Triumph and Tragedy: the Exploration of a Tragic Hero and the Consequences of Others that Contribute to the Overall Tragic Vision of the Peace “Things Fall Apart”
From the very title of this historical fiction novel, Things Fall Apart, composed by Chinua Achebe, it foreshadows the tragedy which is triggered by the tragic hero. Defined by Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, a tragic hero is a character who is of noble stature and greatness who posses a hamartia, a tragic flaw that leads to the character’s downfall. Subsequently, the tragic hero undergoes peripeteia, the sudden reversal of fortune for this character which results in catastrophe. Ultimately the character acknowledges their situation, known as anagnorisis.
In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo, the central character, is considered to be the tragic hero. He transitions from being an admired leader and strong warrior of the lower Nigerian tribe, Umuofia, to committing in an act based on his hamartia that influences catastrophe. Okonkwo’s actions resulted in others suffering including himself. The anguish others experienced because of Okonkwo’s indecent choices contributes to the universal view of Okonkwo’s journey as the tragic hero. The first requirement for a character to be considered a tragic hero would be that the character must be of high status. As stated by Achebe in the novel, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements”(3).
Okonkwo started from scratch, with no inheritance from his father, Okonkwo managed to work strenuously to become a strong warrior and a wealthy, respected man. Okonkwo earned many titles though his labour and dedication to not become a failure that his father was, Unoka. Unoka had borrowed an immense amount of money from his neighbors to buy titles he desired. He was a man known to be in debt. Okonkwo’s fear that he would become as his father did, he made the decision to hate everything his father ever loved. Okonkwo’s toil resulted in him having a large compound with a hut for each of his 3 wives with and many children. Okonkwo also possessing a large stock of yams, earned a lot of the respect from others for yams are valued in the Ibo Beliefs. Okonkwo also earned respect for himself when he was 18, when he bought honor to his town by defeating Amalinze the Cat, a previously undefeated wrestler for 7 years.
Okonkwo is a respected judge in the community, for he is one of the nine Egwugwu. This means he is presumed to be a spirit of an ancestor. Additionally, he is also a representative of his village to talk with the Mbaino village about the killer of the girl of Umuofia. Distinctly, Okonkwo is of noble stature, despite of how he began. Alike other tragic heroes, Okonkwo owns a tragic flaw, his hamartia. For his father, a failure, Okonkwo possess the fear of weakness and failure. Although these aspects drove him to success, fame, and his achievements, it also results in him causing many conflicts. Since Okonkwo’s has a fear of failure and weakness, this leads him to behave impulsively and violently Swindle 3toward others. This even includes his family members in which he is always violent and harsh towards. This is for his purpose of not being seen as weak person. Okonkwo’s extreme attitude of using strength and violence to not be seen as weak, ultimately causing problems with his family which lead to his ultimate downfall. For instance, Okonkwo fractures a clan law and beats the youngest of his wives during the week of peace. Also at the same time he comes close to shooting his second wife. Okonkwo kills his son Nwoye’s close 15 year old friend who was given up to Umuofia as a sacrifice for killing one of the women in Umuofia.
Ikemefuna, his name was, who lived with Okonkwo’s family for three years before the elders ordered him to be killed. Okonkwo is told not to take part in Ikemefuna’s sacrifice because he is basically the man who raised him for three years and Ikemefuna calls Okonkwo “father.” Okonkwo’s fear of being seen as weak, makes him react violently and he Kills Ikemefuna despite the warning given to him. Ikemefuna asks for Okonkwo’s help because “He was afraid of being thought weak”(43). By trying to be a powerful person and deciding to kill Ikemefuna and beats his wives during the week of peace shows Okonkwo weakened his relationship with Nwoye and his wives. His violent and impulsive qualities also hurts himself mentally which lead him to kill a court messenger from the British during the clan meeting which soon after leads Okonkwo to the discovery of his own tragic fate. The last requirement for a character being a tragic hero requires that the character must recognize his own fate and situation, anagnorisis. Okonkwo experiences anagnorisis when he returns home to Umuofia after his seven years of exile with his great plan. Upon his arrival, Okonkwo realizes that a lot has changed in Umuofia and that now he is not looked upon as Swindle 4important or famous anymore as he used to be before his exile. When his arrival doesn’t attract as much attention as he hoped, he loses his place in the Egwugwu. He also discovers the white men have settled in the village, trying to get the Ibo people to convert to Christianity. He sees that in his view the Christians are attacking Igbo customs and faith. Okonkwo was unhappy with this and by his temper, he persuades his clan to use violence to drive the white men out of the village.
Conflicts between the Ibo and the Christians included the unmasking of Egwugwu, the burning of the church and the deceptive meeting held by the white men which results in the capture and humiliation of the five clan members, including Okonkwo. Okonkwo then kills one of the five British court members, which is then when he discovers his tragic fate. When Okonkwo beheads the messenger during the clan meeting and sees that none of his clan members go after the escaping white men, “He knew that Umuofia would not go to war” (144). He realizes that he will never be able get rid of the white men in Umuofia because his clan will not fight with him. He realizes that he is defeated and cannot save his village from the white men influences. Okonkwo decides to hang himself, which is contributes to the meaning of an abomination in Igbo culture. Okonkwo’s character fits Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. Okonkwo rises to be the honorable and successful leader of Umuofia. He also has a tragic flaw of a fear of weakness and failure that leads to his downfall ultimately. Finally, he discovers his own tragic fate and situation of his harsh temper by of killing the court British messenger. If it weren’t for the suffering of others in the novel caused by Okonkwo, a tragic hero, then the tragic hero vision of Okonkwo would not be whole.
A Tragic Hero: John Proctor
The renowned philosopher Aristotle formally outlined the parameters of the tragic hero in his work “On Poetics”. Aristotle primarily based his tragic hero model on Oedipus, a king from Greek mythology. He outlined the tragic hero as a person of noble birth who encompasses a fatal flaw, or hamartia, that results in his downfall and describes his tragic nature. The character is taken into account a hero once they rise from their fall and experience an enlightenment and redemption referred to as an anagnorisis. In the Crucible, the protagonist, John Proctor, is considered a tragic hero. Proctor is a very secular man in Puritan Salem, yet is still highly respected among the people. His obsession with maintaining his reputable name is one of the manifestations of his fatal flaw, his hubris. John Proctor’s hubris is responsible for both his tragic downfall and his redemption. That detracts from Miller’s characterization of him as the tragic hero because he fails to experience an anagnorisis. Arthur Miller’s renowned play The Crucible, that takes place throughout the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, is arguably the most forceful allegory of senator Joseph McCarthy’s red scare within the Fifties. The story begins with a group of young girls as they escape to the woods to perform a pagan ritual illicit by their strict, Puritanical, and non-secular society. To avoid blame, they claimed to have seen the Devil, and that other members of society serve Him by active witchcraft. The town is frightened of their claims and not until several defendant witches selected to hang instead of confess did the hysteria end. Although John’s fate was rather unjust and unfortunate to envision, he still made the right decision to sacrifice himself. Firstly, this ensured a positive future with no lack of goodness for his children, family, and descendants. Secondly, in continuation to the first reason, if John had falsely confessed, the future of himself and his family would have drastically changed negatively. Finally, one should travel to several lengths and measures to defend their pride and honor as John did.
