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Tragedy and His Tragic Errors

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  • Pages: 3
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  • Category: Tragedy

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Tragedy: A story that tells of the ruin of a great man. In tragedies the main character can sometimes be characterized as a tragic hero. A tragic hero is “a literary character, who makes an error of judgment or has a fatal flaw,”(Merriam Webster) which is actually their downfall. In Oedipus The King, the main character, the king of Thebes, is seen as the tragic hero on this particular tragedy. Now, fast-forwarding through time to 1949 Arthur Miller wrote Death of A Salesman. This play has a character named Willy Lowman and he certainly follows the definition of a tragedy, but he doesn’t have sudden realization like Oedipus in Oedipus the King. So, Oedipus is a tragic hero, while Willy Loman simply isn’t even though the story can be considered a tragedy.

First, Oedipus is the king of Thebes and in the beginning he finds out that the only way to save his city is to “drive out a pollution” (Kenney, 1002) that is holding the city back and causing sickness and death. This pollution is caused by the person who killed the previous king Laius. He finds this out and has Teiresias, a blind prophet, come and tell him who is the perpetrator is that killed the previous King. Teiresias says that he, Oedipus, killed the king and this enrages him. Later on, we find that there was a curse on Oedipus Arauzo 2

that he was to kill his father and lay with his mother. After, long investigation and digging through his history, Oedipus has a sudden realization that after all this time it was he who killed his father and he has slept with his own mother. This drives Jocasta, Oedipus’s wife and mother, to hang herself and Oedipus to gouge out his eyes for he believes his sight is no longer any use to him. He says to the chorus “Why should I see, whose vision showed me nothing sweet to see” (Kennedy, 1034).

How does all of this make him a tragic hero in this awful tragedy? Well his own arrogance and stubbornness blinded him from the absolute truth, that he was the pollution in Thebes. Now, Oedipus didn’t die, but he sent away to live in solitude, but he is a tragic hero because after his realization he died on the inside. He couldn’t believe what he had done because he had spent his entire life running away from his curse, and when he found out he failed he took away his own sight.

Now, in Death of a Salesman Willy Loman in the end commits suicide. Even though this story is a tragedy Willy is not a tragic hero. He didn’t fully come to a realization, like Oedipus, that he was the fault of his own demise. He does realize a few things about being a salesman by reminiscing, but he doesn’t realize that he has left his family in ruins. He doesn’t see this as his fault at all, instead his selfishness get’s the best of him and he only realizes how he had failed in producing a better child; how “Nothing’s Planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground” (Kennedy, 1296). This was said at the end after Willy yelled at Biff yet again about how he is not doing anything in his life. Rewinding, Willy said in the beginning “Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace!” (Kennedy, 1241) Arauzo 3

Yes, he notes some concern in his tone but more toward himself and not towards the success of Biff. Since he Is always reminiscing about his past and only about how he has failed himself, he never looked at how he failed his family. This makes him a non-tragic hero.

In conclusion, Oedipus is seen as a tragic hero because he has a self-realization that he was the entire cause of the turmoil in Thebes, and because by the end he also realizes that his own arrogance and stubbornness blinded him. These to characteristics about him are his tragic flaws. Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is not a tragic hero simply because he doesn’t have a full realization on why everything is distraught in his family, instead he basically blames Biff, his son, instead of himself.

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