Your Character's Fatal Flaw

Fatal Flaws in Literature, Film, & Television Characters

  • Achilles, the legendary hero of Greek mythology, was a nearly invulnerable warrior with one widely known fatal flaw: the heel that his mother held him by when she dipped him into the river Styx to make him strong. Achilles’ heel was his undoing, and the reference now alludes to someone’s vulnerability.
  • Arrogance had Odysseus at sea for ten years.
  • Oedipus killed his own father and then ended up marrying his mother, all because his identity was unknown to him.
  • Macbeth’s ambition crowns him as the King of Scotland and also results in his death. After blind ambition causes him to kill innocent people, he dies at the hands of MacDuff.
  • Othello’s jealousy turns to rage when Iago tells him lies. It also drives him to murder Desdemona and, once he realizes her innocence, to commit suicide.
  • In the Lord of the Rings, the ring afflicts Frodo with lust that threatens to unman him, as it did Gollum.
  • The Pillars of the Earth: William is terrified of a Hell. It’s a flaw because others try to exploit it and make him do their bidding.
  • In The Dresden Files, Harry’s strength is that he helps those who need help, so when a fugitive is on the run, guess who’s hiding harboring him? He also a temper that can lead him to do almost anything to destroy the bad guys with no thought of consequences.
  • Harry Potter‘s “saving people thing” gets him into trouble. He’s willing to do anything in order to save the people he cares about, and he has a martyr complex that keeps him from asking for help or back-up at times when it would really be a smart idea. He does this to keep the people around him safe but it tends to really work against him. Voldemort uses this to manipulate him into doing things that lead to Sirius’s death. This also makes it very easy for Harry’s enemies to lead him into traps.
    • Voldemort’s fatal flaws: Pride. It’s not so much petty, plain-old narcissism and arrogance than it is outright full-blown megalomania. He’s the smartest and most powerful wizard in the world and he knows it, so he tends to go out of his way to add a flair of grandeur and grace to his plans while attempting to achieve his objectives in the way he thinks will be more terrifying. For example, he challenges Harry to a duel in the graveyard sheerly for amusement, when the most pragmatic option would be to simply give the Avada Kedavra right there and then when Harry was tied up and couldn’t escape. Thus, he doesn’t realise that other people could learn about his Horcruxes, or find them, and he certainly doesn’t realise that attempting to kill the boy destined to defeat you may result in that boy being actually able to defeat you. And thus, Harry Potter was given the weapons to destroy Voldemort. Voldemort also cannot understand love, though he can’t help that – he’s The Sociopath whose complete incapability for love and compassion were caused by the fact that his mother coerced his father into marriage with a love potion, which is not true love. Voldemort is also so terrified of death — Word of God states that Voldemort’s boggart would look like his own corpse — that he doesn’t believe that there could be anything worse. His quest to cheat death forever, combined with his other fatal flaws mentioned above, ultimately condemns him to a Fate Worse than Death.
    • Severus Snape hangs on to the past to the point that he makes seemingly irrational choices simply because of some event or another that happened a long time ago.
    • When he was young, Dumbledore had a whopping case of Pride, planning to create a “new world” with Grindlewald in which wizards would rule over muggles. He snapped out of it with the death of his sister and spent more than a century deliberately avoiding powerful positions because he didn’t trust himself. He refused the position of Minister of Magic, for instance.
  • Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights holds on to grudges and he spends his life getting even with people who were mean to him. He uses his own family as pawns and holds Kathy on such a high pedestal that he refuses to see that everything that happened to him was her fault. He is also blind him to the fact that his revenge can never last so when he dies and everything reverts back to normal, it’s like nothing happened.
  • Ahab’s self-destructive obsession to get revenge and kill the white whale in Moby Dick.
  • The animals of Animal Farm were far too trusting. Benjamin the donkey is too cynical and refuses to voice out his concerns about the Rebellion’s aftermath.
  • The Apprentice Rogue: Falita is consumed by her greed and steals Leona’s necklace, which leads to tragedy. She even takes the hemp string on the necklace, despite recognizing that it was worthless, because it was part of the necklace. The narration notes that she might have gotten away clean if she didn’t take the string.
  • The Great Gatsby‘s obsessive love for Daisy, despite the fact she isn’t worth it.
  • In the Samurai Kids book Monkey Fist, Niya’s flaw is loyalty- he will not abandon a friend for any reason. While this may sound like a good thing, it really isn’t. In the novel’s climax, Niya’s true companion, Kyoko, has been kidnapped by a corrupt imperial minister, who offers to release her if the protagonists reveal the location of a group of benevolent monks politically opposed to him. Niya’s thought process clearly shows that, had the choice been his, he would have betrayed the monks and let them die if it meant Kyoko’s safety.
  • In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s flaw is his pride. His dad was a lazy deadbeat, and he’s afraid of other people thinking that he’s like that too. The author Achebe modeled Okonkwo after the heroes of Greek Tragedy, so it’s no surprise that his flaw is hubris, leading to the atë (rashness) that caused his downfall.