Proctor was a man who had devoted himself to God, however had the priorities of his family’s wellbeing set on top of being a devout church member. Several had questioned him for this and his absence to church over and over, and believed he failed to care for God as powerfully as he portrayed himself to. However, this wasn’t the case. John Proctor knew there had been tasks to be completed to keep his family alive and well, and knew he may pray to God and show his love for God while not sacrificing that wellbeing. A part of his reasoning to not attend church was because he believed Parris wished nothing but a pretty church and did not speak of God as a sermoniser should. By the end Proctor can be seen as a respectable man or a hero. He has confessed to sexual activity, knowing he’ll head to jail for this. “I have confessed myself! … God sees my name, God knows my how black my sins are” (Act 4), he has confessed to his unholy sin. John Proctor admitted to the one thing several different Puritans wouldn’t. He does it so as to avoid wasting the lives of those accused but specifically his wife. He placed his name and life on the line to save Elizabeth and also the others. Additionally, John Proctor felt determined to save his wife as he tells of the time Abigail confessed to him it had nothing to do with witchcraft. Showing to the reverend that there have been liars amongst him. Proctor risks it all and tells of his sin, adultery, within the end making him the hero. He put his life on the line to prove that the accused and his wife were innocent and good people. He did everything he could to save those people. By the end Proctor’s truth had caused tension and doubt to the little town of Salem.
Proctor’s affair exemplifies his egotistical tendency to put himself above the rules he expects others to follow, which prompts him to make decisions that lead to his fall. The catalyst of his downfall, Proctor claims to be remorseful about his affair with his former house servant Abigail Williams. However, his attitude still indicates that he feels superior to the law. Once Elizabeth queries John regarding talking to Abigail in a very room alone, John says, “I should have roared you down when you first told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed!”. To Proctor, confession may be a sign of weakness and inferiority, which is one reason for his refusal to conform to the faith, in addition as to the rituals of consensus later within the play. he’s unable to confess and settle for the consequences of his affair. He sees himself as on top of the vows of a marriage; even when the affair happens, he thinks it’s okay to talk privately with Abigail once he is aware of how it strains the already broken trust between him and his spouse. He holds Elizabeth accountable for fidelity that he himself cannot deliver, which is confirmed once he forgets adultery in the Ten Commandments and tells Hale, “Between the two of us we do know them all”. Proctor’s crisis is exacerbated once Elizabeth is targeted by Abigail in court. Proctor is aware of based on his private conversation with Abigail that the witchery accusations are fraud, and that testifying against her might save his spouse and other townsfolk from public hangings. However, he additionally knows that this may involve public confession of the affair, which might deeply tarnish his name. He thinks himself on top of the law once he refuses to inform the court what he is aware of, and thinks that his name is superior to the lives that are lost day after day on the gibbet. Only when individuals highly regarded within the town like Rebecca Nurse are implicated, does Proctor speak up, because Proctor considers them adequate to himself. However, once Elizabeth is called in to confirm that she fired Abigail for her affair with John, Elizabeth, a faultlessly honest character, lies because she is aware of how much Proctor values his reputable name in Salem. John thinks he’s superior, and therefore is able to confess whenever it’s convenient for him and reap the advantages. However at this point in the tyranny of consensus, it’s too late for him to turn it around by his testimony. He’s thrown into the Salem jail to confess or hang in time. This signifies the start of his downfall. Proctor’s choices are driven by his insincere and superior attitude, that leads him to the self-seeking choices that catalyze his fall.
Although one might disagree that Proctor’s decision is a wrong one, it is not entirely wrong and rather understandable. Proctor might not be a true hero in Miller’s play as a result of never recognizing his egotistical issues and self-superiority as fatal flaws that result in his fate within the Witch Trials. Proctor is doomed by the same means he’s ransomed. His superiority may be a product of his hubris, that causes him to have his affair with Abigail. At the start he refuses to testify, and then tears up his confession after signing it. He is therefore rooted in the preservation of his name in Salem that after his downfall, he cannot experience true anagnorisis, however deceives himself by disguising his self-serving resistance as a shift in awareness and morality. whereas no character will comply perfectly to philosophical parameters, the anagnorisis is simply too vital for the tragic hero to stand without it. It’s the distinction between a character who is heroic, and a character who is just erroneous and meets a tough end. Society likes to examine a tragic hero, because though the trajectory by which the tragic hero will fall scares us, there’s encouragement to be drawn once a character so deeply imperfect is in a position to find redemption. Even today, the American individuals look to tragic hero figures within the media, because by experiencing somebody else’s hamartia and subsequent downfall, we don’t become doomed within the same manner.
At the end of the play during Act 4, John does decide to falsely confess to the actions he was accused of to avoid being hanged. However, his remaining shreds of integrity refused to permit him to continue with the confession by signing his name on a paper that would primarily set his confession in stone. He chose to have an end to his life and to stay faithful himself and wife over a continued lifetime of a lie, as he couldn’t feel as if he was a righteous man. He had hoped that God would judge him accordingly, and decided that was of highest importance. The matter of good or bad is highly supported on opinion, and Proctor fell victim to the circumstances of the bulk of opinions in his village being against his favor. They chose to not see the good in his decision to work for his family, and instead see the bad in his absence at church. The village failed to see the good intentions in his efforts to shed light on the fact of witchcraft in court, however, chose to believe he had a compact with the Devil. This doesn’t make John Proctor a foul man, nor a person of the Devil. It makes him a man who had been unfortunate enough to have more individuals believe he was, than those that believed he wasn’t.
