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Tragedy: The Cause of Mourning Term Paper

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Updated: Dec 13th, 2019


The life of an individual is a combination of their physical and emotional elements. As a result of this, life is characterized by, among others, experiences that yield varying levels of excitement. Such excitements have significant impacts on the individual’s quality of life. For example, they can improve the quality of life or make it worse.

Sadness and joy are emotions that are brought about by different experiences in an individual’s life. According to Freud (254), tragedy is one of the experiences that have an impact on an individual’s emotional state. In his writings, Freud argues that tragedy causes individuals to experience grief and, consequently, lapse into periods of mourning.

In this essay, the author examines mourning as a fundamental component of one’s emotional state. The following is the thesis statement that guides this essay:

Tragic moments in an individual’s life result in mourning, which is exhibited differently in different people.

In order to determine the veracity of the thesis statement, the author of this essay employs a comparative analysis of various texts characterized by tragic episodes. The first primary text is a comic book by Art Speigelman.

The other primary text is an account of the Nazi’s actions during Hitler’s reign in Germany. The two texts illustrate the tragedy that was the holocaust. The author of this essay analyzes how the two texts depict the issue of mourning and tragic events in the lives of different people.

The essay commences with an analysis of the various notions that are associated with mourning. In this regard, the paper hypothesizes that there are cases where individuals do not complete the mourning process.

To this end, the author relies on the sentiments presented by scholars in a Psychoanalysis and Politics Symposium (and cited in Psychoanalysis and Politics). The scholars suggest that certain traumatic symptoms illustrate an incomplete mourning process.

According to Rando (par. 1), mourning is a phenomenon that ought to be regarded as work. As a result of this, the essay examines the holistic perspective of mourning in the context of work. In addition, the essay examines the sentiments of Freud (243).

Separately, Freud defines mourning and melancholy, analyzing the similarities and differences between the two phenomena. In this regard, the difference between the two phenomena is outlined in this essay.

Lastly, the essay takes a look into the views of LaCapra (698). LaCapra creates a distinction between absence and loss. The two phenomena are closely related to mourning, and this link is brought to fore by this scholar.

The Different Notions of Mourning

According to Psychoanalysis and Politics (par. 1), mourning is a private affair. The feelings and experiences associated with this phenomenon are better understood by the individual who has been through a tragedy. The argument is an illustration that there are different notions associated with mourning. Lageman (301) argues that people mourn due to the loss of something or someone special to their lives.

The loss may include the death of a loved one, losing a job, or the death of a pet. In such cases of loss, Lageman (302) points out that the experience is usually tragic and causes trauma in the affected person. It is important to mention that the person affected by a tragedy, and who is mourning, is referred to as a mourner.

According to Psychoanalysis and Politics (par. 1), mourning results in a shift in the ‘egos’ of the mourner. The shift of the ego is one of the symptoms used to indicate that an individual is in mourning and is yet to complete the mourning process.

Depending on the object or person lost, a mourner’s ego, “re-visits the different aspects of loss” (Psychoanalysis and Politics par. 1). One of the notions of mourning results from this shift in ego in the mourner’s world.

Another notion associated with the process of mourning is that it requires recognition (Psychoanalysis and Politics par. 2). An example of such a situation is evident in Vladek, a character in the text by Spiegelman (Spiegelman 23). In the text, the character keeps emphasizing that his second wife left him and intends to take his fortune.

However, Vladek is evidently traumatized by the tragedy he has gone through. Consequently, he feels the need to for attention by seeking emotional support from his remaining relatives. The surviving relatives happen to be his son and daughter in-law. According to Psychoanalysis and Politics,

“…the trauma is only completed in the third phase, when the adult acts towards the child as if nothing distressing or painful had happened, thus depriving the event that took place of its reality (…) trauma is overwhelming in its magnitude” (par. 2).

In the case cited above, Vladek sees the need to complete his mourning by seeking ‘parental comfort’ form his son (Friedman 256). Under normal circumstances, a son is expected to get comfort from their parents.

However, this is not the case with Vladek, who does it the other way round. On the flip side, Art seeks professional help to assist him complete his mourning (Spiegelman 43). In both cases, the notion that mourning requires recognition is exhibited clearly.

