Aeschylus - the Oresteia (Agamemnon, Libation Bearers and Eumenides)
The Oresteia offers the reader a close and intensive immersion with a truly pained universe of suffering: each play still has at its core a sense of flush of promise and vibrancy of Athens that was pushing forth and evolving into greatness. Even so, the author Aeschylus is able to captures a sense of the undercurrents of the primal vengeance that still defined this society. Each of the plays has in a common a strong pillar of the humanity and the lack of humanity that needs to be held in balance as the events spin and unfold. One could argue that the notion of suffering into truth is something which defines each of the plays in the trilogy. For instance, the first play thrusts the reader into a world which has been largely defined by the suffering of the Trojan War and the traumatic scandals of the House of Atreus.
The plays demonstrate how the history of this period and this region have been stained by acts of violence and vengeance in both personal and in private manners, calling forth further misery and grudges in what appears to be a never-ending cycle. Agamemnon depicts the killing of the title character by Clytaimnestra to avenge the sacrifice of her daughter killed for a strong result in the war of Troy. These acts of retaliation only continue in the trilogy, with Orestes killing his mother as a means of retaliation for the death of his father. One of the greatest discoveries of the work, as blood-soaked as it is, is that the suffering the individuals have to experience is only exacerbated by the violence they wage on others.
Eugene O'Neill - Mourning Becomes Electra
O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra capitalizes on the theme of the proud family with a lineage carved in suffering and denial, focusing on the Mannon family. The Mannon family encapsulates old New England money as they are a family of community leaders, affluent shipbuilders and military heroes. However, dark secrets besiege the family's past that is evocative of the House of Atreus in its sense of darkness and suffering shrouded in secrecy. The as the reader progresses through this play, it becomes apparent that the house is built on a common thread of hate and resentment. The hate is rings strongly throughout the play and strong evokes the sense of Greek tragedy present in the House of Atreus. Consider one of the excerpts by the character Lavinia, as she indirectly describes what is plaguing the Mannon family: "I love everything that grows simply-- up toward the sun-- everything that's straight and strong! I hate what's warped and twists and eats into itself and dies for a lifetime in shadow." Essentially the Mannon family is that dark thing that eats itself and fester in shadow. It is an entity which has begun to attack itself, and which is decaying past the accolades and successes the externally it looks like the family has achieved.
Reading the play is in a sense an exploration of one's darkest secrets and it essentially means that the tragedy forces the reader to take a long look into the most uncomfortable aspects of suicide, incest and other forms of depravity and personal suffering.
The Book of Job (preferably the Stephen Mitchell edition)
I had never read the Book of Job before, even though it is one of the most critically acclaimed biblical text. The text explores the role that suffering plays in human life and showcases the story of Job who is tested by both God and the devil. One of the painful aspects of this story is that it demonstrates that so much of the suffering that Job has to endure is as a result of the fact that there is this contest waged between God and Satan: the text does serve to demonstrate that Job, in many respects, is being used as a pawn in certain regards by these two powers. One of the most pivotal themes of the entire book is the desire to understand why God allows people to suffer -- particularly people who are considered blameless.
What's fascinating about the text is that the reader sees Job and his colleagues having a deep theological talk about...
It forces the reader to wonder if all the suffering that human beings have to endure is a result of mere amusements between God and Satan. As humans it's common to try and find some reason in suffering and to justify or better understand why God allows people to suffer: however, as one watches Job do this over and over again, it becomes apparent that the loss and the pain that Job endures is without reason or validity. The reader is well aware of the fact that Job has not committed any wrong-doing to warrant the pure unadulterated misery that he has gone through. The final word on the matter is that God asserts that the discussion of divine justice is not even something that humans can comprehend: this becomes a means of justification. Ultimately, the Book of Job offers up a disturbing portrayal of suffering and the role and lack of reason that suffering often plays in an individual's life.
James Joyce - Grace (The Dubliners)
This short story, written in 1905 is one which demonstrates without a doubt the strong role of faith and religious conversion in the lives of the Irish. The divisions of the narrative seem to both evoke and reject the notion of redemption, but still continually explore it. Mr. Kernan is a character who represents the man who has lost his faith, and has fallen -- both literally and metaphorically -- within the story. In this story the reader sees how the truth has to be pulled out of the characters, and how people are often abandoned by those close to them during their time of need. Kernan in many ways can be seen as the catalyst of the narrative: he engages in a steady downwards spiral. So much is presented to the reader in this short story: the place of class and refinement, the place of duty and obligation, and the difference between going to Church and falling down drunk in a pub.
One can even read the story and interpret it as a scathing indictment of the Church, one which accuses the Church of being a place where healing cannot occur. Ultimately, the story asks the question about what grace is and forces one to explore the multiple meanings of the word, asking the fundamental question if humans can be saved using the power of God.
Archibald McLeash - J.B.
This play is clearly based on the Biblical text of the story of Job and the nature of human suffering. One of the most remarkable aspects of the play that the reader immediately discovers is that it is written in verse and the major theme of the play -- suffering -- is based on the lived experience of the author. McLeash was one who witnessed many horrors during the first two world wars, such as the horrors which were particular to World War II: the holocaust and the atom bombs in Japan. McLeash appears to be sorting out his own feelings about these questions. In fact, the fundamental question presented in this book, is the question that is posed throughout the biblical text of the Book of Job, which is why bad things happen to good people. McLeash essentially tells the story of a modern day Job who is stripped of his family and his wealth but who will not renounce his faith or his relationship with God.
One of the most remarkable things about the play is that the central character discovers that justice is non-existent and that happiness and suffering are often not deserved. One of the central discoveries of the finding is that love is a choice while the nature of hope and of God are explored. Another fascinating aspect of this play as a reaction to or adaptation of the Book of Job, is that J.B. ends up denouncing both God and Satan, offering human love as the only means of offering some soothing aspect of human suffering: MacLeish seems to also offer a harsh criticism of human suffering with the introduction of the Marxist, the priest and the psychologist at the end. One of the overwhelming strengths of the play is how original and imaginative it is. There is a pervasive sense of alienation that JB struggles with and the notion of how devastating it is to witness human sorrow. The play also notably offers up a strong survey of the variety of various notions of god and how largely many of them are inadequate.
William Shakespeare - Othello
Othello is one of the most famous and most notable works of William Shakespeare and is one which demonstrates the role in which tragedy and…
4. Murder and Execution: DD -- The Young Man pleads to the blood thirsty crowd: "If you hang me to this lantern, will that make you see any clearer?" The demands of the crowd for more blood are thus momentarily stifled by the good sense of their next victim: he points out the erroneous rationale that leads them to murder and execution: it is no way to reach an ideal. AG --