Willy Loman and Shelley Levene as the Examples of a Tragic Hero
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” and David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” are two American dramas that have sparked fierce debates among analysts, writers, literary critics, scholars, and even readers when it comes to tragic heroes. The major characters and central focus of the two dramas, are Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” and Shelley Levene in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In watching these characters, one can perceive the disparities between a modernist tragic hero and a postmodernist tragic hero. Willy and Loman were tragic heroes in their individual capacities because they made decisions and erroneous judgements that ultimately led to their own destruction and according to Aristotle, “A tragic hero is a literary character who makes a judgment error that inevitably leads to his/her own destruction.” One can bet that the arguments that ensue among critics regarding this topic in relation to Willy Loman and Shelley Levene, is because the term hero, standing alone is a positive thing. Hence the prefix ‘tragic’ which differentiates tragic heroes from classical heroes as these two characters were anything but positive. Willy Loman was a 63-year-old fictional character in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
According to Aristotle, “he represents the normal man with whom the audience can identify, as all tragic heroes are expected to be”. He was an aging salesman who had worked for the same company for 34 years and had had to endure so many negative turns in events, including but not limited to a pay cut and getting fired. He was undeniably hardworking made but made multiple suicide attempts because he kept losing the battle to stay relevant and whatever foothold he held in the American middle class world. He was an intelligent salesman no doubt, with sound business knowledge but time does affect how much value you can add to an organization, as well as the strength you need to add said value. Loman was in the business of marketing products, a traveling salesman, and the forces he was combating, led him to become delusional and want to end his life as he no longer found the joy of living in such misery. It also did not help that he was surrounded by people who fueled his delusions. Loman’s idealism and his overreliance on the fruition of his American Dream should have been substantially fruitful but it ended up being detrimental to his success, hence this can be referred to as a tragic flaw, making him a tragic hero.
According to Aristotle, the error of judgment is a common trait among tragic heroes, and as we see in the case of Loman, his inability to accept his past failures and move on was the root cause of his ultimate downfall. Loman was a modernist in the sense that he was anything but realistic in his thoughts and expectations. Loman assumed he was loved by the world, such as when he said to his sons, ‘And they know me boys, they know me up and down New England. The finest people. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ’cause one thing boys: I have friends’. He hallucinated a lot and spent more almost half the play living in his hallucinations, had tons of flashbacks, lived and thrived on daydreams, which are elements of modernists characters, whereby they relive past glories and refuse to come to terms with the present and current happenings. Shelley Levene is a major character in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glenn Ross.” Like Loman, he is equally an insecure, desperate and struggling salesman, a low down dirty one at that, who would do anything to strike a deal with a client, including barge into a client’s house on a rainy day. In a bid to succeed at work, win a Cadillac, and avoid being fired, he caved into the pressures that welled up around him and opted to play dirty. Levene was in the business of selling real estate and was very dishonest at it and so had become a failure so to speak. Levene was once a powerful and successful salesman but time had caught up with him, hence he was now on a downward spiral plus he had a chronically ill daughter with an unknown medical condition in the hospital. He attempted to charm, coerce, threaten and even bribe the office manager, John Williamson into giving him leads because he was scared to lose his job for lack of sales generation.
Levene was a tragic hero because he made several bad decisions that marred his career, such as when he sold the leads, as this cost him his job. His decision to admit to Williamson that he robbed the office and sold some leads illegally, when he said “I sold them to Jerry Graff,” was an error of judgement that came back to haunt him later on when Williamson was ready to dish out his revenge. Also in response to Williamson’s killing of Roma’s deal, he welcomed the eye-for-eye concept by incriminating Williamson, revealing that he could not watch as realism reigned. He shared similar traits with Loman, that exposed his tragic flaw, one of such being his decision to attain success through unorthodox ways. These major errors, made by the Loman and Levene led to a very significant turn of events and misfortunes, in their respective lives, which according to Aristotle, is another fundamental commonality among tragedies. Loman’s adamancy and inflexibility rendered him poor and unable to sustain his family. He was caught up in his anticipation of the American Dream, to which he refused to put in the work to achieve. Harder work, less talk, and less expectations could have yielded better results but instead he did nothing towards the realization of the goals. He got overly dependent on his obsolete ideology of how things should be done and went on to place more importance on irrelevant things. One of such being his years of loyalty to his company, while also prioritizing his reputation over gaining current knowledge and keeping up with the fast paced world and ever changing ways of doing things. A world where information and technological know-how is increasingly dominating every field, especially business related industries such as the one Loman was in. Knowledge, which Loman seemingly despised, is the backbone of efficiency. Another error of judgement he made was to live in the past and turn himself against the world leading the world to in turn, turn itself against him. He himself acknowledged that there was nothing left for him in the world when he tried to take his life and said, “I am doomed in the modern world”. Another occurrence in the plays was what Aristotle referred to as tragic pride or “hubris” and this manifested itself in the two main characters. At different points in time, when the respective characters attained some level of achievement, they became arrogant and forgot their basic moral obligations hence given room for tragic flaws.
In the case of Loman, he failed to humble himself to his wife despite the love and care that she showers upon him. He treated her poorly severally, even to the extent of cheating on her with Miss Francis. In the case of Shelley, we see his pride, when he attained some fraudulent but substantial success in his salesmanship, he was quick to brag about it to Williamson who eventually shut him down by saying “those leads enjoy talking to salesmen”. The flaw there being that it was his breaking point and final straw. Just like all other tragic heroes, “their fate will eventually be as a result of their actions” (Aristotle). Both characters are real tragic heroes because they come face to face with several fates that overwhelm and shed even more light on their flaws. In the end, Loman gets a lot more than he deserves, though true that he failed to make the necessary adjustments to better his situation, under normal circumstances, the eventual fate that befell him may have been reversed or altogether different. He had a chance at a good life, even though part of what pushed him was the jealousy he felt towards his brother Ben, who was doing way better than him in the diamond mines. His son Happy, perhaps not Biff who was estranged, could have come through for him as even Howard asked him to rely on his sons. His final resort to death was unnecessary, unwarranted, and undeserving. Every financial and emotional issues that his family faced were typical to any regular family; thus, committing suicide was not the best option. When it comes to Levene, even though death was not the final straw for him, he lost his job for sure after the stunt he pulled with the leads burglary, hence he is not at all innocent, his fate was not the most befitting, considering his situation and that of his counterparts. Miller explains in his critique of tragedies, that the hero must be a person that does not accept the realities presented by the status quo. As with Loman, he did not accept the realist world but instead relied on an idealist American Dream, like many other Americans in the real life world. Levene, too, was a go-getter who was willing to go extra miles to achieve his dreams.
- Aristotle. The Tragic Hero http://www.bisd303.org/cms/lib3/WA01001636/Centricity/Domain/593/10th%20english%20Fall/C%20-%20The%20Tragic%20Play/Antigone.Medea/Definition%20of%20Tragic%20Hero.pdf
- Delaney, Bill. Critical Evaluation: Glengarry Glen Ross. Masterplots, Fourth Edition; November 2010, p1-3
- Mamet, David. Glengarry Glen Ross: A Play. Grove Press, 1984. Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Miller, Arthur. “Tragedy and the Common Man.”
