WITH HONOR
- MEET A TRAGIC DEATH
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This is an interesting question to consider. Given the definition of a tragic hero above there are areas in which Arthur Dimmesdale certainly can be considered a tragic hero, but equally areas that do not fit his character. Consider, for example, the way in which Dimmesdale is certainly not born into nobility. He does not have a tragic flaw that he is born with, or a hamartia. His tragic flaw is actually an action that occurred in the past, and resulted in Hester Prynne's pregnancy. It also seems as if he is not really in charge of his own fate in the novel. Although he plans to flee with Hester Prynne, fate intervenes, and he ends up dying after his sermon.
Certainly it is possible to argue that Arthur Dimmesdale accepts death with honour and meets a somewhat tragic death, and he is able to accept that his sexual relationship with Hester Prynne is the reason for his. However, he definitely does not fall from great heights by the end of the text. In fact, the reverse is true, as he is given hero status that causes his character to enter into legend:
After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind's spiritual good, he had made the manner of his death a parable, in order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are all sinners alike.
So, whilst there is significant evidence to suggest that Dimmesdale is a tragic hero in this novel, at the same time it is very important to realise that there are also elements that definitely suggest he is not a tragic hero as it has been defined above. Part of writing a critical essay is being aware of both sides of the argument, and it is essential to establish this well in order to achieve a high mark.
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