The Role and Structure of Greek Tragedy in Philip Roth’s Eli the Fanatic

The Role and Structure of Greek Tragedy in Philip Roth’s Eli the Fanatic

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The Role and Structure of Greek Tragedy in Philip Roth’s Eli the Fanatic

When one’s in pain—physical, mental, or emotional—one always believes it is worse than everyone else’s. Yet when an acquaintance bemoans a bad day, one still manages to wave it off: it could not be worse than one’s own pain. Even if it is a past pain and there are only scars, those scars are tenderer than the friend’s current sores. Individuals forget that anguish can be shared and another’s intervention can diminish it. This theme has been around for millennia and was particularly explored in the works of Greek tragedians. In Eli, the Fanatic Philip Roth employs structural and thematic elements of Greek tragedy to illustrate that human beings can be responsible for each other’s suffering.

One of the essential elements of Greek tragedy, that of the chorus, can be filled in by Ted, Shirley, and even Miriam. They are the residents of Woodenton who call Eli. Traditionally, the chorus plays an active role and can be a sounding and advising board for the protagonist. Ted in particular tries to advise Eli and, like the customary chorus, he represents the masses, the people, in this particular case the town of Woodenton. As Ted informs Eli, “The Jewish members of the community appointed me, Artie, and Harry to

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see what could be done” (276). The Greek chorus, in Greek tragedy, represents the masses and often serves to counterpoint the protagonist, and Ted’s near-fanatical grudge

against the Yeshiva certainly counterpoints with Eli’s growing benevolence toward them. In Roth’s context, the residents of Woodenton, the Chorus, also serve as a

counterpoint to Eli’s guilt. Eli becomes concerned over the Greenie’s happiness a...


... middle of paper ...


...s Eli who, as he awakens to the laws of Gods, also becomes aware that just as there are laws beyond those he preaches, there is pain beyond his own. Greek tragedies were successful in that they taught viewers how to extend their compassion, and Roth duplicates this motive. He suggests that if one is willing to accept the laws of God, then one can also help others. It is an idealistic message perhaps, but when one is suffering, one wants to believe that others are concerned, even if they don’t physically share the pain.









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Works Cited

McDonald, Marianne. “Seamus Heaney’s Cure at Troy: Politics and Poetry.” Classics

Ireland. 1996. University College Dublin. 13 Feb. 2006.
ssics/classicsinfo/96/McDonald96.html>

Roth, Philip. Goodbye, Columbus. NY: Vintage International, 1959.

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