Although they were composed around 2,500 years apart from one another, Oedipus The King by Sophocles, and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller are known as two of the best tragedy plays ever written. Both of these plays twist and turn with tragedy, and irony. Oedipus was bore to the king and queen of Thebes. At a very young age, they disowned Oedipus and drove metal pins through his ankles and gave them to a shepherd. The shepherd’s job was to put Oedipus on top of Cithaeron and leave him there to die.
The shepherd gave the baby to a fellow shepherd he met on the mountain from the city-state of Corinth. Soon enough the child ended up in the household of the childless king and queen of Corinth. As a young man he learned of his fate to kill his father and marry his mother. Fleeing his family and seeking refuge from his terrible future in a distant city-state of Thebes only brought the actualization of the forecast. Unbeknownst to Oedipus, he had killed his father on his journey and entered the bed of his mother.
He lived in his relationship and as King of Thebes for many years until at last he painfully revealed the blinding truth over the course of one shocking day. Realizing what he had done, he blinds himself with the golden pins of his wardrobe and has himself banished to a far away land where he will cause nobody harm. Death of a Salesman is a modern day tragedy based on the life of Willy Loman, a New England traveling salesman in the mid 1900’s. Willy, the average American Joe is married to Linda Loman, a deep and caring woman, who he had two sons Biff and Happy with.
The play starts out when Biff and Happy are in their twenties, and Willy’s sales career is on a downward spiral, with his whole family there to watch it. Willy has never had a great relationship with either of his sons, especially Biff. Willy feels he is failing his family. Willy lives his life in a series of illusions of the past. All of these illusions are of great family, and career memories. Willy stays in these illusions because I feel he is too afraid to live in reality where he would be forced to examine his affair in Boston, his philosophy and all of his family and financial debts.
Willy loses his job and is on the brink of suicide and forever failing his attempts to make his family better than average. Willy commits suicide so his family can receive the insurance check and so Biff can live a successful life without worries. I feel that both these characters life came crashing down on them, and I feel for each man and play, but more for Willy and Death of a Salesman. Willy had his reason to die, but even in the end his plan didn’t work as expected. At his funeral no one except for his family and best friend Charlie showed up.
He worked so hard to accomplish so little. The impact of this play was amazingly strong. I feel for this man because his life is so common, unlike the strange and horrible life of Oedipus. He was an ordinary working Joe with a family and wife to support. As any man, Willy had big dreams, but to see them come crashing down upon him left me with a sense of pity for the man. He seemed like a crazy man who had lost his mind. But we all know he was just a guy who’d had it all rough and simply couldn’t take it any more.
Death of a Salesman hit home with us all, and that is why I feel it is the more tragic play. Aristotle and Arthur Miller have theories of tragedy in which they can be somewhat compared and contrasted. Aristotle believes that the tragic hero should be one of higher society, in which his downfall and emotions effect the lives of many people around him. Miller on the other hand believes that the tragic hero should be one of the common man, some sympathetic character that everyone can relate to, someone stuck deep in the virtues of society.
Both men though feel that the character either in their mind, or publicly have a supreme pride in which must be abolished, adding to the tragedy of the tragic hero’s life. Both once again, feel that the tragic hero must have a sense of vigorous protest. Both Oedipus and Willy know their pain and situation but try not to realize it until it is too late. Oedipus by never believing he killed Lauis until he was shown with evidence. Willy, by never really accepting the fact he was failing his family and job. Aristotle feels that the turning of the Gods on the character’s life is what causes his downfall.
Miller believes that the hero’s fall is blamed on something superior, not the Gods, but society in which case is like a god to Willy. “The tragic hero should not be perfect, nor should he be so dull and stupid or so young as to be incapable of understanding what is happening to him”, stated by Aristotle, in which Miller agrees greatly. They also both believe that the protagonist may be a victim, but he must also know and bow in total acceptance of his destruction. Aristotle believes that the tragic figure makes choices and takes actions that result in his consequences.
You can strongly feel that Miller believes that some, if not most of the figure’s downfall is caused by his words towards others (This also is where most of the irony is in his play, why Sophocles relies mainly on dramatic irony). I feel that Miller’s approach to tragedy and the tragic hero prove to be most valid. I think that Aristotle’s approach is somewhat outdated. I believe that in the times of his life, society and the arts were based mainly on the lives of the noble, therefore never reflecting the lives or emotions of the common man.
Miller gets somewhat a little of both worlds into his theories. He still follows some basic rules formed by Aristotle (as noted above), but yet changes the view of the tragic hero in ways that the common man’s life is tragic, and needs to be recognized in all that it is. I enjoy that. Although society’s outlook on people do change over the years, Miller was very well able to produce theories in which any man, from any time would be able to relate to. To sum it up, I feel overall “tragedy must preach revolution”, and that is exactly what Miller does.
