Modern Conceptions of Tragedy and the Tragic Hero

Modern Conceptions of Tragedy and the Tragic Hero


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I recently read/watched “Into the Wild” and “Hamlet”. The following is a thorough evaluation of Chris McCandless and Hamlet.

In a liberal context, Chris McCandless fits the criteria for a tragic hero. He had the characteristics of a protagonist and inadvertently killed himself by eating an inedible seed (tragedy). The tragic hero criterion that most people utilize is too liberal to accurately determine a bona fide tragic hero. McCandless’ youth was volatile due to the external animosity between his parents. When one’s environment is volatile and tumultuous, an impression of that environment is left on the child since they are very suggestible. So, in short, that all culminated into Chris’s abhorrence for society. Initially, his volatile childhood pushed Chris towards Thoreau’s teachings, thus leading him to becoming wanderlust. Chris’ two year excursion was punctuated by his inadvertent death. Just because Chris wanted to have a life separate from society and died in the process, doesn’t make him a tragic hero. Chris was a brave and noble individual, but I wouldn’t label him a hero.

Hamlet wasn’t a tragic hero because every decision he made was derived from his ego. Sure he wanted to avenge his father by killing his uncle, but there are more peaceful and rational alternatives. His intention for killing his uncle was derived from his ego and emotions, thus making it a weak and unheroic intention. Every action is measured by the sentiment it precedes; this comprehensive principle applies to all actions.

Chris Mcandless was not a fictitious character, he was a real person. We know his story based on the empirical evidence he left behind as well as anecdotal evidence from his family. With this information given, we can extrapolate how he died, where he went, the people he encountered, and pretty much all external events he went through. However, since he was a real person who roamed this Earth, its impossible to tap into his thoughts before his journey. These internal thoughts could contradict the popular opinion on why he wanted to venture off into the wild. There is no way to know and be 100% sure of his reason for leaving. Characters like Hamlet are easy to dissect because, through narrative, you can understand what’s going on in his mind.

There isn’t enough, and never will be enough evidence to fully know Chris’ intention for leaving. These two characters, in the end, were befallen by a tragedy that they indirectly catalyzed. Besides the pure intentions concept, if they were to perform any heroic feats, then yes, they would both be tragic heroes. McCandless was a very courageous and noble individual; he overcame his superficial fears and followed his heart. Maybe Chris was a hero to himself for doing such, but that does not constitute a “real” hero.