“How does it end? Is it a happy ending or a tragic one?” this is the first question a reader’s subconscious raises when he picks up a story. “What is the story about – love, jealousy, hate…” So, besides a story with its twists and angles, what the reader is looking for, is a king of emotional trip. Stories that have stood the test of time are invariable packed with emotions which are the only universally accepted formula. A reader either wants to wallow in misery or sing with joy and a story that can take him on the wings of such feelings, is what he remembers.
A poet said,” Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts “ – that’s why tragedies are so popular with readers. They have an effect which is known as catharsis or a purging of emotions. Tragedy also brings out lofty thoughts and ideals besides gibing the characters scope to express themselves in words which linger in the mind of the reader. Tragedy does not necessarily mean death of a character. Let’s take the story “Gift Of The Magi” by O Henry. A very loving but not too well=off couple decide to give each other a gift. As the wife has beautiful, lustrous hair, the husband decides to buy their equally gorgeous set of combs and sells his only worldly possession – his watch. Meanwhile, the wife who knows how fond he is of his watch, gets him a nice chain for it, by selling her only asset – her long tresses! So, you have that very touching, emotional climax when they receive their respective gifts which are valuable for the sacrifice that has gone into it. This may not be called tragedy in the conventional sense but it can still bring that lump into your throat and a few silent tears.
Another sensitively penned story is that of an invalid woman who looks out of her window at a tree which is rapidly shedding its leaves. She has a foreboding of her own end, every day, as a leaf falls. There comes a night when a single leaf is left and the next morning, she is pleasantly surprised to find it still there, thus giving her hope to live. She does not know that a well- wisher had gone into the chilly night and painted a leaf and in the bargain, contracted pneumonia and died.
The intricately woven emotional strands in a story give it an appeal that lasts. In the fast changing pattern of life and its values, the only lasting reality is that which makes you laugh or cry.
As powerful as tragedy is fear. That perhaps is one of the reasons for the success of thrillers. They stimulate the adrenalin glands of the reader whose heart races with the plot as it unfolds itself. A fine example of this is Jeffery Archer’s A Matter of Honor in which the protagonist is put through so many heart stopping encounters with his adversaries that the reader is torn with anxiety about his safely. The interesting point to note is that the reader’s sympathy is always with the deserving. This is amply evident in a story of a young man who is deeply in love with a girl who reciprocates his ardor and they decide to marry. But as luck would have it, the man’s brother dies in a crash, leaving behind a desolate fiancée who is inconsolable. Prompted by filial obligations, he is forced to marry her. Later, despite his resolution to cut himself away from his old love, circumstances throw then together and they cannot resist each other. The reader, in this case, is in total empathy with the ‘other woman’ who had to sacrifice her love for no fault of hers. Though, by all fairness, the wife deserves sympathy, the ‘other woman’ wins hands down. This, because she is a victim of forces outside her control – a tragedy of sorts.
Which brings me to another interesting point – that justice and fair play are appreciated wholeheartedly. This is so because a story is looked upon as a moral lecture served palatably in the form of emotions with which a reader can identify his own.