The Enduring Allure of Tragedy

963 Words4 Pages
According to Aristotle, the appeal of tragedy, at its foundation, is katharsis: a purgation of the emotions pity and fear (Kennedy and Gioia 1203). Although scholars do not entirely agree on his meaning, it seems Aristotle had observed something that rings true today: that witnessing a person falling from the apex of achievement, to become humbled and utterly ruined, is inexplicably pleasurable. This is seldom more obvious today than in the keen attention paid to politicians embroiled in scandal, or celebrities having public meltdowns. Like the dramatic tragedies throughout the ages, those observing cannot help but become transfixed. When observed in literature or television it is harmless entertainment, often prompting deep reflection. When played out in the real world, it becomes a guilty pleasure. It often arouses disgust, yes, but also pity and fear.
In Aristotle’s view, the protagonist of a tragedy must be someone whose misfortune could impact many, such as “a king or queen or other member of the royal family” (Kennedy and Gioia 1203). In some ways, it is inarguably it is more dramatic to witness the downfall of a person of great importance, as the resultant mess is quite spectacular. However, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is evidence that the tragic descent of the common man can be equally riveting. Moreover, if a proper tragedy should cause the audience to experience fear and pity, the ruination of an unremarkable person should hit much closer to home. Despite being separated by 2400 years, and having vastly different contexts, the tragedies Death of a Salesman and Oedipus the King both tell the story of a man doomed by too much pride and too little information.
In experiencing the unravelling of the lives ...

... middle of paper ...

...n the others – one which kept them from seeing the truth or achieving their goals. While for most this will not result in a truly catastrophic (or tragic) demise, the tragic flaw is compelling because it is relatable, regardless of station in life or era of birth.

Works Cited

Kennedy, X. J. and Dana Gioia. "Aristotles Concept of Tragedy." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Twelfth Edition. New York: Pearson, 2013. 127-146.
Miller, Arthur. "Death of a Salesman." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Twelfth Edition. New York: Pearson, 2013. 1764-1831.
Sophocles. "Oedipus the King." Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. Twelfth Edition. New York: Pearson, 2013. 1205-1244.
Open Document