How is Yank a tragic hero in "The Hairy Ape"?
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Eugene Oneill's hero Yank of "The Hairy Ape" and the classical Greek tragic heroes are similar in many respects:
1.The greek tragic hero was a larger than life person who epitomized a certain emotional quality. In Sc. 1 Yank "seems broader, fiercer, more truculent, more powerful ....their most highly developed individual." He is the quintessential 'fire man.' He is the demi-god of his group.
2. The greek tragic hero because of his superior position suffered from 'hubris' or pride. Yank's hubris is most evident in his long reply to Paddy in Sc. 1: "I'm steam and oil for de engines...And I'm steel-steel-steel."
3. The almost perfect Greek tragic hero suffered from a tragic flaw or 'hamartia' which would result in his downfall. Yank's hamartia is, that he is so proud of his strength that he fails to notice that he is actually sub-human: He is blind to the fact that he actually resembles a "Neandertal Man." Sc.1.
4. The hubris and the hamartia result in 'peripeteia' or a reversal in the fortunes of the greek tragic hero. In Sc. 5 Yank's pride in his strength and his lack of intelligence are exploited by Long who uses Yank to attack the rich capitalists, which lands him in jail.
5. The reversal in the fortunes of the Greek tragic hero result in 'anagnorisis' or 'recognition.' He realises his mistakes and recognises his true state or identity. Yank's anagnorises takes place in Sc.8 when he tells the gorilla: "Ain't we both members of de same club-de Hairy Apes?" Only now he realises that he is a 'hairy ape.'
6. By then it is too late and the Greek tragic hero's life ends in a catastrophe. At the end of the play Yank is squeezed to death by the gorilla and "slips in a heap on the floor and dies."
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