The Hero in Tragedy

I don’t know what the protocol is for authors who feel that their work has been misrepresented by a reviewer, but my sense is that an author anxious for reviews does not help his cause if he jumps down the throat of the first person who reviews his book. So I don’t come here to do that. James O’Meara’s review of my book on Counter-Currents absolutely did strike a nerve with me, but instead of whining about all the ways I’ve been wronged, I only want to use one opening he has provided me to make a more general point about my book, and about literature. Think of this, not as a bitter rebuttal, but as part of a collaborative effort between O’Meara and myself to establish a fine point of literature.

O’Meara objects to the character Mark, because Mark should know better than to do what he does. And while I disagree with most of his recommendations, as well as his judgement of where Mark went wrong, that is beside the point, because Mark is not supposed to be a role model. The hero in tragedy is not a role model.

The hero in tragedy either lacks the will to do what he knows to be right, or he is mistaken about what he believes to be right; I can not imagine that O’Meara would recommend either weakness or ignorance. The hero of tragedy may (and should) have many admirable characteristics, but these do not prevent his failure, and in a good tragedy, they actually work to realize it. The intensity with which the tragic hero feels his failure has intrinsic worth, but of course, this can not be genuinely imitated.

Some would expand the definition of tragedy to include unhappy stories in which the hero is arguably faultless; he is laid low by incomprehensible cosmic injustice, or he goes down fighting for what he knows is a lost cause, or he is one who would rather suffer anything rather than betray his conscience. To me, these things might be tragic (any sufferer capable of great feeling is tragic), but they are not tragedies. These heroes did not fail, and so their stories are not tragedies.

So yes, Mark is flawed. His flaw though, is not that in the end he fails to understand the West, it is that in the beginning he fails to understand himself. And while his failure is worthy of our attention, it should not be the dominant focus. If one character must be identified as the subject, as the tragic hero, that character is Prudence, not Mark.

Given the ideological place from which the book was written, and from which most of the readers come, as well as the framing of the novel’s conflict, I can understand how this might be overlooked. Mark is the white guy. Superficially, he is the actor, while she is acted upon. In the end, the “choice” is in his hands, but she chose him. And the facts on which she based her choice were exactly right, yet she was still somehow wrong.

Ryan Andrews is the author of "The Birth of Prudence".