FILM

  • In the Back to the Future film series, Marty McFly gets himself into trouble several times due to his fatal flaw – the inability to walk away when someone suggests that he is too afraid to follow through. His unwillingness to be labeled a “chicken” represents his fatal flaw.
  • Lex Luthor’s fatal flaw in Superman is his enviousness of Superman.The television series Smallville uses the same to create their villain.
  • Plunkett And Macleane‘s main character Macleane has a weakness for women and gambling. Both get him into serious trouble.
  • In the Star Wars prequels, Anakin Skywalker’s fatal flaw is his Chronic Hero Syndrome, ironically causing him to turn to The Dark Side in his narrow-minded effort to save Padmé at all costs.
  • Carlito’s Way has a variation of this trope. Carlito’s Fatal Flaw is either his determination to keep his “reformed” status, or his ties to his criminal past. If he had gotten rid of one of the two, there might have been a happy ending. Actually, his fatal flaw was his belief that there was honor among thieves and street code you follow. It’s how he went to prison in the first place, taking the rap for the guy that would take over his territory. It’s also how he ended up in a bad spot helping his best friend who turns out to be a snake. The scene when his girlfriend begs him not to help the lawyer is proof of that. Worst of all, he gets a good example and even admits there’s no true friends among criminals, when his young relative gets killed in the beginning of the film. But you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
  • Full Metal Jacket‘s Sgt. Hartman’s inability to deal with issues without using force.
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan’s obsession with taking his vengeance on Captain Kirk blinds him to some very bad mistakes and ultimately destroys him. Kirk’s hubris; his unshakable belief in his own ingenuity and command instincts. Therefore he’s taken off guard by something that even raw cadet Saavik saw coming. And he arrogantly believes there’s no such thing as a situation that he can’t win. As his character develops throughout the film, he learns just how misguided he’s been.
  • The Corleone Brothers all inherited a trait from their father (Sonny’s charisma, Fredo’s heart and Michael’s cunning) which they don’t have in each other. Had they worked together, they would have been unstoppable.
  • Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood thrives on animosity and he goes after enemies with a will. He ends up driving away the boy who he treated as his son and kills his arch-enemy without thought of consequence.
  • Dr. Elsa Schneider in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade suffers from multiple flaws: ambition, greed, and vanity. Her ambition to get the holy grail at all costs turns fatal when she’s faced with the decision to reach for the grail or give Indy her free hand. Overcome with greed, she reaches and cannot stop herself. Indiana can’t hold her because, in her vanity, she wore fancy leather gloves on her hands, which promptly slips off. All these flaws contribute to her long plunge of a Death by Materialism.
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Ron always reads what’s on the teleprompter.

TELEVISION

  • Homicide: Life on the Street – Frank Pembleton’s self-righteousness and moral absolutism drive everyone away from him, and eventually force him to turn in Tim Bayliss, the closest thing he has to friend.
  • Breaking Bad – Walter White’s Pride causes him to start cooking meth instead of accepting charity in the first place, and continues to get him into escalating trouble from there, eventually turning him into a full-fledged Villain Protagonist.
  • Gus Fring’s determination to get revenge against the men who killed his best friend is another major example. He even had a chance to avoid his death by letting his dragon kill the main object of his hate. But because he had to do it, personally, he walked right into a death trap.
  • In Smallville: Clark’s is his lack of self-worth. Or alternatively his hypocrisy about keeping secrets to his friends, which Major Zod would call him out on. Lex’s is his envy of Clark’s life: which gave him a loving family, was well-liked and was special; whereas Lex was a Lonely Rich Kid whose father was cold and manipulative with a Missing Mom who’s worse than he’d like to imagine. Which set him on the path to villainy. Chloe’s was jealousy which worked to Lionel Luthor’s advantage; but later became Pride, apparently. Oliver’s is his lack of self-worth, which later led to a suicide attempt, and Darkseid influencing him.
  • House’s Vicodin addiction, irritability, and inability to have a healthy relationship.
  • Law & Order: Most characters from the franchise have one that occasionally clouds their ability to perform fairly or is used against them to discredit their testimony in court. Briscoe had drinking problems, Logan was a hothead who’d occasionally rough up suspects, Curtis couldn’t curb his infidelity. The same with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Olivia and her belief all women are victims when it comes to dealing with men, given that she was a product of rape. Fin and the revelation that he was a deadbeat father. Elliot and his marital problems at home.
  • Many of the characters in ER have one at some point or another. Examples include Abby’s alcoholism, and Carter’s painkiller addiction.
  • In Scrubs, the character Dr. Kevin Casey is an example of The Ace with a hidden Fatal Flaw. JD, Cox and Turk all despise him for being such an insufferable genius at everything he does. Until they see him suffering because of his obsessive-compulsive disorder, unable to stop washing his hands.
  • Team leader Nate’s alcoholism in Leverage has gotten the team into trouble more than once. In the periods where he isn’t an alcoholic his desire to control takes its place with often worse problems. Sophie, the team grifter, has the flaw that she is extremely good at what she does and has the habit of manipulating everyone around her, even her own team at times. Hardison has the flaw that he tends to go over the top as a grifter coupled with a heaping of pride in his own intelligence. This gets him into trouble repeatedly. Parker has the flaw that she is incapable of dealing with a normal person which is problematic when she is forced into the role of grifter.
  • The Wire, most of the characters are flawed in their own way, but the most obvious example, would be Jimmy Mcnulty. Ironically, his whoring and drinking don’t affect his work but rather his personal life to the point where he becomes a burden to those around him. He can’t be a good detective and a good person at the same time. Eventually, that leads to him doing wrong things in order to make the right case, which doesn’t end well.
  • Burn Notice: Michael’s determination makes him ruthless and willing to put others in danger. Sam would put himself in danger for friends (“I owe him”). When push comes to shove, Fiona resorts to violence. Nate’s need to prove that he’s reliable and not a screw up.
Written by The UnNovelist
The Unnovelist