Guide to Literary Terms

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What is anagnorisis, and how is it used in literature?

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Anagnorisis refers to a character (normally a tragic hero) realizing who he is or discovering who another character truly is. In tragedies, the moment of anagnorisis often coincides with the standard "tragic realization" when a tragic hero admits that his tragic flaw has led to his or others' downfall. Several examples of anagnorisis are:

1. In Sophocles'Antigone, Creon hears the news of his family members' deaths and admits that his pride has brought about the suicides.

2. In Othello, Othello not only admits that his poor judgment led to his killing Desdemona but also finally recognizes Iago's true intentions.

3. In Julius Caesar, Brutus's anagnorisis comes about slowly. In the last two acts of the play, Brutus is haunted by Caesar's ghost, observes that his once strong friendship with Cassius has dissolved, and admits to himself that he acted rashly in assassinating his leader/friend.

Note that in many tragedies, a character's experience with anagnorisis often leads to his or her suicide.

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