We are faced with decisions every day of our lives. What to eat for breakfast. What clothes to wear that day. Whether we can afford that new phone, or we should wait until next week’s paycheck. Insignificant or life changing, choices are everywhere. In Frank Kafka’s parable “Before the Law,” we see an old man weigh the pros and cons of going through a gate leading to the Law that is protected by a gatekeeper.
The summary of this parable is short and sweet; if you don’t try, nothing will happen. A man wants to change the Law because he doesn’t agree with what is happening. He finds the gate to the Law, spends the remainder of his life waiting for the gatekeeper to let him through. The gatekeeper says he may proceed, but he also tells him of the other gates and gatekeepers he will encounter and the man becomes discouraged. The man tries many things to get through including bribing and nothing works. He complains and thinks, but never acts and that is his issue. He eventually grows old and dies without ever doing anything and the gates to the Law are closed forever.
There are times in all of our lives when we are the man. This parable is very relatable, which makes it applicable and an effective way to teach. The personification of the Law also adds to the depth of the lesson. The Law can be anything. It can be that college you always wanted to apply to, but are afraid of being rejected from. It can be a person you want to be friends with. It can be literally anything.
One of the lessons I took from “Before the Law” is that it is important to choose your battles. Save your energy for the big times when the Law isn’t right. If there is something you don’t like or think is unfair, take action and change it! Stand up to the Law if it is the right thing to do. Be like Antigone and give your brother a proper burial even though it is disobeying the Law. Walk through the gate and say, “This is the right thing to do, so I’m going to do it. No one owns me.” Go further into the Law and change it so life can be better for everyone.
Another Greek tragedy. At first I couldn’t see how it could be considered one considering the ending, but I understand better now. “Antigone” is the title of the play that I really actually kind of enjoyed.
Antigone was a very respectable woman. She stood up for what she believed in, and was willing to pay the ultimate price for doing what she believed to be morally right. She is the tragic hero, so of course that means she needs to makes some sort of error. Her mistake should not have been classified as such, but her uncle, King Creon, made it so that one of Antigone’s brothers could not have a proper burial. That was not seen as acceptable, so Antigone took it upon herself to bury him as he should have been in the first place.
Creon sentences Antigone to death when she is discovered with the body of her brother. She willingly accepts her fate, and is trapped in a tomb to starve to death. Haimon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiance, is very upset by his father’s choices. He breaks into the tomb to free Antigone, only to find she has hung herself. What would a tragedy be without suicide? Haimon then kills himself, and Haimon’s mother, out of grief, follows suit. Thebes has now lost part of its royal family, and King Creon realizes that it was a mistake to sentence Antigone to death. This is what makes it a tragedy. The “happy ending” is the fact that Creon understands that he is not perfect and is also capable of making mistakes.
This TED Talk made me question my whole life. How many decisions have I actually made on my own? I came to the conclusion that the answer is zero. This terrifies me. Dan Ariely made me very aware of everything that influences each of us, and how we only THINK we are capable of making our own decisions. It’s an interesting thing to think about, but it is also very odd. The only comfort I took from the whole thing is that I am not the only one being influenced by my environment.
During his talk, Ariely said something along the lines of, “We don’t know our own preferences, so we’re totally susceptible to our environment.” This was one of those things that I knew was true, I just never had had it brought to my attention before. Discussing this leads into the question of whether or not free will is real. Many psychologists will say that free will is an illusion, and any choice or decision a person makes is one they have been conditioned to choose.
A typical way people are made to choose a specific thing is by providing a ridiculous option. Making one choice look inferior makes another look superior. Many companies and places that try to sell things to people are very good at getting people to pick exactly what they want them to.
Social Media also has a HUGE influence on everything a person does at any given point in the day. This relates back to tragedy because even then there were many things that influenced people. In “Oedipus Rex,” Jocasta chooses to commit suicide because she cannot prevent Oedipus from discovering the truth. Oedipus gouges out his eyes because he is so grief-stricken and feels guilty. The prophecies influence Oedipus’s choice to leave his adoptive parents, and Oedipus’s parents decision to kill Oedipus before he grows up. Everyday we are faced with choices, and everyday we succumb to the influences of the world around us. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is much better to be aware of it than to be ignorant.