- www.nytimes.com/books/00/11/12/specials/miller-common.html Sickels, Amy. ‘Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman: History of Criticism.’
- Critical Insights: Death of a Salesman (2010): 76-91.
King Lear – An Aristotelian Tragic Hero
Shakespeare masterfully develops Aristotelian tragic heroes. According to Aristotle, a tragedy depicts the downfall of a hero due to his tragic flaw (hamartia) and fate or the actions of the Gods. A tragic hero, typically an aristocrat or nobleman, ultimately recognizes his tragic flaw (agnorisis), but often only after it leads to his suffering and demise (peripeteia). In the end, the tragedy evokes a sense of pity or catharsis for the tragic hero. King Lear perfectly fits Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. As a result of his tragic flaw, King Lear’s life is transformed from a life of good fortune and privilege to a life of misfortune in which he suffers many losses including loss of authority, identity, and ultimately, sanity.
At the commencement of the play, it is evident that King Lear is given all the respect and honour of a nobleman. Kent articulates his nobility, “Royal Lear, Whom I have honored as my king, Loved as my father, as my master followed, As my great patron thought on in my prayers,” (Shakespeare 1.1. 141-144). As the King of Britain, he is the highest ranking member of British royalty and enjoys a lifestyle of happiness and great privilege. His social rank added to his pride as he referred to himself as “Apollo” and “Jupiter”.
As with many of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, Lear’s tragic flaw is his obstinate pride and lack of personal insight and judgement. This hubris not only brings about his own suffering, but also causes others pain. For example, being dissatisfied with Cordelia’s response about her love for him, King Lear’s pride lead him to banish Cordelia, followed by his loyal servant Kent when he tries to enlighten him. Kent is banished after he tells King Lear that Cordelia loves him: “Thy youngest daughter does not love thee least, Nor are those empty-hearted whose low sound, Reverb no hollowness,”(Shakespeare 1.1.171-173). Lear’s pride blinded him from listening to Kent and from seeing the true faces and intentions of his daughters, Regan and Goneril. His lack of insight allowed him to be manipulated by the kind, although deceptive words of his cunning daughters. The tragedy, and Lear’s personal downfall unfold when he divides his kingdom between the antagonists, Regan and Goneril, not based on merit, but rather flattery. The two ungrateful daughters subsequently conspire against him, remove him from their homes and leave him as a man begging for food and shelter.
Lear’s foolishness slowly turns into madness. He hires a servant (Kent in disguise) without knowing anything about him. He begins to doubt his judgement and starts to show hostility to others for no apparent reason. His suffering drives him to insanity. He suddenly realizes his grave error in dividing his kingdom to his two undeserving daughters and disowning the sincere one. Regarding Cordelia he says: “I did her wrong,” (Shakespeare 1.5. 24). His suffering is compounded by the knowledge that Regan and Goneril have betrayed him. He threatens, “I will have such revenges on you both that all the world shall — I will do such things — What they are yet, I know not; but they shall be the terrors of the earth!” (Shakespeare 2.4.279-282). Through his pain and suffering he acknowledges that he is going mad and, at first asks the gods to intervene, “O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!”(Shakespeare 1.4.24) but later simply gives into his madness, “I have full cause of weeping, but this heart shall break into a hundred thousand flaws or ere I’ll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!” (Shakespeare 2.5.284-286). In the last scene, Lear slips in and out of insanity. He temporarily regains his sanity and happiness when he sees Cordelia, “We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage. When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down, And ask of thee forgiveness”, (Shakespeare 5.3. 9-11). When he carries in her dead body, he again deteriorates into madness and his ultimate demise is death.
In the end, the audience can’t help but feel profound pity for King Lear. He is elderly and appears to have been a good king and father at some point. His tragic flaw causes him to fall from being the most important man in Britain to “a slave, a poor, infirm, weak and despised old man”, (Shakespeare 3.2.19-20). He becomes full of self pity when he is caught in the storm. He loses all confidence, power, authority, love – and even sanity – in the face of his daughters’ actions. Although Lear instigated this tragedy by banishing Cordelia, the consequences of his tragic flaw seem to be unjustly harsh. The audience witnesses the cruelty he is subjected to by others and hopes to see their downfall. Unfortunately, in this tragedy, Lear is not victorious.
King Lear satisfies all the requirements of an Aristotelian tragic hero. The nobleman’s love of flattery, his anger, pride and misjudgements lead not only to his own downfall but to the destruction of his family and the death of many others, including Cordelia, the only daughter who truly loved him. While, in the end, he displays self realization, humility and humanity, the discovery happens much too late to save him. The audience is left sympathizing for a man who suffered more than he deserved.
Arthur Miller’s Depiction of the Personality of Willy Loman As Shown In His Play, Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, is a tragic play focusing on the common man during the late 1940’s. Much of the story is told by flashbacks of Willy Loman’s past, including him cheating on Linda, his wife. His older son, Biff, witnessed the affair and has not been the same ever since. Happy, the younger son, is not actually happy but he enjoys lying in order to get ahead. Willy teaches his sons that being popular and “well liked” is more important than having skills. A tragic hero is a literary character who makes a judgement error that inevitably leads to his/her own destruction. The character Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is an example of a tragic hero.
An example of a characteristic of a tragic hero is that the character must have a weakness. This applies to Willy Loman because he has several weaknesses, pride being the most evident. He has a false sense of his own importance and believes that he will die “the death of a salesman” with a crowded funeral, but instead dies pretty much alone (Miller 55). When Charley offers him a job, Willy turns it down because he feels that it may compromise his dignity. He is fine with getting hand outs but is too proud to accept Charley’s offer (Miller 26). He also constantly talks about being “well liked” and having friends (Miller 17).
Willy Loman represents the common working American man. Although he cheats on his wife and ruins his relationship with his sons, Willy suffers more than he deserves. Committing suicide is the way that he wants to redeem himself in their eyes, considering that his life insurance will leave them with twenty thousand dollars (Miller 39). His punishment, death, exceeds his crimes. Another way he suffers is when Howard refuses to move his work closer to home and then eventually fires him. Willy tells him that he “can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit” (Miller 55). By this, he means that the company cannot just fire its employees when they are too old and worn out to be of value to them. Willy has been with the company since the beginning, working for Howard’s father. The only reason that Howard kept him around was for his father.
