There have been many tragic heroes throughout the history of literature, including the tragic hero of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne makes the tragic hero clearly understood. Roger Chillingworth is obviously the tragic hero in this novel. There are many facts to back up this claim.
A tragic hero can be described as a man / woman who has great promise, ability, and integrity of character. This is a clear match to Chillingworth's personality. Although later plagued with the evils of revenge, Chillingworth has the promise to be a great hero. He is a man well educated in the areas of medicine.
He is also is strong willed, persuasive, and able to look directly into a person's sole. These abilities could be used for evil, but they also the potential for a vast greatness. In chapter 10, page 122, when speaking of men who keep their sins hidden, even if for the purpose of good, Chillingworth says to Dimmesdale, "Trust me, such men deceive themselves." Chillingworth never kept his sins secret, showing the potential for good in his heart. He would have had many secrets had he been made up purely of evil. Should Chillingworth not have been bent on revenge, he could have helped many people both physically and mentally. Surely this would be the work of a great hero and not a hideous monster as he is often depicted.
A tragic hero can also be depicted as a person who has a tragic flaw or weakness. It is obvious that Chillingworth's flaw is in his need for revenge. This is what would bring him to his end. His need for revenge changed him from a potential hero to an evil bent on vengeance.
His entire existence became focused on the thought of torturing Dimmesdale. This is what brought him from be comin a hero, to becoming a tragic hero. The flaw of revenge brought him to a tragedy. His own weakness was his undoing, bringing him a horrible demise. This was easily seen in the novel. A tragic hero must have his actions involve him in choices.
Chillingworth had the choice of whether or not to pursue Hester's partner in her crime of adultery. Once he found Dimmesdale guilty of this crime, he began the mental torture of Dimmesdale as his own form of revenge. He could have left Dimmesdale and lived a life solely of good, but he chose to find his retribution. This may have been his weakness, but this could have been prevented had Chillingworth decided not to find out the truth behind Dimmesdale's secret past actions. There was never a time throughout the novel where Chillingworth was forced to do anything. Once he was bent on the mental anguish of Dimmesdale, his life revolved around it, but that was his own choice.
Chillingworth was a man of free will with a major flaw in his own thinking. Potential good, weaknesses, and choices are not the only things that make up a tragic hero. A tragic hero also has to die at the end of the novel from which he / she came. This death can come from many different reasons.
Chillingworth dies at the end of The Scarlet Letter because of his own weaknesses. He dies from the pure evil which is led into his life. His goals of vengeance make him a pure tragedy. The evidence is clear why Chillingworth is the tragic hero of The Scarlet Letter. He could have been a great hero, but his flaws brought him to a tragic end.
Had Chillingworth been made solely of good, he would have been a hero, and not a tragic hero. This is what a tragic hero is all about. A tragic hero gives a story an interesting plot. The Scarlet Letter would not be as good a novel had Chillingworth entered being an evil character. It is the transformation from being a potential hero to a hero brought down by his own flaws that makes Chillingworth the tragic hero.