A Comparison of Hubris in Catcher in the Rye, Scarlet Letter, and Great Gatsby
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Hubris in the Protagonists of Catcher in the Rye, Scarlet Letter, and Great Gatsby
Aristotle praised Sophocles' King Oedipus as the definitive Greek tragedy; however, he could not have surmised the influence of Oedipus' tragic pride on modern day literature and philosophy. Hubris, the only true crime, has had a threefold influence: it is a reason for downfall as well as a characteristic of criminal motivation; it is manifested in the diverse protagonists of Salinger, Fitzgerald, and Hawthorne; and it is forgiven only by repentance for wrongdoing and the complete surrender of pride.
The erroneous idea that pride is only a predominant characteristic of crime, rather than a crime itself, would put tragic hero Oedipus on the same level as serial killer Charles Manson: while both are guilty of committing heinous acts, Oedipus relinquishes his pride and, ironically suffering under his own proclamation of exile, does penance for his crimes, whereas Manson shows no remorse for his vile and disturbing bloodletting. Oedipus' ultimate repentance is proof that he realizes his hubris and understands his mistakes, as irreparable as they may be.
All human filthiness in one crime compounded!
Unspeakable acts-I speak no more of them.
Hide me at once, for God's love, hide me away...
Touch me, and have no fear. On no man else
But on me alone is the scourge of my punishment. (64)
Had Oedipus sought to blame another for his crimes, or denied his own responsibility for his actions, he would have been no nobler than a common criminal; Oedipus is redeemed by his strength of character.
The hamartia of hubris lives on 2500 years after Aristotle lauded King Oedipus as the quintessential Greek tragedy; pride has evolved into an integral characteristic of the majority of literary characters from J.D. Salinger's angry, disillusioned Holden Caulfield to F. Scott Fitzgerald's idealistic Jay Gatsby to Nathaniel Hawthorne's tortured Reverend Dimmesdale.
Holden's pride in his sarcastic perception of the world around him perpetuates his cynicism and frustration with life, making him unrealistic and incapable of finding happiness. He believes himself omniscient, and that other "people never notice anything" (Salinger 9). Oedipus' belief in his own infallibility makes him equally unrealistic; soon after Oedipus' sins are revealed, the chorus of Elders conveys a Holden-esque message of discontent:
All generations of mortal man add up to nothing!
Show me the man whose happiness was anything more than illusion