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Oedipus rex VS Death of a Salesman

Comparing different aspects of the two works
by

Liz Marcil

on 14 May 2013

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Transcript of Oedipus rex VS Death of a Salesman

Greek Vs Modern Tragedy: A comparison
of Oedipus Rex and Death Of a Salesman In the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus is the main character. He is an important and noble man; he is the king of Thebes. Because of his royal status, the tragic events that have occurred in his life affect the well-being of his nation and of the people. Oedipus` fate although unbeknownst to him, has been decided by the Gods even before he was born. In the beginning, because no one has come to recognize yet that Oedipus killed the former king, the Gods are showing their anger by allowing Thebes to rot. The crops are dying and people are suffering horribly all because of one man`s action and an other's fate. Death of a Salesman, a play written by Arthur Miller in the 1940`s, is the story of Willy Loman, an older gentleman who is having trouble accepting his fate in his old age. He has been let go from his job and he is disappointed with his life. His tragic situation, unlike in Oedipus Rex, does not at all impact the well being of the country or even the city where he lives. The only people affected by Willy`s demise are his immediate family members. The difference: In Greek tragedy, the main character is nobility or royalty, and therefore the nation state is at risk because of the main character's tragic situation. In modern tragedy, the main character is an average person, and therefore there are few people impacted by their tragic circumstances. Points that will be explored
and compared:
The social status of the main character
The state that the main characters are in when the play begins and ends.
The main characters' lack of self-awareness
The way the main characters reflect upon or learn about their true selves
Whether or not each deserved their fate
The main characters' fatal flaw
Note: in the comparison bubbles, the left side contains information about the Greek tragedy (Oedipus Rex) and the right side contains information about the modern tragedy (Death of a Salesman). In the opening scene of Oedipus Rex, Oedipus the king enters and is confused by what has happened to the city of Thebes. He does not understand why "Thebes is tossed on a murdering sea and can not lift her head from the death surge" (Sophocles, 364) and this troubles him. Although what is happening to Thebes is ultimately because of his fate Oedipus does not know it. By the end of the story, Oedipus is filled with grief and shame because he has come to realize what he has done. Similarly, Willy Loman enters the stage of Death of a Salesman in a state of utter confusion. He is telling his wife how "all of a sudden [he] couldn't drive any more" (Miller, 670) and this is worrying him. Unlike Oedipus, Willy's difficulties are not impacting the nation state, or anything else, for that matter. Other than his immediate family, no one is being impacted negatively by Willy's tragic situation.
Willy's story, like Oedipus', ends in shame. He kills himself so that his family will receive his $20 000 life insurance policy, which is a shameful act. The state that the main characters are in when the play begins and ends. The social status of the main character Oedipus, plagued by the prophecy that said he "should lie with [his] own mother" and "be [his] father's murderer" (Sophocles, 385), fled from his city to try and escape this fate. Unfortunately for Oedipus, he was actually born in Thebes and not in Corinth , the city from which he fled. This led Oedipus to mistakenly believe that he was en route to avoiding a future filled with betrayal and shameful incest. Oedipus lived his entire life believing that his parents were the king and queen of Corinth and that his prophecy could be avoided by leaving the city, but he was wrong to challenge the Gods' will. Oedipus realizes his true identity near the end of the tragedy and punishes himself for what he has unknowingly done by gouging out his own eyes. Willy lives his entire life believing that he is a well-liked salesman who is bound to make it big some day. He passes this attitude on to his sons, although it is only really adopted by his youngest son, Happy. Willy does not recognize that he is just an average man; one that will never make it to the top of a large corporation or break records of any sort. He gets fired from his job and he refuses to take an honest job working for his neighbor Charley. Instead, Willy frets about his lack of income and in the end, he ends his own life so that his family, and especially Biff, can do great things with their lives because of his hefty insurance policy. Unlike Oedipus, Willy never realizes who he really is as a person, even until the day that he dies. The main characters' lack of self-awareness Oedipus truly does not know that he has failed to escape from his prophetic fate. He thought that he was able to change his