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Tragedy in the Works of Arthur Miller and Flannery O’Connor Term Paper

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Updated: Mar 17th, 2022

The author Arthur Miller as analyzed through the book “Death of a sales man” and the author Flannery O’Connor as analyzed through the book “A good man is hard to find” are both similar because the authors are inclined towards tragedy. In other words, their works both end disastrously.

However, the circumstances surrounding these downfalls are very complex and dependent on the dissimilar surroundings that the two writers were focusing on. In Death of salesman, the author talks about a delusional and self obsessed man. However, his tragedy was partly a direct result of his own inadequacies.

Therefore, Miller breaks away from the traditional form of tragedy because the protagonists’ ruin was his own undoing. He was under the misconception that greatness could be achieved merely through one’s personality yet this was not so; such kind of thinking led to his self destruction.

In this regard, the death of the protagonist also causes readers a sense of despair because the main character was not transformed prior to his death. All lessons are to be learnt by the audience only.

On the other hand, author O’Connor focuses on growth or transformation in her main character (Votteler, 53). Initially, the grandmother is a selfish and overbearing individual who wants to bully the whole family into going for a vacation at her choice destination.

Her selfish ways are also seen when she attempts to save her own life during the encounter with the Misfit. However, at the end of the story, grandmother is overcome by grace and soon realizes that she has been living a pretentious life. Therefore, although this play is still a tragedy in that the main character died, the author created a different twist to her character by illustrating that she has undergone a transformation and is now more charitable and graceful.

O’Connor and Miller also resemble one another in their attempt to depict an everyday person. Readers can relate to both types of writings because the characters embody everyday Americans.

Miller and O’ Connor also want to bring back their characters to reality and if this eventually involves some form of violence or even their own demise, then the authors were willing to take it there. In Death of the salesman, Arthur Miller continually illustrates the importance of taking reality seriously through Willy.

Willy asserted that in order to be successful, one should be well liked (Miller, 1949). However, when he soon finds out that this was not insync with reality then he immediately looses hope. Also his continual resistance to technology and the new developments in society put him at odds with it.

He believes that he has more worth if he were dead than if he were alive. Eventually, this despair causes his tragic end. O’Connor also stresses the importance of reality through the grandmother. This protagonist has been living under the illusion that she is the perfect Christian.

She has her mind fixated on her own ways and does not really care about the perspective of the people around. Since grandmother’s head is so deeply separated from reality, the only aggressive way of bringing her back is through an act of violence.

The violent acts of the ‘Misfit’ eventually caused the protagonist to look at herself and realize that she is indeed a mirror image of the hardcore criminal who has attacked them in their trip. Even the murderer remarks that grandmother was meant to be a good person the only thing she needed was to be shot everyday. In other words, O’Connor sacrifices the life of the main character in order to prove a point on reality.

To this author, violence was the only way that grandmother would ever look at herself for who she really is. Likewise, Miller saw that Willy’s end was the only way that readers could identify with the importance of reality (Sandage, 2005).

These writers’ literary works may also be viewed as commentaries on society. Miller wanted to despise the individualistic nature of American culture, corporations and its people.

These entities have become carried away with image/perceptions rather than solid character. Many Americans can identify with the protagonist Willy because salesmanship has permeated all aspects of American’s lives. Everyone seems to be in a continual quest to be the best but this is never really possible for everyone.

Nothing drives this point home like Willy’s situation. Similarly, O’Connor also gives a commentary about society. She wanted to illustrate that most people lack an understanding of true spirituality. They are obsessed with self preservation and may border on being deceitful and egotistical.

The authors also had mostly unlikeable characters in their works. O’Connor chose Grandmother – who was always quite petty and dominating – for a reason. She wanted to illustrate that even the worst of us deserve a little grace.

There were plenty of opportunities for the protagonist to mend her ways and become graceful but she chose not to take up those challenges because of her spiritual blindness.

