What inward and outword conflicts was Othello facing and how did they ultimately lead to his downfall?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Othello, the main character faces inward and outward conflicts which lead to his downfall. Although Othello was initially confident in himself, he begins to struggle with inner and outer conflicts due to Iago's evil plot which accuses Desdemona of unfaithfulness:

[Othello] is a man in charge, one that will shoot first and ask questions later. But Othello's confidence starts to slip when Iago begins to work on his psyche, intimating that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair.

No doubt, Othello is a drama that portrays the main character as a character with a tragic flaw:

Indeed, it has often been described as a "tragedy of character"; Othello's swift descent into jealousy and rage and Iago's dazzling display of villainy have long fascinated students and critics of the play.

Unfortunately, Othello is too quick to judge. This expresses an inward conflict that reveals Othello's low self esteem. He criticizes himself and tries to reason as to why Desdemona would be unfaithful to him:

Maybe, because I am black,
And don’t have those soft parts of conversation
That gentlemen have; or because I am getting
Much older,

Clearly, Othello is experiencing inward turmoil. Truly, Othello has issues with his own blackness. He even compares Desdemona's unfaithfulness to his own blackness. He speaks of Desdemona and the term black as if it were a derogatory term:

Her name, that was as fresh
As Diana's face, is now as grimy and black
As my own face.

As for outward conflict, Othello is subjected to Iago's continual accusations of Desdemona being unfaithful. Othello is tormented with the Iago's accusations of his Desdemona being unfaithful. When Iago plants Desdemona's handkerchief at Cassio's house, this becomes an outward conflict for Othello has given her the handkerchief as a sign of his love. The handkerchief becomes the proof that Othello needed. He now is certain that his beautiful wife has been unfaithful.

Othello is ultimately destroyed because he has self-esteem issues. He cannot trust that Desdemona would love him for many reasons. He is black and much older and not sensitive enough. Othello allows his own insecurities to destroy his life. His tragic flaw is his tendency to belittle himself. This in turns causes Othello to allow jealousy to consume him. He believes Iago:

After Iago has suggested that Desdemona has already deceived her father and Othello, the Moor begins to think Desdemona's betrayal of him is inevitable given his skin color, greater age, and lack of courtly charm (III.iii.263-268).

The outward conflict drives Othello insane. He cannot deal with Desdemona giving her handkerchief to Cassio. Othello focuses on the handkerchief as damning physical evidence that his wife has been unfaithful:  

"That handkerchief which I so loved and gave thee, / Thou gav'st to Cassio" (V.ii.48-49); "By heaven, I saw my handkerchief in 's hand" (V.ii.62); and again, "I saw the handkerchief" (V.ii.66). Desdemona repeatedly denies giving the handkerchief to Cassio, suggesting that perhaps he found it somewhere, but to no avail.

Desdemona lies dead at the hand of the man who loved her dearly. Othello takes his own life due to his inward and outward conflicts which drove him to the brink of murder. Sadly enough, Othello learns the truth about Iago's evil plot after he has smothered his wife Desdemona. For this reason, he cannot live with himself, thus he commits suicide.