We’ve all read at least one tragedy, whether it was the required high school reading of Romeo and Juliet, or perhaps the recent Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Some readers are drawn to the heightened emotion that is a trademark of a tragic story. Indeed, tragedy can be defined as a story or experience where a person or people end in a state worse than when they began, often including death.
In Romeo and Juliet the tragic elements are obvious, forbidden love, dueling families, and the death of two young people. The work can stand as a definition of the term, because everything in it is tragic. No one escapes the story without being emotionally harmed. The Montagues and Capulets both suffer the loss of a child, and worse, it was both of their faults because it was caused by the friction between their families.
We read to be moved. Some readers prefer stories that are uplifting and inspiring because in turn it uplifts and inspires them. Some like stories that scare them because they enjoy a good spine-tingling thrill. Some like stories set in amazing locations so they can feel transported. In the end it all comes down to escapism. We crave escape from the stresses of our lives by living through someone else’s eyes while reading a book or watching a good movie. It gives us a chance to reevaluate our lives through a different lens and see things in a new light.
A tragedy is meant to be moving. It transports the reader through a spectrum of emotion, often to the highest of highs, before bringing them down to the lowest of lows. The story is often beautiful and poignant and illustrates noble ideals such as courage, grace, and undying love. By reading how someone else copes with a hard situation, we gain strength to face our own.
Is tragedy worth reading and writing?
Yes and no. There are times when life draws too close of parallel to a tragic story and reading about it is too painful. Some people don’t want to feel that deeply, or have their hearts hurt in their casual reading. For me, riding the emotional roller coaster of a great book is a huge draw and I seek those stories out. That said, I have to be in the right mood to dive into a tragedy or it only succeeds in making me frustrated and angry. That, and I don’t like being caught crying while I read so I save those books for nights where I’m alone.
Let’s discuss in the comments –
Who out there likes reading a book that ends in tragedy?
As a reader would you want to know beforehand if a book is a tragedy or not?
Do you like books that make you cry?
What is the best tragedy that you’ve read?
I kinda disagree with you about Romeo and Juliet having obviously tragic elements. It *is* a tragedy (eventually), and it definitely *ends* as a tragedy, but for the first two thirds I think the book is a comedy. Rival families and 2 young people who shouldn’t be together sneaking around, climbing through windows, bawdy nurses and cantankerous, interfering priests… this is the pure stuff of Shakespearean comedy. I think the volta or turning point, if you will, is the death of Tybalt, at which point the play stops being a comedy and becomes a tragedy. But for much of the play, R&J functions in a hinterland between the two genres…
As for myself, I LOVE tragedy. At university we had to spend a year studying for a Tragedy paper, which ranged from the Greek plays through Shakespeare to modern novels.
As a reference, you might like John Kerrigan’s book Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon, it’s pretty dense, but fascinating. 🙂
Why Hello Tomcat – it’s been ages since you’ve stopped by! Welcome back!
Now that you point it out, you’ve hit Romeo and Juliet dead on where I’ve missed. It has been way too long since my last reading of the text and it shows. 🙂
Perhaps I would have been more accurate to have said something along the lines that R&J is one of the most famous tragedy books of all time, simply because everyone has heard of it.
Thanks for the book recommendation – I’ll definitely look it up. It sounds like a perfect fit for a few topics I’ve been studying.
I’d nominate. ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Book Thief’. I’m a fan of the great tragic ending that you just didn’t see coming but some people find this confronting (if emails relating to my own novel are anything to go by). And, even though I enjoy a ‘happy ever after’ scenario, I can’t stand it when absolutely everything has to be tied up neatly and this has to be confirmed to the reader over and over. Nicer to be left with some questions that will leave you thinking about a piece of fiction long after the final page has turned.
Two terrific nominations – the Book Thief has quickly become one of my favorite books because of it’s beautiful prose and intense depth. I agree that a perfect happy ending leaves the reader with nothing to ponder, all of my favorite books leave a few loose ends to think about.
I’ve been worrying about this topic because my book has several tragic elements and I want to handle it in a way that makes readers not want to throw things at me.
I think all you can do is remain true to your characters and, even though you can never please all your readers, you will please yourself and feel that you have stood by your characters in giving them the paths that are best designed for them.
Real life has a potential for tragedy every day. In fact, my father’s life was a tragedy. So, do I like reading them? Not especially, though I recognize how a well done tragedy is a powerful experience. As a general rule I shy away from them, but I wouldn’t want to know ahead of time because it ruins the story’s effectiveness. I want the story as the author intended. That said, I don’t mind a book that makes me cry, don’t even mind tragic elements in a story, but I want something uplifting at the end. Shakespeare represents most of my exposure.
I’m fascinated with everyone’s take on this topic, thank you for sharing your feelings as well. I’ve been trying to figure out if my assumptions on the public acceptance of tragedy are correct or flawed, what you say matches exactly what I think most people feel about tragedy.
I find tragic stories tend to stick with me a lot longer. Cat’s Cradle, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Of Mice and Men… I read those in high school (which was about 5000 years ago) and i still remember the emotional weight (though Cat’s Cradle is disguised as a satire). Stories with a shiny bow at the end make you feel good in the moment, but they tend to be less memorable, at least for me.
I don’t know how I survived high school without reading those, looks like I’ll be adding them to my list as well! It seems that the feeling is unanimous, tragedy stories are more powerful and stick to the reader longer than fluffy happy ones.