Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye

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Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye

In Anatomy of Criticism, author Northrop Frye writes of the low mimetic tragic hero and the society in which this hero is a victim. He introduces the concept of pathos saying it “is the study of the isolated mind, the story of how someone recognizably like ourselves is broken by a conflict between the inner and outer world, between imaginative reality and the sort of reality that is established by a social consensus” (Frye 39). The hero of Hannah W. Foster’s novel, The Coquette undoubtedly suffers the fate of these afore mentioned opposing ideals. In her inability to confine her imagination to the acceptable definitions of early American female social behavior, Eliza Wharton falls victim to the ambiguity of her society’s sentiments of women’s roles. Because she attempts to claim the freedom her society superficially advocates, she is condemned as a coquette and suffers the consequences of exercising an independent mind. Yet, Eliza does not stand alone in her position as a pathetic figure. Her lover, Major Sanford -- who is often considered the villain of the novel -- also is constrained by societal expectations and definitions of American men and their ambition. Though Sanford conveys an honest desire to make Eliza his wife, society encourages marriage as a connection in order to advance socially and to secure a fortune. Sanford, in contrast to Eliza, suffers as a result of adhering to social expectations of a male’s role. While Eliza suffers because she lives her life outside of her social categorization and Sanford falls because he attempts to maneuver and manipulate the system in which he lives, both are victims of an imperfect, developing, American society.

Though Eliza’s ...

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... comic hero. This flaw seems to be a result of the greater defect of the society in which he functions. Certainly not an innocent and having his own characterization of the same fatal flaw as Eliza – a decisive determination for independence -- Sanford shares in the traditional tragic conclusion of isolation and loss.

Despite an attractive interpretation that Eliza Wharton deserves her tragic fate because she is too scandalous of a seductress, her fall is actually a result of her desire for autonomy in a society that denies women that right. Also, to view Sanford as a heartless villain would be reductionary. He too, like Eliza, is subject to the judgements, constraints, and values of a flawed society in which he is separated from his true love. Both characters fall as a result of their desire for relational freedoms that early American society denies them.
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