Is "the Fatal Flaw" Realistic?

“Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”

… so states Richard Papen, the protagonist of The Secret History, during the first chapter. And it's a wonderful question. Is 'the fatal flaw' really existent in reality? Are we each tainted with this one, definite blemish? And, perhaps more intriguing, what's my own fatal flaw? Is it Hamlet's indecisiveness? Jo March's hot temper? Ned Stark's honour? Or am I flawed in many other ways?

Perhaps we should start with "the fatal flaw" itself. It can be defined as "a limitation, imperfection, problem, phobia, or deficiency which holds a character back". To use a well-known example, Harry Potter has one defining fault: the need to constantly save people. And this results in rash decisions and inevitable danger (e.g. his quick and irrational decision to save Sirius at the MoM). And, in almost every character-driven novel, this flaw will be there.

And why's that? Because flaws and imperfections are an essential part of the human condition. Faultless characters are unrealistic, simple as.

And so, "the fatal flaw" is pretty much essential throughout literature. And yet, I can't help but question whether this is an accurate portrayal of reality? If I was to ask myself the same question as Richard Papen, I'd give a resounding 'no'. If I was asked to name my own "fatal flaw", I wouldn't be able to name one defining flaw, but a collection of smaller, more complex imperfections. To me, "the fatal flaw" seems an exaggeration – an exaggeration which seems realistic only in the context of fiction.

So yes, "the fatal flaw" makes for brilliant literature. But when it comes in to reality? Part of me holds the belief that, if anything, "the fatal flaw" is flawed by itself; perhaps, in reality, nobody has a defining fault, but a multitude of smaller, more intricate and complicated flaws. Just a thought, really. It could be my "fatal flaw" is just overthinking everything.

So, what do you think about "the fatal flaw"? Do you think it's realistic? 


  1. Wow... That's a fascinating question and it's really made me think about things.

    I never noticed the whole "fatal flaw" in characters of books I read because in fiction it just seems natural. However, now that you have pointed it out I keep thinking of more and more examples.

    I think I agree with you that most people do not have one big fatal flaw and instead just many smaller imperfections. Or perhaps we do all have a fatal flaw, but we haven't been put in a situation that has made it obvious like all the characters we have read about.

    This has really given me something to think about! An amazing post :)

    1. I'm glad the post made you think. :)

      And yep, the more you think, the more apparent it becomes! And yeah, maybe we just haven't been put in the conditions the characters have been put in?

      Yay, glad you liked the post! Thank you. :D

  2. Really interesting post, Ruby! I agree with you, actually, I couldn't name one huge fault about myself but lots of little ones. This post has had me quite interested in Donna Tartt's book - maybe I'll have to have a look at it!:)

    1. Thank you! You definitely need to read Donna Tartt – she's one of my favourite authors!

  3. Ruby I LOVE THESE POSTS! I actually just did an essay on Macbeth's character for my English Lit GCSE Coursework. I was getting slight sick of Macbeth by the end, but I definitely agree that a fatal flaw is such an interesting concept. Macbeth's fatal flaw is evidently his ambition,but like you, I can't help but question if someone wouldn't be able to see the obvious consequences that submitting to this flaw would have. It's a hard question...

    I can't wait to read more posts like this!
    Rita xx

    1. Thank you Rita! :) And ooh Macbeth is a good example. And, yet, I can't see somebody in real life having a flaw as prominent…

      And yay – hopefully I'll write more!

  4. Ohhh this is deep for a Friday night... I can see how we all have many "imperfections", which when flipped on their head, make us all interesting, give us motivation and can also have positive attributes, but I guess I can see what the fatal flaw idea it - I don't know about others, but I know I have one "flaw" that is far more obvious than any other and can, and has, held me back or resulted in a negative outcome for me. Interesting idea, and one that could be discussed for hours! R x

    Rachel @ Confessions of a Book Geek
    (WordPress hates me at the minute and won't let me comment using my book blog name...)

    1. Haha it's a little bit deep, I'll admit.

      And yep, it could definitely be thought about for hours! One of those questions which just raises even more questions. :)

  5. I would say that my insecurity is a fatal flaw, because in the past it has hold me back to do things I now regret. So in a way I would say it's fatal, but at the same time I think I have to agree with you. Everybody is made up out of small flaws :)

  6. Wow. That's quite the thought.

    I think it goes along the same lines of wanting a novel to be super realistic. If a book was just like life, let's be honest, it would be pretty boring. But at the same time you don't want a book to be unrealisitic. It's a balance between real life and what makes for a good story.

    Annnnnnnd....that may have been a bit of a rabbit hole. Hope it makes some sort of sense:P


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