This story definitely arouses fear and empathy from the audience. Willy’s biggest desire is to be noble and “well liked”, but he clearly never reaches that status. Throughout the play, it seems that he truly believes that he is popular, His death should raise fear in the common man, whom Willy symbolizes, because we can recognize similar possibilities of error in ourselves. He is a “low man”, struggling to succeed in the wrong way. His dream was never to be a businessman; that idea was planted into his head by his father. Being a salesman was wrong for him; he was always skilled at building things (Miller 26). The audience can understand Willy’s desire to be successful, well liked, and the value he sees in appearances (Miller 18). After all, “well liked” is probably the most common phrase in the entire play.
Willy discovers his fate by his own actions, not by things happening to him. He was essentially a product of society, chasing after material goods and the “American Dream”. Not only did Willy want to be rich, he also wanted to be popular among others. He lives in the past, which is characterized by the conversations between Willy and his deceased brother, Ben (Miller 27). Willy smashing up the car is mentioned several times throughout the play, leading the reader to believe that he has tried committing suicide before (Miller 7). He also inhales gas from a gas pipe, in an attempt to slowly kill himself (Miller 39). In the end, it is Willy’s own actions that lead to his death.
Finally, a tragic hero must be physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in death. Spiritually, Willy’s affair with The Woman plays a huge role in his downfall. He loves Linda, but The Woman plays along with Willy’s belief that he is more important than he really is. When Biff finds out about the affair, he is destroyed. While he used to be the star football player at his school, he has given that up and does not graduate from high school (Miller 84). Willy knows that the affair has caused a drift in his relationship with his family, and he even feels guilty that he can provide stockings for The Woman but not for his wife. Each time that Willy crashes his car or inhales gas, he is physically hurting himself. Eventually, the car leads to his death (Miller 98).
In conclusion, Willy’s main flaw is having too much pride. He suffers more than he deserves, his own actions lead to his downfall, and his story arouses fear and empathy. Due to all of these and his death, Willy is able to meet the criteria of Aristotle’s tragic hero. The character Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is an example of a tragic hero.
How Pride is Willy’s Tragic Flaw in Death of a Salesman and How It is the Central Theme of the Play
There is a reason why Willy Loman is considered as a tragic hero where a great deal of it has to with his pride. As a matter of fact, through the character of Willy, Arthur Miller is able to build the theme of pride around him with pride coming out as the main theme. The same theme of pride also helps in establishing other smaller themes such as the theme of legacy, change, and identity. In Death of a Salesman, pride as a way of self-deception as well as using it as a coping mechanism. Willy Loman comes out as being extremely pride despite the fact that the source of his pride is not in any way founded in reality. Steven Centola also demonstrates the theme of pride in Willy’s denial of reality and inability to accept the changes within himself and in the society. Looking at the two works, one can easily see that the identity that Willy ends up assuming is heavily built upon his false sense of pride which plays a huge role in almost all the decision that he takes. His unjustified pride goes a long way in preventing him from being able to learn from his mistakes and the changes taking place around him, an event that leads to his downfall.
While it is a good thing that Willy is a dreamer, part of his excessive arrogance and pride comes as a result of his unrelenting belief in his dreams. To him, his dreams are not only pristine but also absolute where they are free from any defects where nothing can be done to change his stand on his country or his dreams of what he wants to accomplish. As a matter of fact, will never excise any form of introspection of reflection in a bid to see things as they are and not how they ought to be. This state alone builds the premise for his pride. To start with, will never take the time to questions some of his beliefs and dreams. A good example is when he was having a conversation with Linda about the failures of Biff. It becomes clear that his belief in the American dream is unrelenting where he believes that the American dream is superior. Believing that there is nothing wrong with the American dream, will demonstrate a great sense of pride in America as being, “the greatest country in the world.” A country that is full of “beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people (Miller 126).” Willy completely fails to see how people are suffering which makes his exceptionalism in this context to reflect his false sense of pride where he simply fails to see the truth.
At the same time, at this time will is terribly falling as a salesman where he has very little to be proud of his financial situation. But despite this fact, Willy uses his unrelenting pride as a coping mechanism where he believes that things will be okay with time. This false sense of pride makes Willy live in a world full of delusion where reality no longer makes any sense to him. Whether or not he simply chose to ignore the reality, his false sense of pride lay the foundation for his downfall. What is even worse is the fact that he passes his delusions sense of pride to innocent parties. (Centola 32) perfectly captured this aspect where he observed that “Willy fails to see the folly of his dream and ends up passing on not only his dream but also his confusion to Biff and Happy.”
Willy’s believed that “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interests, is the man who gets ahead” (Centola 26) makes him be so keen about his look and appearance at the expense of doing what is right to change his personal financial problems. He has a self-sense of pride where he is so convinced that he is destined for success that leads him to “constantly dress the part” (Centola 26).Willy’s false sense of pride also surfaces where he selfishly believes that the values associated with one’s family have a way of opening doors for success. His pride in his family leads him to look down manual labor arguing that it cannot translate to success. When Biff confronted him that since their situation was bad, they should work as carpenters. Full of arrogance and undue pride, Willy quickly asserts that “even your grandfather was better than a carpenter…Go back to the West! Be a carpenter, a cowboy, enjoy yourself!” (Miller 222). He is simply too proud to accept that he is financially dwarfed and that he can change his fate by doing manual works. His unfound sense of pride even leads him to accept a job offer from Charley who he categorized as his inferior. He then decides to accept loans that he is no position to pay. He simply has a false sense of pride coming out as being extremely proud when in reality he nothing real to be proud of.
As established above, it is Willy’s false sense of pride that leads him to believe that he is successful as a businessman and as a father. While he may have been successful in the past, his pride blinds him from accepting his current situation. His dreams and ambitions are baseless where to him it only makes sense that he is fated for greatness. He fails to accept that he is both failing as a salesman and as a father choosing to be proud when he has nothing really to be proud of. It is this false sense of pride that eventually leads to his downfall.
Her: Modern Perspective of Love in a Movie
Heracles, Greece’s greatest hero, is a demigod whose mortal life is dominated by a series of successes due to his tremendous strength and failures due to his excessive passions. While, ostensibly, his passions cause him pain and bring about misfortune, he ultimately gains eternal glory through the hardships he endures. Through images of unnecessary conflict and violence, Heracles is directly and indirectly characterized as tragically flawed by a lack of self-control, indicating the necessity of proper judgment and intelligence to offset brute force.
