The representation of tragedy today has adapted itself to more humanistic, base and symbolic concerns. Often, they are commentaries on society just as much as they are on the nature of man. Although O' Neill insists that his play "The Hairy Ape" is not a tragedy, but rather a dark comedy, the play follows the definition of a tragedy. The basic points that make up a tragedy still remain the same, even if they have to be slightly modified to be relevant to today's audience. Despite this, The Hairy Ape bears a striking resemblance to the quintessential Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex.
The only direct challenge to the Aristotelian definition of tragedy is the portrayal of the tragic hero as not only not being a "noble" in the traditional sense, but usually as a working class, common man. Arthur Miller discusses this belief in his essay "Tragedy and the Common Man". In it, he insists that "we never hesitate to attribute to the well placed and the exalted the very same mental processes as the lowly" and "if the exaltation of tragic action were truly the property of the high bred character alone, it is inconceivable that the mass of mankind should cherish tragedy above all other forms, let alone be capable of understanding it"(Miller 1162).
According to Aristotle, a tragedy concerns a person of noble stature. In the modern sense, as explained by Miller, "noble" does not necessarily mean royalty or upper class, merely that the tragic protagonist "is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing - his sense of personal dignity"(1162). Yank is willing to do this. His sense of justice is primitive in that he is not concerned with the consequences of his reve...
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... leads him back to the realization that he was the criminal that he had been pursuing.
Works Cited and Consulted
Carpenter, Frederic I. Eugene O’Neill. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1964.
Clark, Marden J. “Tragic Effect in The Hairy Ape.” Modern Drama 10 1968
Egri, Peter. “'Belonging' Lost: Alienation and Dramatic Form in Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape” in Critical Essays on Eugene O’Neill. James J. Martine, ed. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1984.
Miller, Arthur. "Tragedy and the Common Man." Weales, Gerald, ed. Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism. New York: Penguin Books 1996
O’Neill, Eugene. “The Hairy Ape” in Four Plays by Eugene O’Neill. New York: Signet Classic, 1998.
Vernant, J.-P. “Tensions and Ambiguities in Greek Tragedy.” In J.-P. Vernant and P. Vidal-Naquet, eds., Tragedy and Myth in Ancient Greece. Sussex, N. J. 1981.
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