How would you explain Scobie in "The Heart of the Matter" as a tragic hero ?

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mimerajver eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scobie may be regarded as a tragic hero in that he, too, has a "fatal flaw." The flaw that will drive him to his doom lies in the fact that he takes upon himself the suffering of those around him. His exaggerated sense of responsibility for the weak others that, in various ways, cling to him, can be compared to the tragic hero's hubris. Scobie's particular sense of pride prompts him to do for others what they cannot or will not do for themselves.

Scobie feels responsible for his wife's unhappiness in the African colony where he is Chief of Police. Thus he gets involved with Yusef, a shady character, to obtain the money that will send Louise back to England and to the social life she longs for.

With Louise gone, he starts an affair with Helen, a very young girl who has survived a shipwreck. Scobie is moved by pity on the helpless girl, but cannot resist her demand that he prove his love. He writes her a letter with the startling, heretic statement that he loves her more than he does God.

This character, called "Scobie the Just," betrays every single one of his beliefs in his efforts to allay other people's misery. He lies, overlooks Yusef's criminal activities for a greater good -or so he thinks- and commits adultery. All of this is in blatant opposition to his religious convictions. When he realizes what he has done and, even worse, it becomes apparent that none of his transgressions or sins has seemingly helped anyone, Scobie commits suicide, "the unforgivable sin." Yet even at this point of despair he disguises his act as a heart stroke not to hurt his wife, who by this time has returned to the colony.

Thus pity, a laudable Christian virtue, turns into pride, a deadly sin that Scobie will pay with eternal damnation. In other words, through his last decision -taking his own life- he punishes himself for his mistaken understanding of the commandment "Love thy neighbor."