Exploration of Art Theater: comparing and contrasting “Oedipus Rex” and “Death of a Salesman”

“Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles, and “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, are two theater works that best describe the similarities and differences between concerns of modern and classic theater plays. In this paper, the main aim is to compare and contrast these two theater works.

The two plays have conspicuous tragedies, which are closely followed by accidents. Proposals to the queen and the execution of the king are two coincidences in “Oedipus Rex”. However, the two actions also present tragic events that Oedipus deserves to come into terms with, as long as he lives.

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On the other hand, as Cohen notes, “the death of Willy is a tragedy while the failure of his son to undertake business is an accident” (21). In this context, the two theatre plays provide insights into how people’s behaviors may afflict their emotions. On the discovery of the truth, Oedipus realizes that truth is not an easy thing to embrace.

Willy cannot accept the fact that his son is not interested in business; consequently, he keeps on pressing him to engage in business. From a different perspective, both theatre plays have main characters that possess heroic qualities. Oedipus does not permit himself to be victimized in any way. Rather, as Bernstein explains, he goes on to show absolute loyalty to Thebes’ people (25). Comparatively, Willy’s decision to take up his life for the sake of his family’s noble cause highlights his heroic traits.

The tragic nature of the two characters is further evidenced by how they are impacted by repercussions of their actions, which are not well thought. Willy commits suicide with the belief that his son would become a businessman, something that does not happen in the end. Similarly, despite the fact that Oedipus does not die, the egoistic characteristics that he possesses make him suffer mentally.

Another significant similarity is that the two stories are manipulative in nature; they inculcate a deep feeling of pity in their viewers. According to Cohen, the two stories manipulate the audience’s emotions and feelings, despite the fact that the viewers ideally know that the two main characters are wrong in what they do (23).

The two characters execute activities, which are both wrong and right in many aspects. “Oedipus is haunted by the feeling of guilt throughout his life because, the activities he performed, assuming the right cause and following his ego and pride, turned immoral later on in life” (Cohen 23). On the other hand, the good cause, which Willy hopes would happen, never materializes when he finally dies. Willy appreciated that taking up his life was wrong; however, compared with the good cause of his family, he was justified.

Amid, the many similarities between “Oedipus Rex” and “Death of a Salesman”, some differences are also evident. As contrasted to Oedipus, Willy does not recognize the value of seeking out the information pertaining to his past life. Rather, “Death of a Sales Man” deploys a number of flashbacks to provide Willy’s background information.

These flashbacks are akin to what happens later to Willy. Through them, Willy experiences a series of guilt that are central to contributing to his tragic demise. The flashbacks act as the source of Willy’s hope since they permit him to blame other people for his own issues.

The “Death of a Sales Man” contrasts “Oedipus Rex” in that, “Oedipus Rex” is a typical example of classic tragedy while “Death of a Salesman” represents modern tragedy theatre arts. In this context, the two theatre works present differing cultures. The Willy’s story contains talks that cut across issues like insurance and sales.

This makes it depictive of the modern world talks. On the other hand, “Oedipus Rex” features traditional settings. In spite of the king perceiving himself as a remarkably confident character, he arouses an opposite perception in the viewer’s mind. In the words of Cohen “Oedipus is unusually full of himself and feels exceptionally perfect” (23). As opposed to Oedipus, Willy does not live to experience the repercussions of his deeds.

The level of heroism for both Oedipus and Willy is also different in the context of classic Greece eyes. This assertion is perhaps well evidenced by Bernstein who proclaims that, in classic Greece, “Oedipus is considered to be a hero on grounds of how he courageously faced his punishment” (25).

However, due the tragic flaws that Oedipus inculcates in the mind of the viewers, he ceases being a role model. Willy, however, is far from being a hero as his excellence and prosperity desires accompany him to the grave. In contemporary interpretation, the story of Willy reflects on normal people possessing normal desires. On the other hand, “Oedipus Rex” depicts extraordinary people’s dreams, largely influenced by extraordinary desires.

Conclusively, both “Death of a Sales Man” and “Oedipus Rex” stir up the viewers’ emotions and feelings. Variations in the two story settings and character traits make the stories different, yet similar in many ways. In the two stories, the main characters are portrayed as being in a continuous race in search of heroism, accomplishments, and more importantly, happiness. However, the repercussions of their actions are different.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Richard. “Long, Bitter Debate from the ’50’s: Views of Kazan and his

Critics.” The New York Times 03 May 1988 late ed.: AL. Print.

Cohen, Robert. Theatre: Brief Version. New York: Von Hoffmann, 2003. Print.