How does Troy exemplify Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero in Fences?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must be essentially good as a person. The hero must have dignity and personal quality in order to qualify as a tragic figure and then must suffer a downfall through no fault of his own. Often, these figures suffer a fall as a result of one of his or her strengths. 

For example, Oedipus, a classic example of a tragic hero, suffers a great downfall as a result of his attempt to maintain dignity, vigorously pursue honesty and truth, and avoid a terribly dishonorably fate. His story is a tragedy, not because it has a sad ending, per se, but because Oedipus meets a terrible end despite being a good person with good intentions. And he suffers the more because of his strength. 

If Troy Maxson is to be understood as a tragic hero in the Aristotelian sense, we have to show first that he is a good man with dignity, then show that he suffers a downfall through no fault of his own. 

As a father and husband, Troy can be seen as a good man, though he does cheat on his wife.

Troy Maxson is a man who assumes the responsibilities of father, husband, and provider. In addition, he looks after his disabled brother, Gabriel. Though he faces these responsibilities, he is also overwhelmed by them...

Troy is not the best father to Cory, but he seems to be acting on good intentions. 

His father was brutal and controlling, and although Troy loves Cory, he knows of no other way to bring up a son. Thus, he repeats the mistakes of the previous generation.

Troy's strengths are found in his willingness to fulfill his duty at all times. He also speaks directly to issues of dignity regarding his position at work and his career in baseball. 

Troy brings his pay home every week and never misses work. He adheres to what he sees as his obligations without fail.

We can argue that Troy seeks escape from his marriage and also pushes his son away because his understanding of his role as husband, father and provider is so strict and absolute. Troy sees only toil in his work and sees only duty in his marriage. In his son, he sees his own mistakes lying in wait.

In his adherence to these uncompromising expectations, a kind of strength in itself, Troy squeezes the joy out of his life. Because he cannot allow his son to take a risk by quitting his job, Troy takes the first steps toward ruining their relationship. Later he takes the final steps by insisting on maintaining a hierarchy in the household. 

Troy's ability to meet unyielding and unfriendly expectations can be seen as a strength then that led to his downfall, as he loses the affections of his wife and son.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like Aristotle's tragic hero, Troy is brought down not because he is evil but because he is flawed. He wants to protect his sons, Cory and Lyons, and urges them to have what he considers a safe life. In Troy's mind, his sons would be better off if they chose jobs like his (driving a garbage truck) rather than wanting to play baseball (in Cory's case) or be a musician (in Lyons's case). Troy resists their choices and comes to loggerheads with his sons not because he is evil but because he is flawed and blind. He can't see that his sons want a different life from his, and he winds up forcing Cory to leave home. Later, Lyons goes to jail for cashing other people's checks.

Troy is also a philanderer, but the reason he has a mistress is to gain a sense of freedom and perhaps a belief that he can escape the fences around him. His choices, like those of Aristotle's tragic hero, reflect flaws and inherent blindnesses that result in his ruin. However, as Troy is a relatable human being with human flaws, the audience is moved to pity rather than revulsion by his struggles.

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