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Peripeteia is an unexpected reversal of circumstances or a turning point. In tragedy, this sudden change of circumstances is usually a negative one. Is it possible for peripeteia to be a positive one too? For example:

A guy named Peter has been working hard his whole life, but has never gotten any credit for his work. Unexpectedly, he starts getting the appreciation he deserves and gets a promotion or a raise.

Can the example I just used be called 'peripeteia'? My example was probably not the most radical one, though. I'm sorry if my english is bad, it isn't my mother language.

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In his Master's thesis, titled The peripeteia, an analysis of reversal speeches by Barbara Bush, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon B. Johnson, Christopher James Anderson of Iowa State University did exactly this, and presented some justification:

It is important to note that peripity need not always be concerned with tragedy. Aristotle has defined peripeteia as a reversal of the action. Humphrey House, author of Aristotle’s Poetics, goes a step further and defines it as a “reversal of intention.”3 This definition takes into account the “thought” or the daimio exercised by the character. House describes it as “holding the wrong end of the stick.” Peripeteia can then be determined to be deciding the proper side of an argument or event and moving to that side.

Another definition, more recently interpreted, comes from noted literary critic Frank Kermode. He defines it as a “disconfirmation followed by a consonance; the interest of having our expectations falsified is obviously related to our wish to reach discovery by an unexpected route. It has nothing to do with our reluctance to get there at all. So that in assimilating the peripeteia we are enacting that readjustment of our expectations in regard to an end.”4 This definition leads to a sense of accomplishment that can occur when a peripeteia is properly enabled. Here it is clear that the outcome lies not in tragedy as with the Shakespearean example noted earlier, but in triumph.

Mr Anderson then goes on to examine the eponymous speeches where he feels peripeteia happens in the positive sense.


The footnotes mentioned above:

  1. House, Aristotle’s Poetics, p 96
  2. Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, p 18
  • Good summary, but this answer could be made even better by citing directly all the sources mentioned by Anderson - Aristotle, House, Kermode - as well as at least mentioning which three speeches Anderson examines, even if you don't want to quote them or his analysis in full. – Rand al'Thor Oct 10 '17 at 9:43
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    That was a really awesome edit, thanks! The answer looks much better now, and I've upvoted it. (I'm also leaving my original comment just so that people can see the feedback process working well, given that ongoing meta discussion.) – Rand al'Thor Oct 10 '17 at 10:54

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