Heracles’s just inclination to self-inflict punishments in contrition for his avoidable misdeeds ironically becomes one of his greatest sources of suffering and thus one of his greatest sources of fame. Though “without his consent he could not have been punished by anyone” (227), he shows a “greatness of soul” (227) by always going above and beyond to make up for his wrongdoings. Unfortunately, this would often result in his punishing “himself when others were inclined to exonerate him” (227), subjecting himself to extremes no other human could withstand. For example, in order to purify himself for killing his “children and Megara” (229), he completes “the Labors of [Heracles]” (232), a series of daunting tasks which include feats like killing “the lion of Nemea” (232), driving away the “Stymphalian birds” (233), and bringing “Cerberus, the three headed dog, up from Hades” (234). Furthermore, in his regret for disrespecting his friend Admetus’s house during a time of mourning, he heaps “blame upon himself” (241) and resolves to wrestle Death and “bring Alcestis back from the dead” (241). Though he is successful in all his tasks, he is never truly “tranquil and at ease” (236), meaning that the suffering he endures is futile to healing his emotional state. Heracles, the ideal Greek who is depicted as sternly devoted to repentance to the point of self-detriment, highlights the importance Greek culture places on proper reconciliation for one’s actions, no matter one’s status in life.
Heracles’s great power, giving him the guise of invincibility, overshadows his vulnerability to lapses in judgment and accidental misuses of strength, which cause not only himself but also those around him great suffering. Heracles is often “conspicuously absent” (226) and does not apply his intellect into much of what he does. Instead, his emotions are “quickly aroused and apt to get out of control” (226). For instance, when he was a child, he “disliked his music master” (229), so he “brained him with his lute (229), dealing “a fatal blow without intending it” (229). Another time, “with a careless thrust of his arm” (237), he accidentally kills an innocent boy who is serving him. Furthermore, wrongly motivated by his sexual appetite for Deianira, Heracles fights “the river-god Achelous” (236) although Achelous has “no desire to fight [Heracles]” (236). Heracles’s belligerent actions may hint at the Greek belief that the best way to resolve issues is through conflict rather than through negotiation.
Heracles’s tragedy is the irony of juxtaposing his cunningness during battle with a lack of decision-making skills and self-restraint outside of battle that reveals his apparent blessing, his great strength, as a curse that limits his success to situations involving conflict. Despite his inability “not to get roaring drunk” (242) in a house of mourning, he is smart enough to defeat Antaeus, a Giant who is invincible as long as he “[touches] the earth” (236) by “holding him in the air” (236) and strangling him. In spite of his “simplicity and blundering stupidity” (242), he is clever enough to trick Atlas into taking the sky back by pretending that he wants to put “a pad on his shoulders to ease the pressure” (234). Even after death, it is hard to imagine Heracles “contentedly enjoying rest and peace” (244), suggesting that this curse forces him into an endless cycle of violence. The fact that Heracles’s mistakes and shortcomings do not detract from his standing as the greatest Greek hero is highly indicative of the Greek culture’s greater reverence for physical strength than for intellectual ability.
In his role as both a hero and a victim, Heracles ironically distinguishes himself as both the inflictor and alleviator of suffering, emphasizing the importance of directing physical prowess using prudence. Otherwise, a person’s life will mirror the tragic life of Heracles and be subject to endless conflict, needless suffering, and uncontrollable impulses. Heracles, despite his inimitable strength, is still human, showing that although it may not be apparent at first, even the greatest of beings are capable of the simplest mistakes.
Tragedies of the Main Characters in Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
In the world of theatre, there are many plays in which the central figure is one who harnesses extreme personality traits above all others. For example, Sophocles’ Oedipus is a fatherly king with great ambition and strength; and Shakespeare’s Macbeth is evilly ambitious, while Romeo and Juliet are driven solely by their love for one another. These traits give these characters unbelievable success … for a time. In these stories, these attributes bring about each character’s downfall and death, qualifying each as a tragic hero, one whose strength leads to weakness. Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus is a definite member of this class of characters, an arrogant yet impressively ambitious scholar who desires grandiose knowledge without the help and guidance from the world’s major religion, Christianity. In Dr. Faustus, Marlowe uses tragic irony concerning Faustus’ misunderstanding and rejection of God to illustrate the downfall of this tragic hero.
Faustus’ character is established with his first soliloquy in the very first scene. Desiring to acquire knowledge, he distrusts logic, medicine, and law, claiming that he “hast attained [the] end[s]” and mastered these areas (253, lines 1-36). When he considers religion, “divinity,” he quotes Romans 6:23 which says, “The reward of sin is death,” and continues with 1 John 1:8, saying that everyone sins and therefore there is “no truth in us” (253, lines 37, 40, 44). From this, Faustus concludes that there is no reason in believing in a seemingly hopeless faith where the only outcome is death, and so with a haughty goodbye he says, “What doctrine call you this? … Divinity, adieu!”(253, line 49).
Faustus is entirely too quick to form conclusions. If he wants knowledge, the last action he should take is not learning all about a possible flaw. Modern journalist Lee Strobel says in his faith-strengthening book The Case for Faith about difficult questions people pose about the Bible, “[B]ecause [someone isn’t] able to answer them [doesn’t] mean there [aren’t] answers” (196). The astounding irony of this scene is Faustus’ failure to read the next verse after 1 John 1:8: “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Faustus’ arrogance and conceit will not let him become fully knowledgeable to see hope, and therefore he has personally lost all hopes for his dreams by painting Christianity in a negative light.
Faustus further condemns himself by looking to magic in order to be a “demi-god,” but even more so by believing a pact with the highest devil, Lucifer, will give him his dreams (253, line 63). He gives a message to Mephistophilis, a devil, that says:
He surrenders up to [Lucifer] his soul,
So he will spare him four and twenty years,
Letting him live in all voluptuousness,
To give [him] whatever [he] shall ask. (256, lines 91-93, 95)
In his pursuit of knowledge, now believing his soul-selling has proven successful, Faustus asks Mephistophilis questions about the planet, and the heavens, which are very readily answered. However, when Faustus asks, “[T]ell me who made the world,” Mephistophilis replies, “I will not” (260, lines 71-73). Now that Faustus believes he has been granted all knowledge, the irony exists in his inability to discover the answers to the ultimate questions of how the universe came to be, and more important, who made the universe. If he knew this, his knowing it would lead him directly back to God the Creator, and therefore to all knowledge whatsoever. But Faustus is now detached from God, unable to acquire the knowledge he desires.
By the end of the play, Faustus is so far detached from God that he literally has no chance of salvation. Faustus, of course, doesn’t believe this. Although he recognizes his impending end (“What art thou, Faustus, but a man / condemned to die?”), he assumes he can have salvation at the last second, for “Christ did call the thief upon the cross,” alluding to Christ’s forgiving of a thief the day of Christ’s (and the thief’s) crucifixion (271, lines 36, 40). But as the sky runs with Christ’s blood at Faustus’ end, and as he cries out,
O, I’ll leap up to my God…
See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop! Ah, my Christ! (277, lines 154-156)
It becomes apparent that Faustus is doomed, unworthy of God’s free grace as he is taken to Hell. His tragic end reiterates his misunderstanding of Christianity by taking out of context the passages from Romans and 1 John. If Faustus really were knowledgeable, he would have known Jesus’ statement:
I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Luke 12: 8-10)
Faustus lived for twenty-four years completely devoted to Lucifer, the chief opposition to God, never choosing right, thus signing his eternal death warrant.
Marlowe details the life of someone who misses completely the idea of God. The Christian faith does not teach a hopeless future that was given to Faustus through his ambition and stubborn delusion of grandeur. Instead, there is hope and was for Faustus. The Good Angel appears to Faustus to tell him to return to God, because “if [Faustus] hadst given an ear to [him], / Innumerable joys [would have] followed [him]” (276, lines 108-109). Also, the Old Man who comes to Faustus near his end urges him to repent, telling him to “call for mercy and avoid despair” (274, line 65). God’s power is implied to be frightfully stronger than that which Lucifer gives, as when Faustus is in Rome with the devil Mephistophilis, who says even he fears the friars’ chants from God (266, lines 95-96). Faustus continually contemplates his decision to sell his soul, whether it was right or if he has condemned himself, however, he ultimately chooses to keep his satanic pact. Marlowe emphasizes through his tragic hero that no matter how condemned and sinful one feels, there is always a chance for salvation if one is willing to see it.
Holy Bible, New International Version. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1986.
Jacobus, Lee A. The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Boston: Bedford, 2001.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
Elisen as an Aristotelian Tragic Hero
As in other plays, reflecting a specific culture, “Death and the King’s Horseman” has kept close to religious and traditional issues, but it has shaped culture into a great tragedy. Aristotle defines tragedy in his book poetics as:
A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in appropriate and pleasurable language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in a dramatic rather than narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish a catharsis of these emotions. (Aristotle, 23)
Death and the King’s Horseman encompasses tragic events that excite the audience’s emotions. It could be inferred from “catharsis” that the aim of a tragic work is delivering the author’s thought and notions through affections, an effective device that could penetrate the soul. The feelings of pity and fear, aroused within the audience, are not mere affections towards the hero, but they enable the audience to accommodate the play’s main message and theme as well as be fully convinced of the author’s thought. Death and the King’s Horseman is a tragedy that aims to manifest the tragic consequences of disobeying the gods and not maintaining a state of order among the three worlds of the unborn, the living, and the ancestors. Greek tragic dramatists, Aeschylus and Sophocles, wrote religious dramas that were concerned with the relation between gods and the hero. Further, the play is full of poetic language and is built on real events. Hence, Soyinka’s play is very close to the Greek tragedy. A protagonist within a tragedy must be also tragic. According to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, the tragic hero has certain characteristics.
Aristotle says that the tragic hero will most effectively evoke both our pity and terror …, and also that this tragic effect will be stronger if the hero is “better than we are”, in the sense that is of higher than ordinary moral worth. Such a man is exhibited as suffering a change in fortune from happiness to misery because of his mistaken choice of an action, to which he is led by hamartia-his “error” or “mistake of judgment” or, as it is often, although misleadingly and less literary translated, his tragic flaw. (Abrams, Harpham, 315)
The definition corresponds almost verbatim to the character of Elesin. Having the position of the king’s horseman, he ends up suffering and dies with shame. His demise is the consequence of his error that is the failure to fulfill his ritual duty. Elesin’s fall and agony arouse the audience’s compassion toward him and fear for themselves lest they may fall in the same mistake. Nonetheless, there is one thing that distinguishes him from the Greek tragic hero. Whereas the focus in the Greek tragedy is on the individual, the African theatre centers upon the community. In all these respects, Death and the king’s horseman is a tragic play that exposes the Aristotelian tragic hero, yet it includes one difference, differentiating it from the Greek tragedy.
The main reason behind Elesin’s tragic fate, according to Soyinka and the Nigerian ethos, is Elesin’s dereliction of duty. After having a very high position in life, Elesin’s negligence in accomplishing his ritual sacrifice decidedly begets tragic sequels.
How can that be? In all my life as Horseman of the King, the juiciest Fruit on every tree was mine. I saw, I touched, I wooed, rarely was the answer No. The honour of my place, the veneration I Received in the eye of man or woman prospered my suit and Played havoc with my sleeping hours. (Soyinka, 76)
Socially, he becomes prostrate with humiliation, and, spiritually, he becomes a sinner and a defiant against the gods. Besides, he causes disastrous chaos among the world of the dead, which, according to the Yoruba community, is duplicated in the world of the living. Soyinka’s Praise Singer-guardian of culture rebukes his erstwhile leader, “Elesin, we placed the reins of the world in your hands yet you watched it plunge over the edge of the bitter precipice” (Soyinka, 75). Lyaloja, also, admonishes him severely.
You have betrayed us. We fed you sweetmeats such as we hoped awaited you on the other side. But you said No, I must eat the world’s left-overs. We said you were the hunter who brought the quarry down; to you belonged the vital portions of the game. No, you said, I am the hunter’s dog and I shall eat the entrails of the game and the faeces of the hunter. We said you were the hunter returning home in triumph, a slain buffalo pressing down on his neck; you said wait, I first must turn up this cricket hole with my toes. ( Soyinka, 68)
The play turns into a tragedy when Elesin is prevented from doing his ritual assignment. His son, Olunde, is the most person who pays for his father’s mistake. When he sees that his father is still alive, he is filled with shame and sadness,” I have no father, eater of left- overs” (Soyinka, 61) and ,thence, the climatic catastrophe happens. He kills himself in order to compensate the shame his father has caused and make a contrite apology for the ancestors and his people. Lyaloja comments on that, pointing to Elesin the consequences for what he has done.
Because he could not bear to let honour fly out of doors, he stopped it with his life. The son has proved the father Elesin, and there is nothing left in your mouth to gnash but infant gums. (Soyinka, 75)
Seeing the corpse of his son, Elesin is fixated on Olunde, and, thereupon, suddenly, he strangles himself with the chain before anyone can intervene. Lyaloja censures the white men for trying to stop him, commenting that he has finally gone on even though it is too late.
