Student Question

Is Troy Maxon, the protagonist of August Wilson's "Fences", a tragic hero according to Aristotle's and Miller's concepts of tragedy?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The characteristics of the tragic hero, despite considerable changes between Aristotle’s and Arthur Miller’s formulations, generally fit Troy Maxson well. In August Wilson’s play, the audience follows him to the end of his life but also learn about his earlier life and thus comes to understand how he became a hard and bitter man. While Arthur Miller’s definition is better fitted to Troy, an argument can be made for Aristotle’s views as well.

Arthur Miller, in his definition, was primarily countering a narrow interpretation of the tragic, rather than completely refuting Aristotle. The nobility of a man who becomes trapped in circumstances beyond his control is not dictated by any random factor of his birth, Miller argued. Dignity and nobility of purpose are just as befitting a person of humble origins as they are a monarch. Miller argued, in the mid-twentieth century, on behalf of the modern Everyman. This type of character is exemplified in his most well-known tragic hero, Willy Loman.

Aristotle prescribed a narrow range of characteristics not only for the tragic hero but also for the genre of tragedy overall. The key factors were elevated status, so that the hero would suffer an observable fall, and a tragic flaw, which fate would prevent him from escaping. The tension of the drama comes from watching the hero try to life his best life and to evade the effects of curses or worrying prophecies.

Wilson portrays Troy as a man who made bad choices, beginning in his teenage years. The second chance he thought was offered to him did not ultimately provide the successes he thought he could earn. The lesson that Troy learned, unfortunately, was not to hope for too much. The tragic flaw is that he has internalized the racial injustice he has confronted and formed a fatalistic worldview. As a father, he tries to pass this view on to his son. Troy’s failure is not that he did not make it as a baseball player but that he lets down his family, especially his son, and thereby misses out on what is valuable in life.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial