A Worn Path Essay Research Paper Tragedy

A Worn Path Essay, Research Paper

Tragedy and the Common Man

An Essay by Arthur Miller


In this age few tragedies are written.

It has often been held that the lack is due to a

paucity of heroes among us, or else that modem

man has had the blood drawn out of his

organs of belief by the skepticism of science, and the

heroic attack on life cannot feed on an

attitude of reserve and circumspection. For

one reason or another, we are often held to be below

tragedy–or tragedy above us. The

inevitable conclusion is, of course, that

the tragic mode is archaic, fit only for the very

highly placed, the kings or the kingly, and where this

admission is not made in so many words it is

most often implied.

I believe that the common man is as apt

a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings

were. On the face of it this ought to be

obvious in the light of modern psychiatry,

which bases its analysis upon classific formulations,

such as the Oedipus and Orestes

complexes, for instance, which were enacted

by royal beings, but which apply to everyone in

similar emotional situations.

More simply, when the question of

tragedy in art is not at issue, we never hesitate to

attribute to the well-placed and the exalted the

very same mental processes as the lowly. And

finally, if the exaltation of tragic action were truly

a property of the highbred character

alone, it is inconceivable that the mass of

mankind should cherish tragedy above all other forms,

let alone be capable of understanding it.

As a general rule, to which there may

be exceptions unknown to me, I think the tragic

feeling is evoked in us when we are in the

presence of a character who is ready to lay

down his life, if need be, to secure one thing–his

sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to

Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying

struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain

his “rightful” position in his society.

Sometimes he is one who has been

displaced from it, sometimes one who seeks to attain

it for the first time, but the fateful wound

from which the inevitable events spiral is

the wound of indignity, and its dominant force is

indignation. Tragedy, then, is the consequence of

a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself


In the sense of having been initiated

by the hero himself, the tale always reveals what has

been called his “tragic flaw,” a failing that is

not peculiar to grand or elevated

characters. Nor is it necessarily a weakness. The

flaw, or crack in the character, is really


need be nothing–but his inherent

unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he

conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image

of his rightful status. Only the passive,

only those who accept their lot without active

retaliation, are “flawless.” Most of us are in that


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