He is gone at last into the passage but oh, how late it is. His son will feast on the meat and throw him bones. The passage is clogged with droppings from the King’s stallion; he will arrive all stained in dung. (Soyinka, 76)
Elesin’s “hamartia” that is the reason of the nonfeasance of his mission could be interpreted as his surrender and submission to the European colonizer. Tanure Ojaide writes:
Elesin’s failure is not refusing to die, but not dying at the appropriate moment. It is a ritual and there is a time for everything. However, Elesin delays and provides the opportunity for his arrest and the excuse not to die. (Online, Ojade)
Elesin in a moment of “blasphemy” surrenders to the outer forces.
It is when the alien hand pollutes the source of will, when a stranger force of violence shatters the mind’s calm resolution, this is when a man is made to commit the awful treachery of relief, commit in his thought the unspeakable blasphemy of seeing the hand of the gods in this alien rupture of the world. I know it was this thought that killed me, sapped my powers and turned me into an infant in the hands of unnamable strangers. I made to utter my spells anew but my tongue merely rattled in my mouth. (Soyinka, 64)
Blaming the white man, his gods, and his bride, he forgets to consider his own role, “my weakness came not merely from the abomination of the white man who came violently into my fading presence, there was also a weight of longing on my earth-held limbs” (Soyinka, 65). Further, in another quotation, he almost admits that he yields up his will to the European hands, “My will was squelched in the spittle of an alien race” (Soyinka, 65). In addition, while Lyaloja is reprimanding Elesin, she alludes darkly to his submission and says that he has allowed them to be the dominators of the situation (Soyinka, 65). In fact, Lyaloja’s words could be hitting home as when the inducement of death came from Elesin’s heart, nothing prevented him from fulfilling his duty, neither the iron bars nor the “alien race”.
The very feature that distinguishes Death and the King’s Horseman from the Greek tragedy is the thought of individualism which could be seen as a fundamental tragic crux. Yoruba religion pivots wholly on the community’s good and prosperity. The thought of individualism is considered as a great ignominy. Since they deem that the whole humankind is correlated, the individual’s selfishness afflicts the three worlds of the universe (the living, the ancestors and the unborn) and, as a corollary, the individual himself is afflicted. Therefore, there is no room for egotism.
In “The Fourth Stage” and later in Myth, Literature and the African World, Soyinka explores what he understands to be the relation in Yoruba cosmology between man, the gods, and the an- cestors. The essence of this cosmology, as he expounds it, is in direct contradiction to the Christian and European emphasis on the individual and individual salvation. For the Yoruba the emphasis is on community, and community in this context makes no distinction between the dead, the living, and the unborn. The emphasis is on continuity, on maintaining the continuous and contiguous relationship of these three stages of being. (Ralph Bowman, 82)
Mark Ralph-Bowman asserts that in order to appreciate the “religious mystery” (82) which lies at the heart of the play we must forget “the whole western tradition of individual tragedy” (84). Although the protagonist has the appearance of a tragic hero, “the grandeur, dignity, and pathos of Oedipus; the questing anguish of Hamlet” (94), one must not be misled into interpreting the play in such terms. What it asserts, according to Ralph-Bowman, is not the tragic loss of an individual, but the communal Yoruba values by which Elesin is found wanting, and condemned. “Though a creation of such stature,” Ralph-Bowman argues, “he has to be totally and unequivocally renounced” (94). Elesin is rejected by the world of the play because he allows himself to be di- verted by selfish individualism from the sacrificial death that his Yoruba religion prescribes. (Booth, 529)
Soyinka explicitly shows this idea in the play. Elesin illustrates to Pilkings that what he has done does not harm him only, but it afflicts the whole community,” I am stopped from fulfilling my destiny. Did you think it all out before, this plan to push our world from its course and sever the cord that links us to the great origin?” (Soyinka, 63). Another instance is the story of the captain in the war that is emblematic of these opposing viewpoints: Jane sees the man’s deliberate death as unreasonable and unjustified,” Nonsense. Life should never be thrown deliberately away” (Soyinka, 53), and Olunde lauds it as self-sacrifice and a great honor. The conversation between Olunde and Jane manifests these divergences. Jane asks Olunde if he can explain how he has this acceptance and satisfaction with his father’s death. Olunde replies that he started mourning for his father as soon as he heard of the King’s demise (Souinka, 53). He asserts that it is Elesin’s duty towards his community and that he mustn’t dishonor his people,” What can you offer [Elesin] in place of his peace of mind, in place of the honour and veneration of his own people?” (Soyinka, 53). These divergences in thought may be the main reason behind Elesin’s tragic fate, and because the English colonizer is the stronger in this battle, he managed to interfere. Lyaloja’s ultimate words to Pilking avers that. When Pilking asks her if this tragic end is what she wants. Turning her blame and venom on him, she replies:
No child, it is what you brought to be, you who play with strangers’ lives, who even usurp the vestments of our dead, yet believe that the stain of death will not cling to you. The gods demanded only the old expired plantain but you cut down the sap-laden shoot to feed your pride. ( Soyinka ,83)
Thus. Eesin tragedy could be summed up as a great man is undone for his aim is butted up against the law of the European man. In all these respects, the difference between the ideologies of the two tragedies, begetting the tragic destiny, is obvious. The Nigerian tragedy is not about the tragic fall of an individual; it is the whole community that is in distress.
The Nigerian audience would be inclined to despise such weak character as Elesin; however, Soyinka has very skillfully heightened the human interest of the play, and thus enlisted the audience’s pity and fear. It is in his suffering in prison and his son’s death that Elesin rises to the heights of the tragic grandeur, and the audience forgets his fault. For the last act of the play, the incidents and the poetic language Soyinka applies restore the fallen Elesin’s hold on the audience.in a scene of gloom, Elesin is chained up in a prison cell, in a state of melancholy. His heart is full of guilt and shame. All the people come to humiliate and admonish him, and he asks forgiveness from them, ”may the world for give me” (Soyinka, 73) . The people, who to a great extent are responsible for his misery, has put him in prison and confined his freedom. He is in complete paralysis and confusion; he does not know who to put the blame on his gods, or the white man, or himself. In this scene, Soyinka has laid bare the suffering soul of Elesin. In addition, the spectacle in which Olunde lays dead and his father is looking at him captures the essence of tragedy. The last act closes with two corpses on the stage, making Death and the King’s Horseman a great tragedy.
All things considered, Elesin, in all aspects, is regarded as Aristotelian tragic hero, except for the notion of individualism. He is a distinguished person who falls into misfortune on account of hamartia or a tragic flaw. The tragic destiny he ends with arouses the audience’s feel of sympathy and fear. Soyinka’s application of tragic events looms large the theme of Death and the King’s Horseman that is condemning and disparaging the European colonizer.
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