How does Aristotle help us understand the text you are discussing and how does that text help us understand Aristotle?


This semester, we have looked at tragedy. (This is true even of Dante’s INFERNO each of whose stories recounts the downfall of a character through the Christian notion of hamartia—that is, sin.)

While we have discussed three different descriptions of tragedy (Aristotle’s, Hegel’s and Frye’s), we have found that Aristotle’s, for all its limitations, is the most durable. (Hegel’s, which emphasizes the importance of conflict, has proved to be less useful for us.)

Aristotle tells us something about plot and about the main character. He tells us that a plot describes a single action (the downfall of the hero) that has a beginning, a middle and an end. These are joined causally (the beginning therefore leads directly to the end) and because the downfall of the hero is the result of a hamartia, the downfall is just. Tragedies, then, prove that there is a justice that underlies the world. (Hegel argues for this as well.) Aristotle tells us that the moment of recognition—where the hero realizes his or her error—is the turning point of the play and this means that the hero recognizes both his or her limitations and the world’s justice.

Now, we have seen that we have to be flexible in our reading of Aristotle. Julius Caesar presents us with the odd conclusion that the tragic protagonist is destroyed by his virtue, not his vice: he is too honorable to survive in the political realm. And because he is “the noblest Roman,” there is no possibility for recognition. That would indicate that his death is in fact unjust and that the bad guys have won. Even though Antony is revenging his friend and thus punishing a murderer (Brutus!), he is a liar, hypocrite and complete villain. This provides us with a much more complex vision of the world and politics than even Antigone, with all its ambiguities, provides.

We can read Madame Bovary and S-town as tragedies, but again, we will have to be flexible in our Aristotleanism. (Neither work is amenable to a basic Hegelian reading and Frye won’t help us here either.) Emma Bovary certainly suffers a downfall (debt and suicide) and her failings are responsible for this downfall. But can we say that justice is served by her death or that the novel attests to the ultimate justice of the world? In S-town, John B. too suffers a downfall (madness, perhaps, and definitely death), but can we say that his hamartia led to that downfall? If so, what is that hamartia? (Is mercury poisoning—if that was the proximate cause—a hamartia?) Does his death signal that the world is just? (Think about the sixth episode and the difficulties facing a gay man in Bibb Country, Alabama.)


Taking either Madame Bovary or S-town as your test case, tells me what Aristotle can teach us about the nature of modern tragedy. (I am assuming, of course, that both these stories are tragedies. They are certainly not comedies nor are they romances.) How does Aristotle help us understand the text you are discussing and how does that text help us understand Aristotle?

The Rules of the Road

• It must use MLA style and end with a proper bibliography.

• It should be well organized. Each paragraph will require a thesis and evidence for that thesis and each paragraph must demonstrably contribute to the argument of the paper.

• It should be properly grammatical. Watch your apostrophes, verb agreement and comma splices.

• It should be no shorter than 1000 words long.


Please help me to write about Madame Bovary not S-town