For Aristotle, all literature is an art of imitation. Just as an artist imitates life to produce his or her literature, the audience is inspired to imitate, in some fashion, what it reads, hear, or sees on the stage. One of the basic types of literature that Aristotle discusses is the tragedy, which he considered a very important and potentially influential type of literature. Tragedy came to signify a dramatic presentation of seriousness and noble character which examines the major questions of human existence. In tragedy, people are tested by great suffering and must face decisions of ultimate consequence. While some may meet the challenge with deeds of extreme cruelty, others demonstrate their ability to overcome adversity and thus showing the tough and determined nature of the human spirit. Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, whole in itself [meaning that it has a beginning, middle, and end], and filled with many types of literary devices.
In dealing with the definition of tragedy, there are many vital aspects of literature that come together to produce a well-written tragedy. Some of these aspects include the art of imitation, reversal and recognition, pity and fear, catharsis, and even the effective use of a tragic hero. Imitation, then, can be in many models, but Aristotle asserts that imitation that represent men in action must be of men who are "superior or inferior, either better than we know in life, or worse, or of the same kind- (Aristotle 5). He believes that such imitation is natural to man, for not only does man learn his first things through imitation, there is a sense of personal enjoyment involved with imitating others. .
Aristotle further emphasizes the importance of reversal (peripetia) and recognition (anagnorisis). According to Aristotle, the change of fortune (reversal) for the hero should be an event that occurs contrary to the audience's expectations and that is therefore surprising, but that nonetheless appears as a necessary outcome of the preceding actions.