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Fatal Flaw

When it is said that a character has a fatal flaw, the implication is that the character is perhaps admirable and successful in other ways, but there is something within his personality that will eventually lead to his downfall. The heroes of the ancient Greek dramas, for example, generally had tragic flaws. The tragic flaw is often a good trait that has turned bad as a result of being pushed to an extreme or being wrongly applied in some way. 

Fatal flaws explained

The term fatal flaw is a highly evocative one. Would you like to know more about its real meaning? Essentially, fatal flaw refers to a character trait possessed by a person that ultimately leads to his downfall. The term fatal flaw generally implies that the character is heroic and admirable in many other ways, and even that the fatal flaw itself would perhaps have been admirable within a different situation.

Examples of fatal flaws in context

For your reference, here are some examples of the term fatal flaw being used in sentences. 

  • "His friends all told him that he shared Hamlet's fatal flaw: although he was brilliant, he thought too much and acted too little; and as a result, all of the best opportunities of life tended to pass him by, as he just stood aside as if paralyzed."
  • "Although persistence might often be a moral virtue, in this case it proved to be a fatal flaw, because the man did not know when to just cut his losses and invest his resources in what would have probably been a profitable direction."
  • "The character's fatal flaw was all the more poignant due to the reader's awareness that without that fatal flaw, the character would not have had all the qualities that made him great, either." 

In case you are still a little unclear about the meaning of the term fatal flaw, here are a couple rules that can help you out. 

1. A fatal flaw is a trait intrinsic to a person's character that causes him to meet with failure in the end. The term always implies failure, because failure is the only evidence that the fatal flaw is there in the first place. One common example of a fatal flaw is hubris, or excessive pride that leads to a person's downfall.

2. The fatal flaw usually gains its dramatic grandeur from the fact that the character is so talented and successful in other ways. For example, Hamlet is clearly brilliant; and if he were not brilliant, then his fatal flaw would not have been as dramatically moving as it actually was. 

Relevance to literature

The concept of the fatal flaw is closely tied to the literary tradition of Greek tragic drama. In those plays, the main character tends to pursue his own nature and unique destiny to the fullest, only to find out that by doing so, he has played right into the hands of a fate that is going to destroy him. Oedipus, for example, would be a classic example of this: he thought he was avoiding the prophecy that was made about him, when he was in fact fulfilling it to the letter. The concept of fatal flaw is thus closely tied to the concept of fate, where fate itself is tied to the concept of character. 

To an extent, the concept of sin in Christian theology can be seen as related to the concept of the fatal flaw in Greek drama. This is especially the case given that both fatal flaw and sin have sometimes been translated by the phrase "missing the mark". The analogy, however, may be misleading if it is pursued too far, insofar as concepts such as fate and freedom (and thus fatal flaw) must be interpreted very differently within the Christian paradigm than within the Greek paradigm. 

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