Some college essay prompts ask about a time when a belief or value you have or have had was challenged. This could be a topic to discuss in response to that prompt. “The Tragic Fallacy” totally just took my definition of tragedy and flipped it upside down. I actually agree with this more though. I think that it makes more sense. Tragedy isn’t the bad stuff that happens, it’s what comes from the bad stuff. It isn’t the one bad thing that happened to me, it’s the whole story of before, during, and after.
This article by Joseph Krutch says that bad things happen specifically so “that the human spirit has the opportunity to reveal itself triumphant over the outward universe which fails to conquer it;...” Krutch states that he believes tragedy is often confused with misfortune, but that cannot be true due to the fact that the most confident times in the world- the Periclean and the Elizabethan periods- are also the times that created and experienced the mightiest tragedies. The paradox that tragedy is only something gloomy or depressing is “resolved by the fact that tragedy is essentially an expression, not of despair, but of the triumph over despair and of confidence in the value of human life.” Tragedy always has to reach a happy ending, but often it does so in unconventional ways.
I think it was in my very first blog that I mentioned something about how tragedy is essential to the development of human nature and how it portrays the human condition in one of the most raw ways. “The Tragic Fallacy” definitely backs up my claim. Krutch talks about how tragedy satisfies the universal human desire to find justice, order, and recognizable meaning in the world; how it really does much more than that. He finishes up the article by relating tragedy to religion, quite brilliantly if you ask me, and states that tragedy is “s declaration that even if God is not in his Heaven, then at least Man is in his world.” He tells of the strengths and weaknesses of tragedy and religion, and shows just how much the two coincide.
The saying “it’s a small world” really applies to the story of Oedipus. It definitely took some thought to create. It is very well thought out, and it is the perfect example of a tragedy. The tragedy is more in the reaction to the events that take place than in the events themselves. Oedipus is the perfect hero. He is smart, caring, full of himself, and brave; he has saved Thebes once, and he has been called to do it again.
Oedipus becomes obsessed with the task of finding the murderer of King Laius. He marries Laius’s widow, and gets the idea that Creon, his brother in law, has something to do with the murder and is trying to frame Oedipus. Little does he know that it is not framing at all. Oedipus soon learns that the prophecy everyone has so desperately tried to keep from coming true, has been fulfilled. His parents sent someone to the mountains to kill their son, Oedipus, but the child was never killed. He was given as a gift to another powerful couple who took him in as their own. When Oedipus was older, he left his parents so that he would not kill his father and sleep with his mother, but those were not his real parents anyway. On his way to Thebes, Oedipus kills a group of travelers, not knowing that Laius is one of them. He continues on to Thebes where he marries Jocasta, Laius’s widow. Laius and Jocasta are Oedipus’s parents. Crazy.
When Jocasta realizes that she cannot protect Oedipus from the truth, she kills herself. What tragedy would be complete without someone committing suicide? The end comes when Oedipus gouges his own eyes out. Blind and grief-stricken, Oedipus bemoans his fate. Oedipus does not consider the consequences of blinding himself, and later regrets the outcome. He and his family are looked upon as outcasts now, and he soon comes to hate himself more than anyone could ever hate him. Creon, Jocasta’s brother, grants Oedipus’s request and banishes him from Thebes, but not before consulting an oracle.
When talking about success, many people view it as being some big accomplishment. Examples would be opening a business, making lots of money, being admitted to a prestigious college, etc. Alain de Botton is here to tell us otherwise. He says that success can be something as small as turning in your homework on time, or even just getting out of bed in the morning. Success is defined only as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose; this leaves it totally open to interpretation, and allows for the smallest victories to be considered success.