Many characters in this story also miss critical moments of truth because of this blindness, however, when they finally do, it is clear to realize that even the most unlikeable individuals still deserve grace.

Similarly, Arthur Miller has used an unlikeable character to drive his main point across. Willy thinks that he and his sons are likely to succeed in the business world owing to their greatness.

He thinks that likeability is all one needs to be successful. This grave misconception causes the audience to realize how pitiful Willy is. Furthermore, as the play continues, Willy’s mental state gets further and further away from the norm. He is always resisting change and often questions any new technological developments.

These are all issues that make his character seriously flawed. However, in the midst of all this, the author is still able to make his main point which is that the frantic and often self obsessed American culture has its casualties and never really offers real solutions to problems.

Comparison of O’Connor, Miller and Faulkner

Faulkner is similar to O’Connor in terms of his description of the American South at that time. It may be true that the South may have changed from 1939 when Faulkner wrote “A barn is burning” and 1952 when O’Connor wrote “A good man is hard to find”, nonetheless; these authors were still writing about a region that was rarely the focal point of literary works.

In fact, these writers sparked off a lot of controversy because of this. O’Connor’s protagonist comes from the South and she was representative of what actually goes on in most households there.

Non southerners misunderstood the Grandmother and wrote her off as nothing more than an evil character. However, when a Southerner reads about her, one can easily relate to her because it is likely that the reader also has a relative who is just like Grandmother. In fact, this makes Southerners more sympathetic towards the protagonist in “A good man is hard to find” because they all realize that she means well (Oschshorn, 1990).

Miller and Faulkner are also quite similar because they both utilize protagonists who are not sure about themselves. In Miller’s “ Death of salesman”, Willy is a product of the harsh corporate system that used him down to the last drop then poured him out once he was of no use to them.

His identity is therefore shattered because he can no longer be the salesman that he was so used to being. He is in dire need of curving out a new identity but his inability to do so has caused him his demise. The same thing goes on in William Faulkner’s Barn burning. Sarty is struggling with his identity as well.

He does not know whether to take actions based on loyalty to his father or whether to focus on his own moral principles (Faulkner, 154). This individual is quite confused and even goes through an emotional rollercoaster. At the beginning, Sarty sticks to his family inclinations when he expresses solitude and support to his father.

He stretches this loyalty when he becomes a partial accomplice to his dad’s ill actions by fetching the fuel to be used in lighting the fire. However, he eventually sheds off this identity of a good son by listening to his inner conscience. The story is therefore characterized by a continuous battle to find himself as a person.

Faulkner also resembles O’Connor because protagonists in both narratives get to redeem themselves or to find themselves. Sarty avoids becoming a victim to his father’s manipulations, threats, paranoia and selfish thinking by running away from him.

It is these inadequacies that bring Sarty and the family much discomfort; his father causes them to become poor plus they are always in a state of transit. Eventually, this protagonist sees his dad for who he really is and thus frees himself from such bondage. Similarly, Grandmother also goes through a similar experience by the end of the narrative.

At first, she is driven by her own needs and thinks that she is the ideal Christian. Eventually, she redeems herself when she sees a reflection of herself in the hardcore criminal who had attacked her family (O’Connor, 1955).

Generally, all three writers focused on tragedies but these were dependent on the ideals prevalent at the time of composition i.e. modernist and realist thoughts. Their portrayal of the tragedies was also dependent on their themes and the ends that the authors were trying to achieve at any one time.

Works Cited

Sandage, S. (2005) Born losers: a history of failure in America. Cambridge: HUP

Miller, A. (1949). Death of a salesman. NY: Viking press

O’Connor, F. (1955). A good man is hard to find. NY: Harper

Oschshorn, K. (1990). A cloak of grace: contradictions in a good man is hard to find. Studies in American fiction

Faulkner, W. (1939). Burn Burning: selected short stories of William Faulkner. NY: Modern Library

Votteler, T. (1969). O’Connor, Flannery on her own work. Gale research Inc, 21(5): 1-67

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