Review of: Tragedy and the Common Man by Arthur Miller

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Miller’s thesis in this essay is that the common man is just as able to experience tragedy to the greatest extreme just as much as the highest of kings are. He says that this should be obvious given that today, psychiatrists base their reasoning’s on “classic formulations” (Miller) such as Oedipus complexes for even the lowliest of common clients. This is due to that fact that although royalty played out these problems, they apply to everyone in similar situations. The royal and higher-ups have the same mental processes as commoners; therefore they are just as apt to tragedy.

Miller believes that the sense of tragedy comes into being when a character is willing to sacrifice all he has, and lay it on the line, to preserve one thing – “his sense of personal dignity” (Miller). Sometimes this happens when people try to regain their “rightful” position in the community, and other times when people are trying to reach that position for the first time. Therefore tragedy comes when a man completely and utterly tries to portray and evaluate himself fairly. This is the fatal flaw in these characters, the fact that unlike the rest of us, who accept our position in society without retaliation, they strike out and are willing to lose everything in the battle against what they think is a challenge to their dignity, and their image of their rightful status. Unfortunately they find themselves in an unchangeable environment, and in a losing battle against mankind.

The quality in plays that shakes audiences lies in the fear that all of us have of being pulled away from what we desire to be, and who we want desperately to be in the world. In modern times, perhaps more then ever, the common man is most afraid to have his desired image thwarted.

Kings and royalty are often associated with tragedy because their characters have size and therefore have more to lose. But even in the tale of Job, there is a moment when the common man defies what is happening and stands up...
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