Pride in Literature As a Universally Human Term Paper

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Pride in Literature

As a universally human characteristic, pride plays an important part in world literary themes. However, pride can be defined and perceived differently, and the term also has many different definitions. For example, pride can refer to a dignified type of satisfaction, as comes from taking pride in one's work. More often in literature, though, pride is depicted in a negative light and is usually featured as a tragic flaw that, if not overcome, brings about the hero's downfall. Moreover, the implications and meaning of pride in literature has changed over the course of time. Pride was portrayed as a necessary but dangerous trait of powerful leaders in the ancient epics of Greece and Mesopotamia like Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. The trait of pride reached a sort of thematic culmination in the Old English work Beowulf, in which the title character's pride contributes positively to his glory, even if it does cause his death. Pride becomes far more sinister in later literature, as in Dante's Inferno, which implies pride is a deadly, albeit inescapable, sin. Renaissance literature such as Shakespeare's play Othello similarly portrays pride as being inherently dangerous and deadly, an undesirable character trait too often exhibited by would-be great leaders. In world literature, pride evolves from being a necessary but occasionally tragic flaw of warrior-heroes, to being a definite detriment and even a sin.

In the Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh, the title character exhibits an enormous amount of despotic pride rendering him a cruel leader, until he is humbled and tamed by both the love of his friend Enkidu and by Enkidu's death. Before meeting Enkidu, Gilgamesh enslaves his people and rapes women, upholding his right to do so by relying on his semi-divinity. His pride in his divine nature therefore causes Gilgamesh to be a cruel leader, but it does not in any way detract from his stature. Moreover, pride does not cause his downfall or death but rather becomes a powerful learning tool for the hero. Enkidu's death so powerfully affected Gilgamesh that it renders the ruler nearly powerless. When Gilgamesh realizes at last that he is not immortal, the last vestiges of his pride are stamped away. The contemplation of his own mortality causes Gilgamesh to temper his pride with wisdom, and his character changes from this epiphany.

In roughly contemporary Greek epics like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, pride plays a similar role but impacts literary heroes and themes slightly differently. In the Iliad, Achilles' pride prevents him from being a benevolent war hero. He is therefore somewhat like Gilgamesh without the opportunity to soul-search and do away with his pride. Achilles' pride causes him to abandon his comrades but in the end Achilles remains a war hero. In spite of the setbacks his pride causes him, Achilles does not learn from his flaw, which is portrayed as a necessary trait of powerful warriors. On the other hand, like Gilgamesh, Odysseus does learn from his pride, retaining his dignity as…

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