A hero/ heroine is described as the principal male/ female character in a literary or dramatic work or the central figure in an event, period, or movement. The classic tragic hero was defined by Aristotle in the fourth century as, “someone who is highly renowned and prosperous” (LATWP, 639), suggesting that there is a “natural right ordering and proportion of traits within the human being that if violated, produces calamity” (LATWP, 639).
The book goes on to define classical tragedy as one that “involves the inevitable destruction of a noble person by means of character flaw, usually a disproportionate measure of a specific human attribute such as pride, jealousy or indecision” (LATWP, 639). On the other hand, another type of tragic hero exists, the modern tragic hero. This type of hero is a product of a clash between the individual and the social environment. Arthur Miller, the famous playwright said, “each person has a chosen image of self and position, tragedy results when the characters environment denies the fulfillment of this self concept. (LATWP, 640).
This is a contrast from Aristotle’s classic tragic hero because the hero is no longer born into nobility but gains stature in the action of pitting self against cosmos, and the tragedy becomes, “the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world. ” (LATWP, 640). In the tragic play named after its equally tragic heroine, Antigone’s character unfolds as the perfect example of the classic tragic protagonist character. Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus, a former king who left the kingdom in a self imposed exile.
Antigone and her sister, Ismene have been left under the care of her uncle, Creon who is now king. In his first official decree, Creon decides that for reasons he sees fit, the body of Antigone’s brother Polynices should not be buried but left out, unattended to, for the birds to feast to their heart’s content. Antigone is appalled by this and decides she cannot see her brother go out like that, so she takes it upon herself, not minding the consequences, to bury her brother and give him his full rites.
Antigone stands up for what she believes in even though it may, which it eventually does, result in her death. She knows that she has violated the king and the state’s order not to bury her brother, but she defiantly does. Her independent act of defiance is daring, and completely opposite to the obedience expected of women in her society. So strong is her belief and the way in which she is driven by it, that she stops at nothing, and puts everything at stake. It is by this extreme defense of her beliefs that she rises to heroic and deeply tragic stature. ” (LATWP, 640).
In contrast, Mrs. Wright in the tragic play Trifles is the modern tragic heroine. For years, she endured her husband’s mental and probably physical abuse, playing the perfect housewife of that era, keeping the house in order, being submissive, etc. With the absence of children, there were only a few things that brought a glimmer of joy in the Wright house hold. On of such things was the yellow canary that Mrs.
Wright had purchased, perhaps a reminder of the days before she got married when she sang with the choir. So when her husband decided to put an end to this joy by killing the bird, it became too much for Mrs. Wright to handle. All those years of forced submission and pent up anger surfaces, and she takes it upon herself to carry out revenge, resulting in the death of her husband. As mentioned earlier, “each person has a chosen image of self and position, tragedy results when the characters environment denies the fulfillment of this self concept”. Mrs. Wright’s environment where she was continuously broken down by her husband was probably a far cry from where she had imagined herself to be. Mrs. Hale repeatedly brought up how different Mrs. Wright was when she was Minnie Foster, “I wish you’d seen Minnie Foster when she wore a white dress with blue ribbons and stood up there in the choir and sang” (Glaspell, 962). Implying that this now submissive, nervous woman who was Mrs. Wright was more a product of the environment she found herself which denied her the fulfillment of being who she actually was.