Is John Proctor a Tragic Hero?


What is a Tragic Hero? (From

Tragic Hero Definition

What is a tragic hero? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy, and is usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes typically have heroic traits that earn them the sympathy of the audience, but also have flaws or make mistakes that ultimately lead to their own downfall. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is a tragic hero. His reckless passion in love, which makes him a compelling character, also leads directly to the tragedy of his death.

Some additional key details about tragic heroes:

  • The idea of the tragic hero was first defined by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle based on his study of Greek drama.
  • Despite the term “tragic hero,” it’s sometimes the case that tragic heroes are not really heroes at all in the typical sense—and in a few cases, antagonists may even be described as tragic heroes.


The Evolution of the Tragic Hero

Tragic heroes are the key ingredient that make tragedies, well, tragic. That said, the idea of the characteristics that make a tragic hero have changed over time.

Aristotle and the Tragic Hero

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first to define a “tragic hero.” He believed that a good tragedy must evoke feelings of fear and pity in the audience, since he saw these two emotions as being fundamental to the experience of catharsis (the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art). As Aristotle puts it, when the tragic hero meets his demise, “pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.”

Aristotle strictly defined the characteristics that a tragic hero must have in order to evoke these feelings in an audience. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero must:

  • Be virtuous: In Aristotle’s time, this meant that the character should be a noble. It also meant that the character should be both capable and powerful (i.e. “heroic”), and also feel responsible to the rules of honor and morality that guided Greek culture. These traits make the hero attractive and compelling, and gain the audience’s sympathy.
  • Be flawed: While being heroic, the character must also have a tragic flaw (also called hamartia) or more generally be subject to human error, and the flaw must lead to the character’s downfall. On the one hand, these flaws make the character “relatable,” someone with whom the audience can identify. Just as important, the tragic flaw makes the tragedy more powerful because it means that the source of the tragedy is internal to the character, not merely some outside force. In the most successful tragedies, the tragic hero’s flaw is not just a characteristic they have in addition to their heroic qualities, but one that emerges from their heroic qualities—for instance, a righteous quest for justice or truth that leads to terrible conclusions, or hubris (the arrogance that often accompanies greatness). In such cases, it is as if the character is fated to destruction by his or her own nature.
  • Suffer a reversal of fortune: The character should suffer a terrible reversal of fortune, from good to bad. Such a reversal does not merely mean a loss of money or status. It means that the work should end with the character dead or in immense suffering, and to a degree that outweighs what it seems like the character deserved.

To sum up: Aristotle defined a tragic hero rather strictly as a man of noble birth with heroic qualities whose fortunes change due to a tragic flaw or mistake (often emerging from the character’s own heroic qualities) that ultimately brings about the tragic hero’s terrible, excessive downfall.

The Modern Tragic Hero

Over time, the definition of a tragic hero has relaxed considerably. It can now include:

  • Characters of all genders and class backgrounds. Tragic heroes no longer have to be only nobles, or only men.
  • Characters who don’t fit the conventional definition of a hero. This might mean that a tragic hero could be regular person who lacks typical heroic qualities, or perhaps even a villainous or or semi-villainous person.

Nevertheless, the essence of a tragic hero in modern times maintains two key aspects from Aristotle’s day:

  • The tragic hero must have the sympathy of the audience.
  • The tragic hero must, despite their best efforts or intentions, come to ruin because of some tragic flaw in their own character.



The Crucible Unit Assessment: Sociogram Project

Over the next few days, you will be crafting your sociograms representing character motivations and connections from The Crucible.

The entirety of this project is due by the end of class on Friday, February 16th.


The Crucible Sociogram Activity

A sociogram is a visual representation of the relationships among characters in a literary work. In a sociogram, the central character is placed at the center of the page, and the other characters are placed around him/her. The spatial relationship on the page should in some way represent each of the characters’ relationships with the main character, as well as with each other. Lines/arrows are used to show the direction and nature of the relationship (e.g., strengths/weaknesses, friend/foe, dominance/submissiveness, etc.).


