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Tragedy and the Common Man’ Summary

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Every human story could become a tragic story if that story is told as a tragedy.

According to Aristotle the protagonist of a tragedy has a flaw in character, a downfall of their own doing followed by a harsh realization of the tragic error before dying and this evokes a reaction in those who witness it, which is a pity. In the “Tragedy and the Common Man” essay, Miller explains that there is a misconception that only people of nobility and royalty are properly represented in tragedies. He says that the common man can be shown to face just as much tragedy in life as the highest of kings. There is an expectation in the tragedy that the main subject must be of high standing in life. It is likely that when these rules were established by Aristotle, highly-ranking nobility and monarchs, were the only characters in any play or novel. They were the only people who could write or pay others to write about them. Most of the audience were people who watched the plays. Most of them were very poor, and they probably couldn’t read or write and they got to watch plays about wealthy, powerful people facing great pain and suffering.

Today it is different. The common man is still most of the audience but people are seen as just people now. The “leaders” are now seen as human and not superhuman as they once may have been seen. There are countless tragic protagonists in literature and film who are tragic even though they are common people. A flaw and a downfall of one's own doing and a painful realization leading to a final devastating consequence can occur in any life and in any author’s story. Tragedies with common people as protagonists prove this is true when the cathartic effect in the audience is achieved as it is in the film of John Steinbeck’s ​Of Mice and Men, or in Sheakespear’s play​ Romeo and Juliet, and also in personal real-life events.

The film, ​Of Men And Mice, written By John Steinbeck,​ is about two men, George Milton and Lennie Small. This movie shows an example of a common man tragedy. George and Lennie share a dream of buying their own piece of land and turning it into a farm. They are migrant farm workers who travel together. George is small and shrewd and Lennie is strong, large, and has a mental disability, but George takes care of Lennie. George complains that his life would be so much easier if he was on his own. The reader knows that George truly loves Lenny. When Lennie kills a puppy by accident, it leads to a lot of unfortunate things that end in a woman’s death caused by Lennie. When the woman’s husband, Curley, finds out that Lennie killed her, he wants him killed immediately. George takes a pistol from the farm and knows exactly where to find Lennie. They sit together and talk about their future at the farm, George makes him happy with his words and he doses off into a happy state of mind thinking of the future farm. George pulls out the pistol and shoots Lennie in the head. George knows that Lennie would die either way and does not want him to suffer at the hands of Curley. This movie shows an example of common men and tragedy because it is about two poor men working on a farm. Lennie's tragic flaw is his inability to express and control his temper and his childlike personality due to his mental disability. His downfall is from a strong, capable farmhand who is well-liked to a murderer. He realizes his mistake and runs away. George took his life but it was an act of mercy and the tragic result of the downfall and the tragic flaw within Lennie. Arthur Miller says that the kingly are often thought to be interrelated with tragedy because their characters have so much more to be defeated. This was usually the usual subject matter of the literature of the time when a tragedy became known as a tragedy. The common men of this modern world fit perfectly into the tragedy. In this imperfect world, human weaknesses and flaws are just as capable of bringing down a simple husband and father as it is a Mayor, a Premier, or a Prime Minister. There is no need for kingly traits in a tragic character. There only needs to be a flaw, a downfall, a realization, and an unfortunate end for that character that causes a feeling of pity for the subject within the audience or the reader.

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Another example of a common man in a tragedy is found in the play, ​Romeo, and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Romeo has a tragic flaw of acting impulsively and emotionally without thinking. Romeo falls for Juliet at an event he should not have attended. When he finds out she is part of the Capulet family it doesn't stop him from going after her. He ignores the family feud between his family, the Montagues, and hers, the Capulets, and lets the love take over. Romeo knows the damage that it could cause but he continues anyway. Juliet ends up falling in love with Romeo and this story ends as a tragedy because of Romeo’s flaw of being reckless, emotional, and overly romantic to the point of weakness. Juliet fakes her death so she can run away and be free with Romeo, but when Romeo sees her, lifeless, he drinks the potion and dies. Juliet then wakes up and kills herself with Romeo’s dagger. The audience is left shocked and horrified but then very sad and pitiful at such a conclusion. This play demonstrates exactly what Arthur Miller is trying to prove because it includes both, a common man and a woman of nobility.

Personally, the death of a beloved family member is a result of a tragic flaw. A flaw that is courage without fear, or perhaps bravery without caution. It was perhaps selflessness and arrogance to think that he could save a young man who had broken through thin ice on a lake and that he could rescue him. On that day, these tragic flaws lead to the death of a young husband who was also a loving and responsible father, a wonderful son, a cherished brother, and a very special uncle. He certainly would have quickly realized his tragic error and his downfall before his shocking and deeply unfortunate death.

If a character has a flaw in their character, a downfall, and a realization of their error and then meets a terrible ending that creates an effect for the audience then it is a Tragedy. Pity and sadness is the effect and it is called catharsis. That is what a tragedy gives an audience at a play or a movie theatre or the readers of a novel. It probably leaves the audience feeling fortunate in the end because they feel warned about what not to do. This is why tragedies are popular. They allow the audience to feel better about their life when they see others needlessly fail. Arthur Miller states, “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.” (miller P. 2) This quote explains one of the main themes of Arthur Miller's essay.

The tragedy now can have any character that is admired or liked by the audience for whatever reason but it does not have to be a character that is rich or powerful or royal. Literature in this modern age is not all written about the highly privileged of the world as it once was. Stories of the common man and his downfalls are countless in modern entertainment. Arthur Miller was probably just among the first modern writers that wanted to use the classification of Tragedy for his modern-day characters, and people who like to resist change did not want him to do that.

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Tragedy and the Common Man’ Summary. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/tragedy-and-the-common-man-summary/
“Tragedy and the Common Man’ Summary.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/tragedy-and-the-common-man-summary/
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Tragedy and the Common Man’ Summary [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/tragedy-and-the-common-man-summary/
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