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Transcript of Redefining Tragedy
Although the tragic hero in a modern tragedy does not have to be in a position of nobility, they must be in a position of good fortune in relation to others at the start of the tragedy
(In beginning of
The Great Gatsby
, the hero, Jay Gatsby, is a decorated war hero who lives in a mansion in East Egg New York.)
By Zachary Jordan, Amber Arnold, & Bailey Rowden
Tragedy is a form of literature or drama that attempts to recreate human suffering in order to invoke a relieved pleasure, or catharsis, from the audience (Banham, 1998).
The origins of tragedy are disputed, but the form was first described by Aristotle in his work "Poetics", circa 335 BC.
Since then, the tragedy has gone through several phases, most notably including Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy.
Early tragedies had a specific emotional arc that relied on Fortune's Wheel; the protagonist (also known as the tragic hero) would begin in a position of power, with some kind of good fortune. Then, through their own tragic flaw or error in judgement, the tragic hero would bring about a reversal in fortune that would result in their downfall from power.
The hero's downfall would end in catastrophe, punishing the hero with death or extreme loss.
Literature in the modern era has expanded upon early definitions of tragedy, and has become less strict.
Exemplifying this change are the works of Arthur Miller, whose "Tragedy of the Common Man" described the need for tragedy that, instead of focusing on the nobility, could use the common man's struggles as its centerpiece.
Miller attempted to fulfill his need through his works "Death of a Salesman" and "The Crucible", which centered around the lives of ordinary people and tragic circumstances that could plague them.
Miller's works, as well as other modern tragedies, illustrate through their shifts from tradition that tragedy needs to be redefined for the modern era.
The Great Gatsby
Jay Gatsby had
a fortunate life
, capable of possessing nearly anything he could ever want, with the exception of Daisy Buchanan. Gatsby became so fixated on trying to get Daisy to fall in love with him, that it soon became an obsession. He planned elaborate schemes and threw lavish parties in a desperate attempt to capture Daisy's attention. His infatuation with Daisy is considered to be his tragic flaw. Gatsby's
reversal of fortune
begins after Daisy commits manslaughter, hitting the wife of a mechanic while driving Gatsby's car. In an attempt to protect Daisy, Gatsby took responsibility of the wreck, claiming to be the driver. Later, Gatsby faces his downfall, being murdered by the grief-stricken mechanic. Gatsby
: his wealth, his life, his dream, all
due to his infatuation with Daisy Buchanan
This picture book written by Dr. Seuss is a great example of a modern tragedy. The tragic hero in the story, The Onceler, directly causes his downfall. He has a
tragic flaw, greed,
that results in the destruction of his environment. The Onceler chops down all the trees in his area in an effort to make a large profit. In effect, all its inhabitants, such as the Swans who couldn’t sing due to the smoke his machines created, are forced out. The tragic hero
not only affects another character but his community
at large, leaving it barren and polluted. The Onceler also has a
before the book ends, as he is completely
alone and regretful
. He understands how detrimental his mistakes were and has faced their consequences. The Lorax is an effective modern tragedy because its plot complies with our rules requiring the hero to have a tragic flaw that leads to their downfall as well as having the hero undergo a realization of their role in the events.
Death of a Salesman
This play which was written by Arthur Miller in the early 20th century is one of the first examples of Modern Tragedy. Willy Loman’s tragic flaw is his
distorted image of “The American Dream”
. Due to his prioritization of reputation over hard work, he develops skewed morals that cause him to be unsuccessful in his career and harm his relationships. As a result of his failure as a salesman, he is fired from his job. Closely following, he kills himself in a futile attempt to provide his family with life insurance money.
His death serves as his downfall and his family faces its consequences
; this combined with his reversal of fortune make Death of a Salesman an effective modern tragedy.
Reversal of Fortune
The most effective modern tragedies always feature a reversal of fortune that is directly preventable by one or more characters, including the tragic hero.
(The reversal of fortune in
Death of a Salesman
occurs when Willie's career and dreams for his children begin to fall apart)
The tragic hero in a modern tragedy should have a tragic flaw that plays a direct role in their downfall.
(Alexander Hamilton's tragic flaw in
is his ambitious pride, which leads to problems in his personal and political lives, including the duel that leads to his death.)
In modern tragedy, the tragic hero must experience a downfall that results in significant physical, material, or emotional loss. Often, effective tragedies incorporate punishments greater than the tragic hero deserves.
, the Once-ler falls from his ownership of a business empire to financial ruin after he destroys the environment.)
In an effective modern tragedy, the tragic hero must come to understand their errors in judgement and how their tragic flaw led to their downfall.
(After destroying his financial success, the Once-ler realizes that his actions destroyed the habitats of many animals, prompting him to spend his existence contemplating his demise.)
The downfall of the tragic hero must have meaningful effects on the world of the story, including the characters close to the hero and/or the public at large.
(Alexander Hamilton's death in Hamilton causes Aaron Burr to realize his wrongdoing, motivates Eliza, his wife, to dedicate herself to public service, and incites mourning from the general public.)
Modern tragedy is most effective when the situation of the tragic hero incites sympathy from the reader.
is a new Broadway musical which centers around the life of Alexander Hamilton, but is framed in a multicultural context so that the musical themes and casting choices represent modern America. In addition to being a superb musical, it is also a great example of how tragedy can exist in history. We first see Alexander Hamilton
as a promising young graduate of King's College;
continues to gain good fortune
through his participation in the Revolutionary War and in the first US Cabinet as Secretary of the Treasury. His reversal of fortune comes when his
causes him to become too involved in his work and less invested in his family; this leads to an extramarital affair which eventually
ruins his reputation and jeopardizes his marriage
. He also sets a bad example for his son through his stubbornness, which leads to his son's death in a duel. After this,
Hamilton realizes how his headstrong nature led to the destruction of his family life and political reputation
, and resigns himself to quiet life in uptown NY; his ultimate demise comes when he accepts a duel with his rival and dies,
leaving his fellow founding fathers and his wife to mourn him
and ponder his contributions to the new America.