Another notion of mourning is that it binds the community together. It brings members of the community close to each other. One such instance is in the case of Albert Speer (cited in Jewish Virtual Library). According to Jewish Virtual Library (par. 1), Speer voluntarily confesses to the crimes that he perpetuated during his stay in the Nazi army. He did so during the trials that followed the holocaust in post-Nazi Germany.

The trials acted as a way of mending the rift between the Nazi criminals and the victims of the war. According to Psychoanalysis and Politics (par. 4), the trauma associated with a tragedy causes a society to drift apart. Consequently, there is need for closure to ensure the mourning process is complete.

Another notion of mourning is that it occurs in different stages (Psychoanalysis and Politics par. 6). The moment that one experiences a tragic loss, trauma is introduced. However, depending on the emotional strength of the mourner, the mourning process exhibits itself in different phases. The different stages may vary from one individual to the other depending on, among others, their emotional threshold.

The expected behavior from a person who has experienced such a loss is that they will have sad expressions. However, Rothberg (662) illustrates that Art satirizes his mourning by making use of comics. In this regard, the mourner is yet to complete their mourning process.

The Jewish Virtual Library (par. 3), on the other hand, explains that the holocaust was one of the phases that Hitler was going through as he mourned the death of Germans during the Second World War. According to the library, a significant number of Germans in Hamburg were killed in a bomb attack during the summer of 1944.

The loss of so many loved ones was a tragedy to the entire country, and especially to the military. In the first stage of their mourning, the Nazis preferred to revenge by killing the Jews. However, not all people go through the same stages of mourning. For example, Vladek opts to mask his sorrow by marrying another woman and starting a new life (Spiegelman 17).

Mourning as Work

According to Rando (par. 1), tragic events in the lives of people result in the expenditure of their emotional and physical energies. However, in most cases, mourning is not regarded as work. Rando (par. 1) points out that many people regard work as the strenuous activities that include digging.

Emotional strain is not regarded as work at all. While making reference to Erick Linderman, Rando describes mourning as work in the sense that it entails “the tasks and process that you must complete successfully in order to resolve your grief” (Rando par. 1).

The sentiments brought forth by Rando (par. 1) imply that mourning is a hurdle that people must resolve in a healthy manner. In this regard, it is expected that a mourner should engage all their mental and physical faculties in overcoming the tragic experiences in their life through mourning.

When mourning is observed from such a perspective, then it comes out as work. The tragedy that occurred during Hitler’s reign is an illustration of how one ‘works’ through mourning to overcome a tragedy.

In his comic books, Muas I and II, Spiegelman (34) illustrates the tragedy that befell his father while in the concentration camps. The illustration is in form of a flashback of Vladek’s account of the crude torture he underwent while at Auschwitz.

The comic book demonstrates that Vladek was evidently hurt by the information that his wife was undergoing untold torture in the female concentration camp. Spiegelman (44) reveals that Vladek’s wife eventually died.

In the case of Vladek, Spiegelman (29) illustrates that he resorted to marrying another woman. In addition, he involves himself in activities aimed at distracting him from the loss of his family and business.

The emotional pressure of this loss is evident on Vladek. In this regard, Rando (par. 3) argues that an individual who has suffered a tragic loss is expected to work emotionally to accommodate the absence of a loved one.

A similar comparison can be made in the case of Speer (Jewish Virtual Library par. 1), who believes he has lost his morals. A former soldier in Hitler’s army, he was made to believe that he was fighting for his country.

In the depositions he made during his trials, Speer (Jewish Virtual Library par. 4) reveals that he came to realize that the war against the Jews had nothing to do with making Germany a better country. According to him, Hitler was using the soldiers to fight the Jews for his personal gains.

The deposition made by Albert Speer indicates that he had undergone some form of emotional depletion, hence the guilt that forced him to confess his crimes (Jewish Virtual Library, par. 4). In this regard, mourning is evident since there is emotional depletion, as suggested by Rando (par. 5).

Such emotional depletions are capable of making an individual fail to accomplish simple tasks. One such instance is in the case of Vladek, who has to spend the summer with his son after the departure of his second wife.

Mourning is also viewed as work since it involves physical contributions to someone who is mourning. Such contributions are made by members of the community (Rando par. 5). A comparison to this end can be made by taking a look at the experiences of both Vladek and Art. Whereas Vladek has lost his wife, Art has lost his entire family. Spiegelman (18) argues that Vladek had to marry another woman after the death of his first wife.

