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Oedipus the King is a classical Greek tragedy by the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles first played in 429BC whereas Death of a Salesman is an American play from 1949. This essay will consider both the classical model and Arthur Miller’s model as the criteria that define a tragic figure. The classical model of a tragedy is based on Aristotle’s ideas. In his book Poetics, he stated that a tragedy must have certain elements, plot, characters, diction, thought, and spectacle. Miller, though following those points, modified the element of characters to reach the hearts of the modern reader.
When Arthur Miller released his play, it was rejected because it did not meet the accepted tenets of a tragedy, as it was understood at the time. However, he responded by writing an article titled “The tragedy of the common man.” Today, his play is widely accepted as the modern tragedy. This comparison is an attempt to argue why Death of a Salesman qualifies as a tragedy, while at the same time show how it differs with the classical model of a tragedy. To show how the two compare and differ, this essay will explore the beginnings and the ends of both stories, the protagonists’ social status, the self-awareness of the protagonists, the protagonists’ fatal flaws and finally their reaction to their fates.
At the start of Oedipus the King, Oedipus is baffled and troubled by what he sees happening to his city Thebes. His concern is sincere and genuine. Unbeknown to him, Thebe’s predicament has been caused by his own fate as predicted by the Greek gods. By the end of the story, Oedipus is grieved and ashamed because of his discovery of his own actions. The play Death of a Salesman begins with Will, the protagonist in a state of confusion and emotional upheaval. His grievance is that he is tired of shuttling between New York and New England for work. The story ends in shame with Willy’s suicide.
There is a difference in the effects of the actions of the two protagonists. Oedipus is royalty, being the king of the Greek city Thebes. The consequences of his actions have brought citywide plague rather than affecting his own household. By contrast, Willy is an average American salesperson chasing the American dream. Simply put, he is a common man. His imprudent actions have brought consequences that his own family alone. His death brings sorrow to his wife and children and along with that, some $20000 from his life insurance. Miller uses a common because he belongs to a new era in which the common is the center of attention. This is on contrast to the classical era when everyone’s attention was upon the royal persons.
Oedipus had left Corinth in an attempt to escape his fate. On his flight from Corinth to Thebes, he kills his father just as it had been predicted. He genuinely believes that he has successfully changed the course of his life. However, Oedipus was proactively engaged in unlocking the mystery behind his fate, and this was what led to the discovery of his mistake. Like Oedipus, Will also lacks self-awareness. In his dreamland, he is a well-liked salesperson in the corporate world. Although lamentable, he lives in his dreamland for the better part of his life, and his admission of his true position is quickly followed by suicide. He failed to confront reality and preferred death to facing it.
Both Oedipus and Willy display arrogance in their character and this becomes their fatal flaws. It is because of his arrogance that Oedipus moves heaven and earth to change his fate. His escape from Corinth leads him to kill his own father and marry his mother. Similarly, Willy’s arrogance prevents him from accepting a job offer from Charley, his neighbor. Willy was too proud to admit his destitute condition and his present need of a job. Had he been humble enough, he would not have had to kill himself to get $20000 of his life insurance for his family.
This essay has compared the stories Oedipus the King and Death of a Salesman using the classical and Arthur models as the frame of reference. Five elements that apply to both stories have been juxtaposed in order to show how they compare or differ and show the role they play in building the tragedies they tell.

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