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Tragedy

In: English and Literature

Submitted By flocka1513
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I think too many times as a young reader we were taught to think that the main character or protagonist was the main force driving the story line or meaning in a story. We were always taught to make connections with the protagonist first and the other characters were just insignificant, being only used to give more emphasis on the protagonist. It now comes a time as adults to explore all aspects of all the characters and not just single one out. This is especially true when reading tragedies. In tragedies people are also so quick to think that the main character is the one that has suffered the most or is the “tragic hero”. The tragic play Ghosts is an excellent example of this premature thinking. Readers are constantly thinking that Mrs. Alving is living a tragedy, but in actuality the tragedy falls upon the two children Regina and Oswald. From the work of Richard Sewall’s “The Vision of Tragedy”, we can conclude that classifying Mrs. Alving as the tragic hero is inaccurate because of her actions in the story and how those actions affect others. As we soon discover, the life of Mrs. Alving is pretty rough. Her husband was a habitual cheater and was almost completely absent when the two had the responsibility to raise their son Oswald. Having nowhere else to turn, Mrs. Alving decided to try to seek refuge in the family pastor, Mr. Manders. Unfortunately, his solution was for her to continue to do her duties as a mother and wife to bring her husband back to her. He tells her “No! we must do our duty, Mrs. Alving. And your duty was to cleave to the man you had chosen and to whom you were bound by a sacred bond” (19). And that's exactly what she did. She hid her husband’s marital flaws. She sent her son away so he did not have to face the truth about the destruction that was living with him at home. She also paid the maid, Joanna, 70 pounds of hush money after she was caught with Mr. Alving. The product of that affair was Regina. Obviously, to Mrs. Alving it seemed as though her decision to continue fulfilling her “duties” was the right course to take to save her personal life. However, it was her utter rejection to go against her duties that exacerbated the tragedy and placed it upon Oswald and Regina. Richard Sewall mentions the decision of a character to remain unmoved and do nothing about a tragic event makes them no longer a victim of the tragedy. “Nor is the tragic vision for those who, though admitting unsolved question and the reality of guilt, anxiety, and suffering would become quietist and do nothing” (197}. By Mrs. Alving sticking to her duties as a woman and trying to cover up her husband’s infidelity she has in actuality done nothing to change her situation and has caused her own suffering. There was no fight in her to get out of her situation, no “fight against her destiny” as Richard Sewall puts it (197). Mrs. Alving’s inaction eliminates her presumed role as a tragic hero. However, because of Mrs. Alving’s inaction and cover up of her life the true sufferers are the children, Oswald and Regina. These two kids have lived a life full of lies, something that they could not control and did not know about. It is unlike Mrs. Alving who had the ability to make a decision to change her situation. Both Regina and Oswald were unaware of the suffering that was to come to them. In addition, it is also the truth that Mrs. Alving tells them that sheds light on the tragedy that they have been living. Richard Sewall states, “the truth constitutes the discovery of a tragedy” (199). When Mrs. Alving finally tells Oswald and Regina about their father and the different ways that she covered up the lies, they are now exposed to the tragedy and can be seen as the only tragic heroes in the story. Mrs. Alving did not have to face the “truth” for she had knowledge about everything; she just chose to ignore it. Ultimately, through the concepts that Richard Sewall discusses in “The Vision of Tragedy” one can determine who the true sufferers are in a tragic piece. Readers are often to quick to feel sympathy for the main character without taking the actions or inactions that character has done. Mrs. Alving is that character that has done nothing but stick to the societal standards she was given. Despite the great unhappiness that she has felt while being married, she chose to tolerate it and hid it from not only the public, but also her son. It is her inaction that takes away her classification as the tragic hero. She brought on her own suffering and amplified it for Oswald and Regina. In addition, what makes Oswald and Regina the two bearers of the tragic story in Ghosts is their discovery of the truth. They were finally told what their father had done. They did not have the ability to escape their fate as Mrs. Alving could have. As soon as that truth unravels, the two characters meet their doom. With Regina it was her decision to live in a brothel and for Oswald it was his suffering from a venereal disease that he inherited from his father.

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