Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hubris

hubris--a display of pride or entitlement so vast in nature that it overrides an individual's more sensible behavior; the resident sense within a character of being right to the point where the character's behavior intentionally or unintentionally humiliates other characters; a near evangelical course of behavior from a character in service of a belief and/or goal.

Hubris drives many characters in the dramatic and literary arts, leading the reader to suspect that eventually such a hubris-driven character will have to pay a huge price. Was Achilles being hubristic in The Iliad, particularly after he had slain Hector in battle, then paraded his corpse about? Was King Creon showing hubris when he exacted his directive against his niece in Antigone? Was Ahab showing hubris when he gambled and lost against the whale? Was Dr. Frankenstein showing hubris when he believed he could take on Nature by creating life?

What began as indifference to or a disrespect for the Gods and Fates (who knew a thing or two about retribution) became as democratized as other aspects of social and moral behavior to mere humans who became impressed by their own self-interest to the point of believing it is their due to get what they want. Consider Charles Foster Kane as a modern force of hubris, forcing his wishes upon those near him and extending to individuals he might never meet. Thus consider all these larger-than-life characters made in part what they are because of a complete lack of empathy.

A guiding definition of a hubris-driven story is: How the mighty are fallen, the powerful being led to humiliation of their own, pushed along the road by hubris. Bringing the nature of hubris into tighter contemporary context, we examine how anyone of an overarching position of pride is brought down into disgrace and humiliation or, as Jane Austen did with the representational characters of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, the characters undergo an acceptable shift toward empathy. Although, since Austen is known for her keen wit and satire, perhaps she is saying that the payment for the positions of pridefulness and prejudice is--marriage.

Under most literary circumstances, there is some payment necessary for having lived at the level of hubris.

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