life's path by moving to Corinth, but he is wrong, and he recognizes his mistake far too late. As Oedipus slowly comes to the realization that the prophecy has come true, he digs and searches for answers to make sure that there has not been yet another misunderstanding. Oedipus sends for the shepherd and the messenger; both men who were involved in saving Oedipus from the mountain as a baby. It was Oedipus' own actions that unveiled the truth about himself. It was Oedipus who requested that the Delphi oracle be consulted to solve Thebes' sickness and Oedipus who called back the shepherd and the messenger so that he could know the truth about his past. Oedipus wanted to confirm his fate and he did so by his own will. Willy Loman is completely different than Oedipus in this regard; he never actively seeks answers about his past or his current state and this seems to suit him fine. Willy seems to not mind being oblivious to how people truly view him and to how he has come to be in the place that he is in. Unlike Oedipus, Willy reflects upon the few things in his life that have caused him to truly feel guilty, such as cheating on his wife while on a business trip in Boston. Willy never actually discusses the impacts that this guilt has had on him, but the fact that he still imagines it years later shows that it still bothers him. In the end though, Willy still does not recognize his true identity: an average salesman. The way the main characters reflect upon or learn about their true identities Oedipus' fate was destined for him even before the day that he was born. As the legend tells it, Oedipus' birth father, Laios, had a curse put on him after he abducted and raped the king's son, Chrysippus. The prophecy said that if he were to father a child, that child would one day kill him and then lay with, and have children by, his wife (the child's own mother). Oedipus was born shortly thereafter and his parents left him on top of Mount Cithaeron to die in order to prevent this prophecy from coming true. Contrary to Laios' plan, Oedipus was rescued by a Shepherd and given to Merope and Polybus, the queen and king of Corinth, to raise as their own son. When he learned of the prophecy later, Oedipus did everything in his power to prevent it from coming true. Sadly, Oedipus' will could not outweigh wishes of the Gods. Although Oedipus never did anything to deserve his fate, he succumbed to it in the end. Did each man deserve his fate? Willy Loman absolutely deserved his fate. As a man who was raised shortly after the industrial revolution- and therefore the economic boom- he would have been raised thinking that it wasn't so hard any more to make yourself something magnificent. Willy took this to heart, and hoped to be something great until the day that he died. His whole life revolved around money: how much he was making, how much was needed to pay the bills, how much other men made, the lack of income that Biff and Happy have, and finally, the fact that his family would receive $20 000 from life insurance if he killed himself. He even died with money on his mind, and the fact that he took his OWN life to get it, proves that he truly did deserve his fate. Oedipus' arrogance is his fatal flaw that leads him to ineffective decision making. Arrogance describes an individual who has an exaggerated sense of self and someone who is proud. Oedipus exhibits arrogance when he leaves home, listens to the Delphic oracle, and runs away from Corinth without consulting with his "parents". He expresses arrogance when he kills a man (whom he resembles) on his way to Thebes, despite knowing his prophesied fate of killing his father. Oedipus shows arrogance when he marries a woman despite a prophesied fate of marrying his mother. He is arrogant in nature when he speaks to his people, reminding them that he was the man to save Thebes from the Sphinx, by declaring that "[he] must bring what is dark to light" (Sophocles, 367) once more. Oedipus is convinced for the majority of the play, because of his arrogant nature, that the prophecy is not and cannot be true. It was this doubt and denial that made the truth even harder for Oedipus to discover in the end. Willy Loman's ultimate tragic flaw is also arrogance. Willy is an insecure guy who tries to make himself feel better by lying to himself and his family. In his world of delusion, Willy is a successful and well-liked salesman. He disguises his profound anxiety and self-doubt with extreme arrogance. At several points throughout the play, it is evident that Willy is unable to maintain this image of confidence, so he despairs and pleads with successful people around him for guidance and support. Despite his efforts, it becomes clear that Willy Loman is not popular, well liked, or even good at his job. In fact, he was never was. Now an older man, Willy can no longer drive competently or sell enough to pay his bills.Willy's final grasp at self worth is the idea that he is still worth something when he is dead: the $20 000 life insurance policy. The ultimate tragic flaw
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