  • Place the central character at the center of the diagram. This will be John Proctor.
  • Let the physical distance between characters reflect the perceived psychological distance between the characters.
    • How close they are in your representation should represent how close the characters are in the play. For example, John might be close to Elizabeth, but far from Mr. Putnam.
  • Let the size/shape/symbol of a character metaphorically represent each personality, importance, one’s power or lack thereof, etc.
    • What could be created to symbolize the characters? For example, Proctor might be a noose, pitchfork, or his name.
  • Show the direction of a relationship by an arrow/line, and its nature by a brief label.
    • The lines can be creatively applied: What might the following types of lines indicate? A jagged line? A wavy line? The thickness of the line? The color of the line? Etc. The lines could also be symbols. For example, Proctor and Elizabeth could be connected by wedding rings.
  • Illustrate the tone and/or theme of a piece by the use of color or visual symbols.
    • Consider how color symbolism could represent certain aspects of a character!
  • Explore creative ways to represent a character’s motivation. For example, inside each character’s “circle/area” might be one or more words that seem to capture the essence of that character. Immediately outside of the circle could be a series of arrows that represent the forces that influence that character.
  • !!!! Each symbol/link MUST be explained in writing on a separate sheet of paper. Explain why you chose to depict that character, his/her links, and motivations in the way you did. You only need a few sentences here, but be sure to fully explain each choice you made on your sociogram.

Characters who MUST be included on your sociogram:

John Proctor

Abigail Williams

Elizabeth Proctor

Reverend Parris

Reverend Hale

Giles Corey

Mary Warren

Judge Danforth


Thomas Putnam

Ann Putnam


Edwards’s Extended Metaphors in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”


Jonathan Edwards’s six-hour sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” contains a great deal of imagery. Imagine you are an unconverted audience member in the church where Jonathan Edwards is delivering his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” How does his sermon appeal to you? Does it make you want to join the Puritan church? What kind of language (imagery, similes, metaphors) does he use to pull you in?

Choose an extended metaphor from Edwards’s sermon that contains vivid imagery and illustrate it in the style of a brochure/pamphlet to bring these heathens back to Jesus!

You will not necessarily be graded on your artistic ability, but your brochure should demonstrate creativity, attention to detail, and relevant information. The brochure should look like one that you would see in real life — informative, eye-catching, and interesting to the viewer.

For your brochure, make sure to include the following:

  1. Create a three-panel brochure advertising Puritanism by using elements from Jonathan Edward’s sermon.

  2. Your brochure must contain original art! (Sorry, no printing out pictures. That’s too easy!)

  3. On each panel, there should be at least one image from the text. (Divide and conquer with your group members!)

  4. Using your knowledge of Puritanism and what you learned from Edwards’ sermon, on two of the panels, write a sentence explaining to your reader why they should join the church. (Consider ethos, pathos, and logos here!)

  5. Must be in full color! No pencil!

  6. Title of Sermon and author’s name must be clearly visible on front of pamphlet.

  7. At least one “review” quote/testimonial from a critic about the sermon. This should be made up and is intended to draw the reader’s interest. Sell it! No more than two sentences.

  8. Include a catchy “tagline” or slogan for the sermon and/or Puritanism. This should be on the front of your pamphlet.

  9. On a separate sheet of paper, you must include rationale for your illustrations by providing text evidence from the sermon. Be sure to explain why you chose the visual elements you did as well. One paragraph minimum, with embedded quotations. For instance, if you use the image of the “pit of hell,” include a direct quote from the text that references the “pit of hell.” Don’t forget parenthetical citations!

    Use your metaphor chart as a reference to help you!

    Be creative and have fun! 🙂

Links for American Lit. Movement Poster Project

Please use the links below to assist you in creating your assigned American literary movement poster project. Feel free to supplement the list with your own research.


Historical Overview

Puritan Belief

Characteristics of Puritan Writing and Thought


Historical Overview

Rationalist Beliefs

Characteristics of Rationalist Writings and Thought


Historical Overview

Transcendentalist Beliefs

Characteristics of Transcendental Writing and Thought

Dark Romanticism:

Historical Overview

Dark Romantic Beliefs

Characteristics of Dark Romantic Writings and Thought


Historical Overview

Realist Beliefs

Characteristics of Realist Writings and Thought


Historical Overview

Modernist Beliefs

Characteristics of Modernist Writings and Thought

Attitudes on English


Please complete this assignment on your own piece of paper:

  1. Describe in a paragraph an experience that has shaped your attitude about English. This can be positive or negative, but make sure you think of a specific example. (At least one paragraph)
  2. Describe a success that you have had. This can be ANY success, even if it may not seem like a big deal to someone else. Please include how you felt about it. (At least one paragraph)
  3. Finally, explain what your FAVORITE thing is about English and why. Think hard; I want each of you to have at least one. (At least one paragraph)