What is a perfect human? Human perfection may be measured by physical ability or intellectual achievement; however, it may also be measured by strength of character, and in this realm humans may often fall short. Weakness of character, shown through various character flaws, causes most of the hardships in life. Literature such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Alison Walker’s The Color Purple contain three levels of characters: setting characters, secondary characters and the main character. Combined, these three all contribute character flaws which leads to the novel or play’s ultimate tragedy.
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The setting character appears in the beginning of a piece of literature to give one a feel and sense of how the piece will reach out to the reader. King Duncan sets the atmosphere in Macbeth when we see different characters take advantage of his character flaw, naivete. Immediately we begin to see some of the major themes such as betrayal and manipulation and know what direction the play will take. King Duncan’s naivete is first shown when we find out that the former Thane of Cawdor has betrayed King Duncan and that he did not have any idea of it. This incident then prepares us for King Duncan’s meeting with Lady Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth deceives King Duncan. We know Lady Macbeth is not loyal, yet he considers her his “honour’d hostess…/Which still [he] thank[s] and love[s]” (I. vi. 9-12). Once again when naive King Duncan puts his trust into the hands of disloyal Macbeth by making him Thane of Cowdar, the atmosphere and plot advances by making Macbeth’s future plans possible. Celie’s mother, in the beginning of the novel The Color Purple, is a very small but effective setting character. Her character flaw was irresponsible parenting because she did not protect her daughter. With this lack of protection, Celie did not have any female role models when she was growing up. Therefore, Celie was not able to become knowledgeable about life and have good female company. Another effect this flaw had on the protagonist was that she had no one to teach her how to understand herself. Celie was unable to realize all of the wonderful qualities of being and becoming a woman. Because she could not appreciate being a woman, she was unable to appreciate herself, and therefore had a lack of self confidence. Celie was also not taught her rights, both as a female and as an individual. Thus, she was beaten and never knew she could do anything about it. It is interesting to see how after the character flaws of both King Duncan and Celie’s mother are revealed, one can predict the genre of the play or novel.
In the play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth has a very significant role. Nevertheless, she is a secondary character. The greed that Lady Macbeth manifests allows her to take actions which contribute to the tragedy of the play. When Lady Macbeth calls upon the spirits to
…unsex [her] here,/And fill [her] from the crown to the toe top full/Of direst cruelty; make thick [her] blood,/Stop up the access and passage to remorse…(I. v. 41-45).
she is only looking out for herself. As long as she does not feel any discomfort or remorse she has no problem with murdering King Duncan. She does not even stop to think about how Duncan’s sons or her husband will feel about this murder. Macbeth decides that he “…will proceed no further in this business…” (I. vii. 29-30). Even though he has made up his mind, Lady Macbeth makes him into a murderer because of her greed for power. Without even considering how her husband might deal with this bloody business she drags Macbeth “… in blood/Stepp’d in so far, that should [he] wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o’er” ( III. v. 136-138). Sofia’s stubbornness has a great impact on the plot of The Color Purple. Sofia, being a secondary character, stands up for herself and as we see her character get physically knocked down we feel sympathetic for her. She gets into a lot of trouble and goes through a lot of pain when “Sofia knock (sic) the [mayor] down” (90). We feel sorry for her because we know what she is doing is right, yet she is punished because she is too stubborn to accept the fact that she has to respect the mayor because of his rank and colour. It is quite intriguing to see how both secondary characters, Lady Macbeth and Sofia, are females who have rejected their typical female role in society, yet have the opposite influence on the main characters; while Sofia lifts Celie from misery, Lady Macbeth leads Macbeth to tragedy.
Macbeth, being the main character in the play Macbeth, has a major character flaw ? his ruthless ambition. Macbeth first demonstrates his ambition by thinking about killing the King of Scotland. “I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition” (I. vii. 25-29). This character flaw is reinforced when his ambition drives him to murder his friend Banquo, “So is he mine [enemy]; and in such bloody distance/ That every minute of his being thrusts/ Against nearest of life…” (III. i. 115-118). Macbeth’s ambition finally works when he decides to kill an innocent family, “Seize upon Fife; give to the edge of the sword/ his wife, his babes , and all unfortunate souls/ That trace [Macduff] live” (I. iv. 152-155). Celie’s ignorance in The Color Purple is shown throughout the novel as this main character is even ignorant towards her own rights. Celie does not understand that there are other ways of living life than getting beaten and treated like a child by her own husband. She is ignorant towards the fact that she does not have to take this abuse. Furthermore, Celie is uneducated and because of this “[she] is too scared to open [her] mouth to people” (212). This deficiency of education is something that is needed to survive in the world and Celie lacks this bonus. Celie also has a lack of understanding of herself and is in a sense, hurting herself by holding back her emotions and by making herself “wood” when she is beaten. Macbeth’s single character flaw escalates until the climax where the play takes a tragic fall. We sympathize for Macbeth and Celie because we see them suffer when we know that she does not need to be suffering.
As the play and novel progress, we witness how they become a tragedy through the use of the main, secondary and setting characters’ character flaws. Humans continuously attempt to reach perfection in many different areas; the fact that perfection of character is rarely achieved may be unfortunate for humans, but results in a rich field of human drama that literature such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Alison Walker’s The Color Purple draw upon to exceptional effect.