Waiting for Godot: the Elements that Make It a Tragedy
Much like realism found in art, tragedy is a style of drama that aims to bring the viewer through a series of realistic, often melancholy, events and emotions. This essay will analyze some of the elements of tragedy, particularly as defined by Aristotle, and argue whether certain plays should be considered tragedy by these terms. The plays this essay will analyze are Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.
A tragedy is a stage play (or screenplay in modern applications) that stirs emotions of sadness, pity, and/or fear in an effort to achieve catharsis of such emotions. It must be acted out rather than simply narrated, or it should not be considered a tragedy. In other words, a play or a movie can be a tragedy, but a book cannot. Often featured in a tragedy is a tragic hero—a protagonist who seems to be good in all ways except for one tragic flaw. This tragic flaw inevitably causes some catastrophic series of events which prove to be the undoing of the hero. A tragedy doesn’t need a tragic hero in order to be considered a tragedy; tragic heroes are simply an effective means of accomplishing the things that tragedies aim to accomplish.
Death of a Salesman is a play written by Arthur Miller in 1949. Cutting in and out of daydreams (sometimes within other daydreams), it follows the career of Willy Loman who is a tragic hero. He is the protagonist of the story, but his flaw is his faith in the American dream. He struggles to succeed as a salesman which had been his dream career, but he is constantly haunted by missed opportunities and the success of others. This play illustrates the current state of the American dream, noting how it has changed from one of freedom to one of materialism. It shows how the excessive materialism in America has the capacity to cause people to be overly competitive and greedy, drawing their attention away from the important things that really make a person successful in life outside of finance. Death of a Salesman certainly meets Aristotle’s criteria for tragedy, because it is a stage play (and was adapted to be a screenplay as well) containing a tragic hero whose actions stir emotions of sadness and pity for almost every character in the play.
Waiting for Godot is a play that was written in French by Samuel Beckett in 1948 then later translated into English by Beckett himself. The entire play contains only one set, six characters (though only five are shown), and two days. It is set simply around a tree where Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot who is a symbol for God. Pozzo and his slave, Lucky, visit each of the two days as does a boy who is a messenger for Godot. Pozzo exchanges words with Vladimir and Estragon, mostly about Lucky. The boy simply comes to let Vladimir and Estragon know that Godot will not be coming each night. The first time they hear this, Vladimir and Estragon decide to stop waiting, yet they both arrive at the same tree the next day to wait again. This play does not seem to meet all of Aristotle’s standards for tragedy as there are no real incidents to arouse much pity or fear. This play simply makes a point—a depressing one, at that—but that alone does not make it a tragedy.
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