Analysis of Tragdy and the Common Man

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Analysis of Tragedy and the Common Man

By: Nathan Roberts

In literature, tragedy is usually expressed as an extremely cataclysmic event that causes the protagonist to fall into despair. According to Arthur Miller in his academic essay, “Tragedy and the Common Man”, tragedy is a factor in life that can happen to everyone from the common man to kings and queens. Miller’s representation of tragedy can be easily compared to “Oedipus the King” by Sophocles and “Nothing Sacred” by George F. Walker through the tragic scenarios that follow each protagonist.

“Oedipus the King” by Sophocles follows the tragic fall of king Oedipus who falls to the terrible will of the gods that he is never able to escape. Although Oedipus himself was a king, Miller’s adaptation of tragedy still applies to the tragedy in this play. In his essay Miller goes into depth on the subject of the hero’s tragic flaw. Miller describes the tragic flaw as a part of one’s character that doesn’t necessarily affect them but can come out in times of difficulty. Oedipus’s tragic flaw was his inability to ignore his pride and unwillingness to listen.

OEDIPUS: Sirrah, what mak'st thou here? Dost thou presume to approach my doors, thou brazen-faced rogue, my murderer and the filcher of my crown? Come, answer this, didst thou detect in me some touch of cowardice or witlessness, that made thee undertake this enterprise? I seemed forsooth too simple to perceive the serpent stealing on me in the dark, or else too weak to scotch it when I saw. This _thou_ art witless seeking to possess without a following or friends the crown, a prize that followers and wealth must win. (530-545). (Sophocles)

This is an example of many points in the play where Oedipus would presume that any accusation against him was a threat to his power and should be ignored, which eventually led to him killing his father and marrying his mother. Miller explains in his essay that “Most of us are in that category” (Miller) which makes more of a connection to the reader and enforces the feelings of tragedy. Another way that Miller’s representation of tragedy is prevalent in this play is through Oedipus’s willingness to lay down his life. According to Miller,

For, if it is true to say that in essence the tragic hero is intent upon claiming his whole due as a personality, and if this struggle must be total and without reservation, then it automatically demonstrates the indestructible will of man to achieve his humanity. The possibility of victory must be there in tragedy. (Miller)

Miller explains that for something to be tragic there needs to be the possibility for the person to prevail even in the face of adversity. In the case of Oedipus, once he learns of the horrible fate cursed upon him by the gods, he attempts to escape his destiny by leaving everything that he had ever known to protect the people he loved. This sets up the audience for the tragic realization that he can never escape the will of the gods and although he did his best to protect his parents that was what led his to his downfall. Therefore Miller’s idea of tragedy could easily apply to the tragedy that plagued Oedipus the king.

“Nothing Sacred” by George F. Walker is another example of where Miller’s example of tragedy is applicable. This play follows the story of Bazarov and his dream of changing the social classes in Russia for the better. Bazarov is an example of someone who was a commoner in Russia but his life is still considered to be quite tragic. Miller begins to discuss the idea that an aspect of tragedy is that, “The commonest of men may take on that stature to the extent of his willingness to throw all he has into the contest, the battle to secure his rightful place in his world.” (Miller) For Bazarov he spends the entire play trying to push his ideals of a new Russia where everyone is equal without the...
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