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A tragic figure in literature is a type of character who makes a bad decision or choice, which leads to their downfall or destruction. In certain instances, a dramatic figure in a drama is the victim of a tragedy that befalls them. For a character to be labeled a tragic figure, the storyline of a given story must depict the character's fortune changing from good to bad. This is according to Aristotle's theory of a tragic figure, which notes that "the change of fortune must not be from poor to worse, but from good to bad; and it must be caused, not by wickedness, but by some great error [hamartia] on the part of a man…" (Jones 13). The misfortune of a tragic figure must also be a result of their own doing.
There are a number of characteristics that qualify one to be termed as a tragic figure. These characteristics include; hamartia, hubris, peripeteia, anagnorisis, nemesis, and catharsis. Hamartia refers to the error that the figure makes leading to the downfall. Hubris is the flaw in the character that causes them to make the error. Peripeteia is defined as the unexpected reversal of events that occurs to the character. Anagnorisis is a point in the plot where the figure makes an important realization. Nemesis is the unavoidable person or thing that leads the character to their failure. Finally, catharsis refers to the pity and/or fear that the audience of a work of literature feels towards the tragic figure.
I disagree with the statement that Stanley Kowalski, and not Blanche Dubois, is the real tragic figure of A Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley Kowalski has only a few and not all the characteristics of a tragic character. On the other hand, Blanche’s story checks out all the characteristics of a tragic figure. Stanley Kowalski makes some decisions in the story which are bound to cause him some backlash. The first of these was when he got drunk and hit his wife, Stella. The next morning, he called out to her and she accepted to forgive him and go back to him. He does not suffer for his wrongdoing. The second mistake which he makes and ought to have caused him to suffer some consequences was when he violated Blanche, causing her a mental breakdown. He does not pay for this in any way, and in fact, Stella refuses to believe what Blanche accuses Stanley of. Stanley does not experience any destruction as a result of his wrongdoing and can therefore not be referred to as a tragic figure.
Blanche Dubois is the real tragic figure in A Streetcar Named Desire. First, Blanche goes through the loss of her family, leaving her desperate and in need of somewhere she can live. Her desperation is the tragic flaw that leads her to making an error. Out of desperation, she goes to live with her younger sister, Stella. She lies to Stella that she is on a leave of absence from her teaching job, yet she has no job. Lying about her past is the error that leads to her destruction. While living with Stella, Blanche constantly expresses her dislike for Stanley, which is also an error that led to her downfall. Towards the end of the story, Blanche gets into a confrontation with Stanley who ends up violating and defiling her, causing her to fall into a mental breakdown. Blanche is forced to commit to a mental facility and Stella refuses to believe her when she talks about Stanley hurting her. Stella and Mitch also find out that Blanche had lied about her past. This is the unexpected turn of events that Blanche experiences. Blanche therefore qualifies the most to fit the definition of a tragic figure.
More often than not, the tragic figure in a work of literature usually suffers a destruction that they caused themselves but do not necessarily deserve. Blanche was wrong for lying about her past and the mistakes she had done. However, she still does not deserve the tragedy that befell her at the end of the story. Stanley ought to have paid for his mistakes but he somehow managed to get away with it. A tragic figure is usually a victim of fate which cannot be controlled by anyone.
Jones, John. On Aristotle and greek tragedy. Stanford University Press, 1980.
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