Both plays have a sense of true tragedy other than that of just the tragic hero. The plots of these two plays is a good example. The very “complex” plot in Oedipus The King is both filled with horrible views of incest and disgust, while it also delivers a sense of pity for the character. This play includes a complete reversal in the situation of the play. This occurs in Oedipus when he begins to feel that he is the one that murdered Lauis and slept with his mother, after trying to tell himself and the country that he was not that man.
That shows a sense of recognition also, in which Aristotle believes is a true element of tragedy. I feel though the more affective plot, although simple, is that of Death of a Salesman. The story starts off with the reader already realizing Willy’s downfall and his losing life, which brings the pity to the play. This play I think is very strong because it is full of drama all the way through, not consisting of a reversal or recognition. Recognition is not shown in this play because Willy is just ignorant to realize his life, in which no change occurs. That dramatically effects the play’s strength.
The structure in these two plays is a key element in their tragic effects towards the reader. In both Oedipus and Death of a Salesman. flashbacks play an important role in the play. In Oedipus The King, it is through flashbacks that Oedipus realizes he is the murderer of his father, bringing the downfall on him. The flashbacks in Death of a Salesman are a lot stronger in effect towards drama, because the Willy lives his life in them. It is through flashbacks that the reader realizes the true drama and irony of both the present day actions and words of Willy.
The play is illusion vs. ality. If this play wouldn’t of been structured around Willy Living his life in the past, it would not be considered one of the greatest dramatic plays. The reader realizes the downfall of Willy and his Family through them. The transition from time periods in a lot more obvious in Death of a Salesman and a lot more important than that of Oedipus, in Oedipus The King there is a are a few scenes in which he visits the past, while the text clearly shows the transition. In Death of a Salesman, Miller shows the transition of the past and present by a few notable things.
In the present, Miller’s writing and tone is more serious and dark, while in the past, the tone becomes a lot more brighter and optimistic. Irony plays another key role in the success of these dramatic plays. Most of the power of Oedipus derives from dramatic irony. The reader is clued in on this in the prologue, in which is the richest in dramatic irony. In that scene, everyone concerned is still in complete darkness to the truth and their ignorance therefore causes their words and actions to carry much greater weight.
In Death of a Salesman, it is that of situational irony that brings the reader closer to Willy’s downfall. The entire play is carried almost completely by the dialog, which is vital to the play’s success. One such incident is Willy’s views of Biff’s career track. “Biff is a lazy bum! “, shortly after, Willy states: “Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such -personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker . There’s one thing about Biff-he’s not lazy. ” (Death of a Salesman 16).
Another example is when Willy wishes that cars today would have fold down windshields, “They just don’t make them liked they used to” Willy said. Linda soon reminds him that he told her he was driving with the windshield down on the way home from his trip. Situational irony drives this play to greatness, without it, the plot would be lost. Oedipus The King is weaker in the irony part, compared to Death of a Salesman, because in Oedipus it just answers the questions, doesn’t tell the story. The tragic man is the key role in both of these plays.
Oedipus in Oedipus The King, and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. Through Oedipus a man is presented whose good side causes harm and whose bad side works good. Oedipus himself is one vicious irony, for his virtues devolve into virulent vices that wreak his complete destruction. Oedipus’s main tragic flaw was that he had a lack of knowledge, and because he thought he was doing good only to find out that what he was doing was bad. His power fell just as quickly as he got it. Oedipus was born a helpless pawn of fate.
Willy on the other hand is a far more tragic hero in Miller’s eyes, and somewhat in Aristotle’s eyes. According to Arthur Miller, “The tragic feeling is invoked whenever we are in the presence of a character, any character, who is ready to sacrifice his life, if need be, to secure one thing, his sense of personal dignity. ” Willy Loman was willing to do that no matter what the cost. This makes Willy an excellent example of Aristotle’s tragic hero also. Willy’s one tragic flaw is his lack of a grip on reality. He couldn’t differentiate the difference between the current time and the past.
His flashbacks are a part of his everyday lifestyle, only he doesn’t know that he is experiencing them, because he lacks awareness, bringing on his downfall. He died for money and most of all for the love of his family. That is where I feel the word “hero” in Willy’s life comes from, and “tragic” comes from the everyday struggle for Willy Loman to do two things, achieve the “American Dream” and be known as a great man like his father was, with everyone knowing your name. To finish it off, I feel that the common man, Willy Loman, In Death of a Salesman exceeds the tragic “greatness” of King Oedipus in Oedipus The King.
Throughout my research on both of these Tragic plays, I have realized that the common man and his everyday struggle just to make it through society and the changes brought by industrialization is a viewpoint that more people can really hit home with, instead of a play that seems like an episode of Jerry Springer. Death of a Salesman was filled with pity for Willy, the weak, old, struggling family man. Oedipus the King was plainly just filled with disgust. Willy Loman, the average American family Joe, and his lifestyle and family make Death of a Salesman the superior tragedy.