Modern Tragedy Essay, Research Paper
Is there such thing as a modern tragedy?
What is a tragedy? According to Webster s Dictionary, tragedy is defined as a drama portraying the conflict between the individual human will and fate or necessity .
Aristotle said a play has to have four elements to qualify as a tragedy: 1) noble or impressive characters; 2) the main character’s discovery or recognition of a truth about himself; 3) poetic language; and 4) the ability to arouse and then soothe the audience’s pity and fear. The two plays that are going to be analyzed are Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. Is there such thing as a modern tragedy? One of the elements in a dramatic play is a tragedy.
Some critics consider that Death of a Salesman is debatable on all four elements. Others think the play meets all these criteria. Arthur Miller argued that times have changed we no longer live in an era dominated by kings and queens and so maybe our definition of tragedy should change, too.
Willy Loman is indeed a pathetic and tragic hero of Death of a Salesman. His problems stem from his own delusions, the American Dream turning sour, and misunderstanding his job and family. All of this tells the story of everyday people in American society. His environment is changing faster than his beliefs which is why he is in the dilemma that he is in now. His own delusions are a result of his failure to succeed in life. He still believes he is popular, respected and good looking. But at age 63, he is none of these. Nobody liked him that much since very few people came to his funeral. His delusion was that there would be people across the country coming to the funeral. However, in those moments that he begins to realize the truth, his wife Linda while understanding his situation, supports his delusion.
Historically the American dream meant a promise of freedom and opportunity for all. A new frontier lay open and anyone who worked hard could expect to have a happy and prosperous life. Today, however, we think of the American Dream in a less idealistic way, as the instant business success of those who are ruthless or lucky. North Americans seem to believe that they deserve money and material things as their birthright. Advertising reinforces their desire for possessions, often making them want things that they do not need or cannot afford. When they do not have enough money to buy everything they desire, they feel cheated somehow. Willy Loman is a perfect example of someone who feels betrayed because he can not achieve financial goals society has conditioned him to strive for. He worships the goddess of success, but he does not have the talent or the temperament to be a sales man, his chosen career. When he fails as a salesman, no other measure of success whether it be the love of his family, or his talent as a carpenter, can comfort him. He believes that a person who fails in business has no right to live. The play ends in tragedy. Willy commits suicide in order to financially provide for his family, especially to safeguard Biff’s future with the receipt of Willy’s twenty thousand dollar insurance policy.
In the play Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee presented the hollow nature of American ideals of success and question the American way of modern life that devalues compassion and equality while elevating success and ambition as the pinnacle of achievement. It shows how this prevailing ideology can have destructive and alienating effects as well as harmful social consequences. All of the characters are
portrayed as well-educated, middle-class people who should be ideal citizens who represent the best of American culture. Yet their descent into barbaric behavior during the course of the night reveals how the prevailing ideology of the times has tainted even the most privileged sector of society.
Edward Albee painstakingly dissects the “American dream”. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, he attacks many of the values that traditionally comprise that dream: marriage, children, success, wealth, education, religion, and so on. He claims each of these values to be empty, resulting in loveless and sterile marriages, failed careers, ill-gotten wealth, squandered education, powerless or corrupt religion. With these values so decayed, Albee seems to be saying, the country is a barren wasteland, where people must imagine another reality in order to compensate for what is missing. He has painted a bleak and unflattering portrait of a country whose ideals have degenerated so fully that they can be portrayed by a desperate, sad, and seemingly hopeless couple.
The relationship between the two couples is especially significant. Both depend on illusions to keep their marriages in tact. George and Martha have to even depend upon an imaginary son in order to be able to have a meaningful communication. The entire matter of the son in fact is supposed to remain a private affair between them. Even when they do communicate otherwise, Martha never treats George as an equal. It is widely thought, however, that George and Martha symbolize the American couple on one level and the failure of the American dream on a higher level. The imaginary child may symbolize not only the spiritual sterility of the modern age, but the illusion that man creates in order to survive the horrors of life. Nick and Honey represent the future in this scheme, a future full of self-interest, deception, and more sterility.
Both plays demonstrate the tragedies in their own plot. Even though they are both different in context, they are similar in their story line. In fact, both plays responded to the life style and fantasy of The American Dream . Arthur Miller once said A salesman has got to dream.. It comes with the territory. In the play Who s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the tragedy is the lack of success that does not follow the perfect life style. Everyone has there own dreams and aspirations. This story can be applied to many couples today. They have had similar experiences with the examples from the two plays. The tragedies due exist today, and will continue to as long as there is a story and fantasies to have the perfect life.