Narrative Traditions I

Brayden Sathrum


DTC 354

The movie “Fargo” follows Jerry Lundegaard as he attempts to obtain money from his father-in-law by hiring criminals to kidnap his wife and demand a ransom. His seemingly simple plan quickly turns to disaster, resulting in the murders of numerous  people. The plotline of Fargo is only moved forward by the actions of the different characters. Jerry’s half-baked attempt at exhorting money from his father-in-law sets the rest of the story in motion, motivating others to make mistakes that continue the line of tragedy. Aristotle speaks on this notion in his book, “Poetics,” in which he discusses how tragedy is built in poetry. He describes how the most important function of a tragedy is the plot, as it is “the soul of a tragedy…the most beautiful colors, laid on confusingly, will not give as much pleasure as the chalk outline of a portrait.”

Along with this, Aristotle explains how a strong plot is formed and what it can achieve for a tragedy. “A well constructed plot should, therefore, be single in its issue, rather than double as some maintain.” He goes on to explain that the overarching conflict in a tragedy should come from a character’s actions rather than an outside source. Fargo executes Aristotle’s argument well. Everything that occurs in Fargo is a direct result of Jerry’s first major decision: hiring criminals to kidnap his wife. From there, a series of errors occurs that brings about the tragedies presented to us.

Unraveling the plot this way brings more than creating conflict. It also allows the viewer to understand the motivations and struggles of each character. While we don’t know why Jerry needs the money, we can see that he is a desperate man that’s willing to bend morals to achieve his goals. Inevitably, almost every character makes an angry or murderous decision that leads to their demise, all of which directly correlates to Jerry’s first choice. Each of these demonstrates a different side to the characters. While both criminals are morally gray, we can see through the way they deal with the situation how their perspectives differ. One is more emotional and hasty, while the other is methodical and mostly numb. Though each character’s viewpoint is different, none of them react in a way that doesn’t align with their established personality or what one could expect from a person realistically. Aristotle explains that this is key to a good tragedy, stating that “character must be true to life: or this is a distinct thing from goodness and propriety.” 

Exploring Fargo’s plot through the lens of Aristotle’s Poetics shows how well-written tragedies can be created. Having the storyline unfold through the action of one central character allows for the motivations and personalities of others to be explored naturally. In this way, nothing feels forced or uncharacteristic. Rather, characters are responding to the actions of someone else and have to make plays of their own, which are chosen based on their unique perspectives.

Leave a Reply