Eddie Carbone is one of the most villainous heroes in the history of American drama. In the world of literary analysis, a hero isn't always a good guy. He probably won't get an invitation to join the X-Men anytime soon. No, Eddie is a particular kind of hero, a tragic hero. The ancient Greeks were the first to write about these unfortunate souls. Sophocles 's Oedipus and Aeschylus 's Orestes are some of the most famous examples. Shakespeare created his fair share as well; take Macbeth or King Lear for example.
What does Eddie share with these other famous men? A little thing the Greeks called hamatria , which literally means "error of judgment." It's more commonly referred to as a tragic flaw. Basically, these guys make some mistake or have something destructive tendency that leads to them causing their own destruction. You could argue that Eddie's tragic flaw is either denial or, to begin with, the incestuous feelings.
The damage caused by a tragic hero's downfall usually hurts more than just him; his community and family often suffer, too. Once again Eddie's betrayal does both of these things. Another important aspect of a tragic hero is that his own actions are the cause of his demise. Bad things don't randomly happen to him; he chooses to do the things that prove to be his undoing. This is true of Eddie as well. Everything would've been hunky dory if he'd just let Catherine and Rodolpho get married, but then that pesky old hamatria kicks in and everybody suffers.
Lastly, we'd be selling you short if we didn't point out that Eddie is a little bit different than his famous tragic predecessors. Unlike the fellows before him, he isn't royalty of any kind; he's just your average everyday working man. In his famous essay, "Tragedy of the Common Man," Arthur Miller states, "I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were." Miller goes on to say that it's not the fact that past tragic heroes have been royal that makes them resonate with modern audiences. It's that fact that they share the same problems as we do today, the same flaws, fears, and hopes.
Some critics have said that true tragedy is impossible when your hero is a common man. They say that when a working man goes down, not as many people suffer as they would if it were a king. Doesn't Eddie's family and entire community suffer as result of his actions, though? Furthermore, is the size of a tragedy really limited to the world of the play? Can't we look into the life of a common man and recognize our own flaws? Can't we see those flaws in society around us? Why can't a common man's life have size and meaning?
Miller ends his essay by saying, "It is time, I think, that we who are without kings took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possibly lead in our time – the heart and spirit of the average man." Wow, that pretty much sums it up.