However, given that he is still mourning, Art’s father demands a lot from his second wife. The demands raised become tedious to the extent that the wife leaves him for a while (Spiegelman 20). The departure of Vladek’s second wife forces his son to spend time with him.

In such instances, the work of mourning is extended to the surroundings of the individual as proposed by Rando (par. 5). Similarly, Art’s mourning drives him to seek professional help from a counselor. The professional invests his time and energy to try and help Art overcome his loss (Spiegelman 40).

Mourning and Melancholia

In the process of developing his works on narcissism, Freud defines mourning and melancholia separately. Freud defines the former as “the regular reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction (which) has taken the place of one (…) such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal, and so on” (243).

Freud is of the opinion that melancholia borders on a similar definition. However, the two are distinct components. Freud (243) considers melancholia as an extension of the process of mourning.

According to Hirsch (12), people respond to tragedy in a manner that they may not be aware of at the moment of their loss. Such a subconscious response to tragic losses is what the Hirsch refers to as melancholia. Hirsch (12) points to the tragic events surrounding Art’s life.

As an individual who has lost his entire family, the expectation is that they will depict sadness. However, that is not the case given that Art develops a comic book to illustrate his experiences. Such an action represents a subconscious response to a tragedy (Friedman 275).

For a prisoner of war living in an environment characterized by torture, Vladek is obviously traumatized. According to Spiegelman (37), Vladek’s experiences in the detention camps have left him with emotional scars that force him to change his behavior. He develops an unusual stinginess with his property, as illustrated by his insistence on having his financial records scrutinized thoroughly.

According to Freud, melancholia is one of the initial phases of one’s mourning process. According to him,

“…the distinguishing mental features of melancholia are a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment” (Freud 244).

The earlier sections of this paper affirm that mourning is work. It is work given the physical and emotional effort applied. Consequently, it follows that the transition from melancholia to mourning is part of the response to tragedy. McGlothin (179) illustrates Art’s comic book as an example of such a process.

Loss and Absence

Tragedy is associated with emotions like loss and absence. LaCapra (698) points out that the two are related. In trying to distinguish between the two, LaCapra points out that loss and absence bring about nostalgic experiences in the lives of mourners.

Apartheid in South Africa and the holocaust in Germany are two examples of how loss and absence are related. According to LaCapra (700) the two are both involved in traumatic experiences among people.

However, there are subtle differences between the two. For example, absence may be a component of the loss of a loved one. LaCapra (700) adds that the converse may not be true. In addition, losses can be associated with a particular event. Absence, on the other hand, cannot be placed in any tense. Spiegelman (45) demonstrates the differences between the two phenomena in his text.

In the case of Vladek, the void left by the death of his first wife forces him to take a second wife (Spiegelman 13). In such instances, LaCapra (700) suggests that absence is a component of loss. LaCapra argues that it is only when one has lost something or someone that their void leads to absence.

When Speer realizes that the cause for his fighting was lost, he decides to confess his wrongs. In this case, there is no sense of absence. The two are illustrations that tragedy can be used to distinguish between loss and absence.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud 14 (1914-1916): 237-258. Print.

Friedman, Elisabeth. “Spiegelman’s Magic Box: Metamaus and the Archive of Representation.” Studies in Comics 3.2 (2012): 275-291. Print.

Hirsch, Marianne. “Family Pictures: Maus, Mourning and Post-Memory.” Discourse 2.2 (1992): 3-29. Print.

Jewish Virtual Library 2013, . Web.

LaCapra, Dominick. “Trauma, Absence, Loss.” Critical Inquiry 25.2 (1999): 696-727. Print.

Lageman, August. “Encounter with Death: The Thought of Robert J. Lifton.” Journal of Religion and Health 26.4 (1987): 300-308. Print.

McGlothin, Erin. “No Time like the Present: Narrative and Time in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.” Narrative 11.2 (2003): 117-198. Print.

Psychoanalysis and Politics 2012, . Web.

Rando, Therese. n.d. . n.d. Web.

Rothberg, Michael. “We Were Talking Jewish: Art Spiegelman’s Maus as ‘Holocaust’ Production.” Contemporary Literature 35.4 (1994): 661-687. Print.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Print.

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