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Jay Gatsby: Byronic Hero or Tragic Hero?

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Kim Baker

on 24 March 2011

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Transcript of Jay Gatsby: Byronic Hero or Tragic Hero?

Jay Gatsby: Byronic Hero or Tragic Hero? Romantic poet Lord George Gordon Byron is credited with the development of the proto-typical anti-hero, referred to as the Byronic hero. Byronic Hero = LARGER-than-life, but flawed character who could be considered a rebel exhibits conflicting emotions and excessive moodiness is passionate about a particular issue can be introspective and critical of himself struggles with his own sense of integrity operates largely within his own set of rules and principles rejects accepted codes and norms of society is fiercely independent and strongly individual is a loner (whether imposed by society or self-imposed) displays a lack of respect for rank and privilege has a troubled or mysterious past can be cynical, demanding, and arrogant exhibits self-destructive tendencies and behavior Twelve traits of a Byronic Hero: How does Gatsby fit the profile of a Byronic Hero? Gatsby's quest for Daisy, the uncertainty surrounding how he amassed so vast a fortune so quickly, his aloofness around everyone except the Object of his Quest, the fact that it is not enough that Daisy love him but that she must also declare that she never loved Tom, and his disdain for the traditional moral and social class standards of this time all suggest Gatsby's status as a Byronic hero. TRAGIC HERO According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is a man who rises to a high position and then falls from that high position--usually to utter desolation and/or death. Two forces seem equally powerful in classical tragedy: the tragic hero's tragic flaw and fate. Some tragic heroes bring about their own downfall while others seem more a pawn of fate. During the Renaissance, people generally felt themselves to be less pawns of fate and more in control of their own destinies. The Elizabethan tragic hero, then, is much more often responsible for his own downfall. By the middle of the 20th Century, the concept of what was at the root of the tragic situation shifted. The thinking (examined by Arthur Miller's article and shown through his character Willie Loman) was that the hero's tragic flaw is nothing more than his attempt to gain, or regain, what he considers to be his rightful status in society.

According to Miller, the tragic hero exemplifies our "underlying fear of being displaced...torn away from our chosen image of what or who we are in this world." How does Gatsby fit the profile of a Tragic Hero? Jay Gatsby, in that he sacrifices everything (including his life) to secure his "rightful" place as Daisy's true lover, is a tragic hero. Everything he has done in the five years before the novel's beginning, and everything he does throughout the course of the novel, is for the sole purpose of having Daisy declare that she does love Gatsby, and that she never loved Tom. When Gatsby fails to achieve his goal--when he fails to attain the status of sole love that he believes is his--his world falls apart, and he is killed as a result of his own decisions.
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