Sophocles writes, "Tiresias: That's your truth? Now hear mine: honor the curse your own mouth spoke. From this day on, don't speak to me or to your people here. You are the plague. You poison your own land" (Sophocles, 2004, p. 47). Each of these men has positive qualities, but their tragic flaw outweighs these qualities, and leads to pity and their downfall in the end. In addition, their tragic ends have tragic consequences on those around them, which is another element these two works have in common.
It is interesting to see the similarities in the plotting of these dramas as well. Essentially, they follow the tragic character from a turning point in their lives to the culmination of their problems and how they choose to face them. Their families and loved ones are left behind to sort out their lives without them, while they take the "easy" way out, suicide or banishment. With these choices, they evoke pity in the audience, but they also show their underlying weak characters, that ultimately cannot deal with adversity and defeat.
The differences between the two characters are based in the time they are written and in the author's differences. Willy is a modern man who seems never to have gotten the breaks in life he thinks he deserves, while Oedipus is a dynamic leader who seems born to lead and rule. He will never admit defeat, while Willy always seems to see failure around the corner. He tries to be an optimist, but he is never honest with himself or his family. Here, the two characters share another commonality. Both have evidence to indicate they are the root of their own problems, but neither will face this until the very end of the play. Willy cannot accept that his family does not care about his failures, they love him anyway, while Oedipus cannot face that the oracle's prophecies are true, and he has created a ghastly situation. Both men cannot face their flaws, which makes them even more tragic figures. They evoke pity in the audience, which is the one thing they have both been attempting to avoid, which makes them even more pathetic, as well.
These differences and similarities are interesting to contemplate, considering the great time distance separating the two plays. While the characters and situations are different, the ultimate conclusion indicates that technology and language may change and grow, but ultimately, people have been the same for eons. There will always be tragic figures like Willy and Oedipus, who create their own problems and then cannot face them. There will always be characters that evoke pity and even a bit of revulsion in the audience, and the problems that face family and friends are not so different throughout time.
In conclusion, both of these dramatic works employ tragedy as their ultimate theme and purpose. These two characters are extremely tragic - not because of their fates, but because of their flaws. They are tragic characters set in tragic situations, and so they embody both Miller's and Aristotle's definition of tragedy. A tragic play is not just sad; it is a complicated process involving plot, character, and situation. Both of these plays are true tragedies, because their characters and their loved ones are affected for all time, and they cannot admit their own tragic mistakes have led to their fate. Tragedies are not easy to watch, but they evoke emotions and pity in the audience, which means they may resonate with an audience even more than other forms of drama. Ultimately, who does not feel sorry for Willy and his wasted life, or Oedipus and his tragic mistakes? Pity and drama go hand in hand, and these two characters prove that.
Miller, Arthur. (1962). Death of a salesman. Masters of Modern Drama. Haskell M. Block and Robert G. Shedd, ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Miller, Arthur. (2005). Tragedy and the common man. Retrieved from the Virginia Community College System Web site: http://vccslitonline.cc.va.us/tragedy/milleressay.htm24 Feb. 2007.
Palmer, R.H. (1992). Tragedy and tragic theory: An analytical guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Sophocles. (2004). The Oedipus plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Kolonos, and…