One very important thing Alain says is that we all need to make sure that our ideas of success are, in fact, our own. This can be difficult due to the fact that sometimes we are tricked into believing our definition of success is ours, but it really is not. Society has set standards to which everyone is held, but it is hardly fair because no two people are identical. Albert Einstein has a quote that reads, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I think this sums up today’s society perfectly. We expect everyone to have aptitudes for the same things, and when they don’t, they are labeled as dumb or an imbecile. This is not the case though, as they may be good at other things. I know that I am not very good at math, but ask me to draw or perform a piece from a play or musical and I will probably at least meet your expectations.
Another point de Botton made was that no one can be successful at everything, which ties in perfectly with my prior topic of discussion. I might be good in English class, but fail physics. Meanwhile, my brother might pass physics with flying colors, but struggle with anything remotely language arts related. One can also be successful in things other than school; look at Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Some people may excel in more things than others, but there is nothing anyone can do about that. Life is life, and we just have to live it.
Many times people from older generations will say that teenagers believe they are invincible; they think nothing can hurt them, and that is why they take many risks. They hear about their peers dying from driving drunk, or being in severe accidents, that aren’t really accidents, because the cause was the conscious decision to text and drive, but it does nothing because the “Oh, that won’t happen to me.” mentality is present.
If you ask me, more than just the “youngsters” have that mentality. No one wants to believe that misfortune can happen to them, and they tend to ignore the unfortunate events going on around them because it allows them to live peacefully in their own worlds. Arthur Miller is here to let us know that that specific mentality is garbage, and anything can happen to anyone; misery loves company.
In his article “Tragedy and the Common Man,” Miller states, “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject in its highest sense as kings were.” Bad things happen. To good people, to bad people, to mediocre people: they are unavoidable. This quote shows how tragedy is not picky, and it will take any victim it can get its hands on.
A typical story thought of when contemplating tragedy shows a hero of some sort. Someone like Oedipus. Tragedy does not usually affect the common man in stories, but that is the whole purpose of Arthur’s essay. These heroes are thought to be flawless, when in fact they all have a hamartia. This is precisely what Miller explains is needed for a good tragedy though. He says, “The flaw, or crack in the character, is really nothing--and need be nothing -- but his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of rightful status.” The explanation is we as humans tend to run from what scares us, and pity ourselves instead of standing up for what we believe in and fighting for what we believe to be right. Heroes and characters we view as above us tend to do the latter, which explains why we admire them so much.
There are many misconceptions in society. People have wrong definitions for what seems like everything. One of the misunderstandings of the world is what actually counts as a tragedy. The common belief is that tragedy is anything bad that happens. Tragedy is actually some form of drama or art that deals with the subject of human suffering. It brings extreme emotion, called catharsis, to its audience. The word tragedy is derived from the Greek word translating to “goat song.” The structure of tragedies are complex, not simple. There is more than just one kind of tragedy. Aristotle has 4 Species of Tragedy: Complex, Suffering, Character, and Spectacle. There is also the tragedy of the commons. This is an economic system where people act according to their own self interests when using a shared resource as opposed to helping everyone. The last type of tragedy we read about is revenge tragedy(play), which is where a protagonist seeks revenge for an imagined or actual injury.
Tragedy comes from mainly from Ancient Greece, but there is also Roman and Renaissance to name a few. I personally enjoy Greek tragedy. Aristotle, known for his Greek tragedies, says that “Tragedy is characterized by seriousness and involves a great person who experiences a reversal of fortune.” and “ Change from good to bad is preferable as because this induces pity and fear within the spectators.” I know that when tragedies follow this path, I am much more intrigued and able to follow the story better. I enjoy misfortune in stories, whatever that may tell you about me, and I think it creates an exceptional way to explore the truths of humanity.
I think tragedy is essential to the development of human nature. It portrays the human condition in one of the most raw expressions that exists. We can absolutely learn from it. We can learn from anything, but particularly from tragedy due to the fact that it allows us to explore the darker side of life and see how different people react to certain events. It shows us the deepest, darkest, most undesirable parts of life, and we are able to see that no one is inherently good; we all have indecent parts of us that we don’t want anyone to see- or may not even know exist in us in the first place.