Connecting Idea: “The Tragic Hero”
Unifying elements of Tragedy
A good tragedy has become a passage to show its audience watching a way to take our minds off of our own lives and draw catharsis from someone else’s misfortunes. In order to really connect with an audience, it also has to be a reflection on human nature. This is what the genre of tragedy aims to achieve and is what connects the tragic stories in ‘Citizen Kane’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Gladiator’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’
Text 1 and 2 – Citizen Kane and King Lear
From one of the most highly-acclaimed films in history from Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” comes the tragic hero of Charles Foster Kane. His excessive pride in everything he does and the eventual nemesis that he faces at the end of story makes him a perfect fit for the role of the tragic hero. Going through the events of the story chronologically, as the film starts at his death, we the audience are shown the start of Kane’s life as he is abandoned by his parents in order to inherit a fortune of a 1940-worthed $60,000,000 then becomes a man who the people root for from his boyish personality of going against the ‘higher-ups’ telling him what to do and how he should. Kane is a character that the audience adores and can sympathise with from the start of the film. This idea of Kane takes a sudden turn when he believes he can win the Governor campaign even after he cheats on his wife. He loses the campaign as the media slanders him with the accusation of him cheating on his wife. This is where we see Kane letting his pride get the better of him which ends up resulting in a spiral downwards from there. Every decision we see him make after this moment is made from arrogant, prideful. He marries his mistress and proceeds to try and force her into becoming a singer, something she only liked as a hobby but Kane is trying to build himself up and project the picture perfect “American” life to everyone else as he begins to value materialistic things over pure human connection. He has ultimately turned into everything that he was rebelling against which he comes to recognise near the end, “You mustn’t go, Susan. Everything’ll be exactly the way you want it. Not the way I think you want it—by your way. Please, Susan—Susan!”. Kane clicks and shows us what he has done to get him to a point this low; he has pushed himself to loneliness as the world he believed to be perfect could be achieved through paying everyone to be his friends and turning everyone into things which at the end of his story, does not work and eventually results in Kane’s lonely death. Even after all of the actions that Kane has taken, we still feel for him in the end. The kicker is his final word, ‘Rosebud’. Rosebud was the name of his sled which was Kane’s favourite thing to do but the word has a deeper meaning than that. The word is a callback to the lost family that did not want him because they were too greedy for money. This reminds the audience that all Kane wanted was to be loved which plays on our own needs to feel loved and makes for a great cathartic experience for the audience. Lear in the play ‘King Lear’ makes the audience go through the same experience. Lear has pride to him where he thinks he everyone loves him and can do no wrong as he is the king. In reality, the thing we see him doing the entire play is try and vye for love from his daughters. He thought the same way as Kane; if he gave people anything they wanted that would mean that they had to love him. He valued the fake over-the-top way his daughters would try to profess their love for him over Cordelia’s true pure love. “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth. I love your majesty. According to my bond; no more nor less”. She did not want to be flashy in the way she said her love for her father and instead speak the truth to Lear and said that she loves Lear as much as a daughter should. A prideful Lear took this as an insult as it wasn’t as ‘fake’ as what the others said and didn’t make him seem as ‘grand’ as how the others said it so he ended up banishing her from the palace. Lear let his excessive pride get to him and made a dumb decision. Meanwhile the other daughters did not mean anything they had said to Lear and were plotting to get him banished. In the end they were just using him to get his power for their own greedy needs, like Kane thought he could just pay everyone he had for love, Lear does the exact same thing. Flash forward and Lear is facing the same nemesis as Kane, a lonely death. They both valued the in-the-moment fake love brought on by them paying people over something that is less flashy but true which ultimately is the cause for their lonely death. Both of these tragedies achieve their purpose of making an audience feel for their tragic heroes.
Text 2 and 3: King Lear and Gladiator –
The movie ‘Gladiator’ by Ridley Scott takes its own shot at the tragic hero through the character Maximus who, unfortunately, follows the same unlucky journey as Lear. The difference in this tragedy from King Lear is Maximus is a character that we felt for from the very start of the film and even liked him which is unlike Lear where we were only meant to feel for the events he has to go through but was a character we despised for most of the play. Maximus’ hubris came from his attachment to the idea of Rome and protecting it at all costs, but in a twist of irony it was Rome that Maximus needed to be protected from. After denying the previous ruler, Marcus Aurelius, of passing the title down to Maximus as Maximus believes he is right in saying that he is not the one to be ruling Rome, Maximus’ first repercussion of his excessive pride came in the form of the slaughtering of his family by his own Roman army. This moment can be related to King Lear where Lear and his family dies and is the nemesis he faces but in Gladiator his family dies near the start of the movie. The audience experiences catharsis early in the film but is not Maximus’ nemesis which causes the audience to believe that the worst for Maximus is not over. In Maximus’ circumstances, someone’s family getting murdered should be enough to stop them from trying and change their intentions, but a prideful Maximus does not. Maximum keeps letting the pursuit of freeing Rome from the corrupt kick him down over and over again and he keeps on getting back up which in the end just leads him to his death. Although at the same time he also achieves his goal of freeing Rome from being oppressed, but what good is it when you and everyone you have ever loved is dead? The difference between this and Lear was that Maximus died for his pride of something else whereas Lear died due to the pride in himself; selflessness vs selfishness. Where Lear was brought by himself because he thought he was too good, Maximus was brought down because he thought he wasn’t enough.
Text 3 and 1: Gladiator and Citizen Kane
Aristotle’s philosophy on the tragic hero was that the heroes fate is not deserved but have come about from flow-ons from their actions. The nemesis that both Maximus and Kane face have come about because of the ambitious decisions. Maximus, as a slave with nothing left to his name, believes too much that he can overthrow the ruler of Rome when Maximus at the bottom of society, while Kane believed that he could pay everyone in order to feel loved. Their intentions were not for cause of their nemesis. Maximus did not deserve to die; he was trying to save the people of Rome from a corrupt dictatorship but he got killed for what he believed was the best way to to take back control. Kane also did not deserve to die, he was only trying to have the love that never had but ended up lonely. This idea of injustice/unfairness runs rife throughout the genre of tragedy and this idea is supposed to be a reflection of life. The relatability of the idea of unfairness occurs to generate a greater pull of emotion from the audience watching for the unfair circumstances of our hero in order to achieve a tragedy’s purpose of catharsis and to fuel a discussion about problems with our society
Text 1 and 4: Citizen Kane and The Great Gatsby –
The two American tragedies follow the same formula as each other: start off with a wealthy man living the life that the average American could only dream of having, then have them make ambitious decisions which leads them to the point where they become too ambitious, fall down and crack. Kane’s and Gatsby ambitions were drawn from their pride, believing they could do anything they want, they both used their money to try and make the world to what they believe it should be. Much like Kane, Gatsby used his money to build the perfect image of himself in order to get a girl named Daisy. They both end in the American nightmare; dying lonely. These tragedies give us a commentary on the need to be accepted, both Kane and Gatsby just wanted to be accepted. This idea of acceptance in both of these films is timeless as we can see here today in 2019 with people flashing off materialistic things on social media just for acceptance. With the age of the film Citizen Kane, these ideas that can still stand up as a reflection of society, even 50 to 100 years after the release of the film, is what makes a perfect tragedy; one where no matter what time period you experience it in, It can still relate to issues you are experiencing today.
In conclusion, what connects each of the texts of King Lear, Citizen Kane, The Great Gatsby and Gladiator is through the use of the tragic hero and their hubris’ and nemesis’ in order to draw catharsis from the audience and to give a message about the nature of humans and society.