gives us a strong idea of his definition for tragedy in his essay "The Tragic Fallacy"
Krutch spends a lot of time specifying what tragedy is not. First, it is not an "imitation of noble actions"
once said. This is because: a) true art cannot be defined as an imitation but an adaptation, and b) the concept of nobility is too abstract and holds different meanings for each person. I agree with this because a genre such as tragedy, which is enjoyed by people of all backgrounds and beliefs couldn't have become so popular if it were based on controversial ideas such as nobility. People must relate to tragedy somehow for it to be so well loved. And not all of us can relate to the same definition of nobility.
Krutch goes on to show us just what it is we can relate to in tragedy, and that is a “celebration of human greatness". Tragedy is not a dark gloomy genre, but is in fact "an expression not of despair, but of the triumph over despair and of confidence in the value of human life." What I concluded from this is that tragedy may include sad or depressing situations based on the fact of human suffering, but it does so in order to show us that humans possess the passion, power, and perseverance to come through that suffering. Essentially, it's a testament to how capable we are.
One last point that "The Tragic Fallacy" makes is that tragedies still have "happy" endings. This may seem farfetched due to the fact that tragedy is characterized by suffering, but Krutch explains this statement clearly:
"Whatever the character of events, fortunate or unfortunate, which they recount, they (the authors) so mold or arrange or interpret them that we accept gladly the conclusion which they reach and would not have it otherwise."
Essentially, even though it's sad that Juliet
kills herself (for example), we as readers can be satisfied with the strong act of passion, strength, and meaning her death holds. As Krutch says:"We accept gladly the outward defeats which it describes for the sake of the inward victories which it reveals."
So even if tragedies don't have a "happily ever after", we can still find satisfaction in their meaningful endings.
"That's so tragic!"
This phrase is commonly found in 21st century high schools everywhere. We use it to describe events that are unfortunate. From the break-up of a popular couple, to a car accident in the student lot, we use the word "tragedy" to describe it. I have always thought of tragedy as just as sad story, but what is tragedy really? Where did it originate and What properties define a tragic work?
| | As with many literary concepts, tragedy finds its origins in Greek drama. Back in the day, all those famous philosophers (such as Aristotle, Sophocles, and all those other wise guys) developed the art of tragedy. The concept has been altered over the years by Roman's and European's alike, but the same basic principles apply.
And what are those basic principles you ask?
Well, first, tragedy by definition is (according to Wikipedia):
"...a form of drama based on human suffering that invokes in its audience an accompanying catharsis or pleasure in the viewing."
| | So essentially, it is a form of entertainment that teaches us to delight in the pain of others. That seems a little harsh, but I suppose it's fair enough. In Aristotle's definition, a tragic story starts out with a hero who makes some sort of error that is specifically unrelated to any flaws the character possesses or any outside cause. The character then suffers greatly due to his/her mistake and, in the words of Aristotle, undergoes "a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate."
Since Aristotle's days, others have argued different theories about tragedy. G.W.F. Hegel, for example, believed that in modern tragedy, individuals’ "self-destructive passions" cause their own tragic events. Still, tragedy at its core is a look at human suffering and the events that cause it.
These are new thoughts for me personally. I had always just defined tragedy as a story with a bad (unhappy) ending, but it is more than that. It involves the inner-workings of the characters more than anything. The tragic events that befall them depend directly on their strengths, weaknesses, decisions, and actions. Also, there is a purpose to it. Tragedies aren't just meant to make us cry, they're intended to teach us about life and help us learn from the mistakes of others.
I think tragedy is probably the most relatable form of literature because all humans make mistakes and suffer the consequences. We can sympathize with the characters and apply what they learn to our own lives.
So the next time you refer to something as "tragic", be sure to check and see that the situation fits the specifics for the genre. The philosophers of old will thank you.