In the TED Talk delivered by Dan Ariely, he suggests that we as people are not always in full control of our decisions. This is an interesting idea, as many ideologies are based on the concept of free will, but if we don't make our own decisions, it might spell trouble for that crowd. Ariely mostly focused on how given certain information, people are more likely to choose a certain outcome. This makes sense to me, being someone who is used to giving computers certain information and expecting a certain result. I do not particularly enjoy the idea that I might not be fully in control of my decisions, but since it's all I know, it can't be that bad.
What is perhaps more relevant in this talk, however, is its connection to tragedy. It is not uncommon in tragic works to have a character that ends up doing something that they tried to avoid because of decisions that were already made for them, despite all their efforts. This was evident in "Oedipus Rex" when Oedipus, despite giving his damnedest effort, was unable to prevent the prophecy from coming true. This is relatively obvious, as the nature of a prophecy is that it is a fate of sorts and can't be changed. This element of tragedy is also apparent in Romeo and Juliet by the mere fact that Romeo and Juliet couldn't really choose what family they were born into, and were destined to die no matter what they did to try to prevent it. I found a relatively simple Prezi about choices in Hamlet that you can find here.
"Oedipus Rex" is a story that I enjoyed but would not recommend to anyone. I think there are other tragedies that would teach the genre better like anything that Shakespeare wrote that falls under the category. To give you a basic run-down of the story, Oedipus is a hero of the past that is approached by the local priest to solve the myriad of problems in the city; you know, the usual stuff: plague, famine, and miscarriages abound. It is later revealed that Oedipus must find the murder of the king named Laius. Tiresius, the local oracle of sorts, accuses Oedipus of murdering the king. Oedipus vehemently denies the accusation and continues on his search, blaming his uncle for the act. Oedipus learns about a prophecy saying the heir of the king will kill that king, suggesting that he (Oedipus) is the king's son. Oedipus is in denial about being the king's son. Later, it is revealed that his wife, Jocasta, also happens to be his mother. Unable to live after finding this out, Jocasta kills herself. After seeing this, Oedipus proceeds to gouge his eyes out.
I think this story has quite a bit to say about tragedy and the human condition, but I will keep this short. For starters, Oedipus' tragic flaw is something that I found to be uniquely brilliant. His only flaw is that he is himself. He didn't ask to be who he was, and was unaware that he married his mother, who was also oblivious. This speaks to the human condition because Oedipus felt he couldn't do anything to help his situation, a feeling that many people experience often. I think this taught me that tragedy perhaps has a certain helplessness element to it. I would be remiss if I did not point out that I found it ironic that Oedipus gouged his eyes out, thus blinding himself, just as he began to see his life more clearly. For whatever reason, I enjoyed the fact that the blind man was the one who could finally see. If you would like to read "Oedipus Rex," you can find it here.
In "Tragedy and the Common Man" by Arthur Miller, the main argument is that tragedy started as a story type for the upper class, has died off, and that it is time for the common man to write and relate to tragedy. Miller builds his argument by defining what tragedy is to him. He says that the tragic feeling is evoked when the reader experiences a character that will die to preserve their dignity, or as he says, their "rightful position" in society. He continues saying that every tragic character has a "tragic flaw" that is a result of the character not accepting something to be the way it is. This feeds into his points about how people need to question the status quo to be able to write good tragedies. He says the tragic feeling can come from the character's need to take on the world, a task that certainly questions the status quo. Miller also suggests that the lack of tragedy might be a result of the changing views of life, such as people viewing everything as happening within the confines of their head. Without looking past the psychological or sociological, people cannot experience something outside themselves. Miller then mentions that tragedy does not have to be pessimistic. He goes so far as to suggest that tragedy is more optimistic than comedy. He finishes with hope in the future of the common man to write tragedies.
Miller's argument did not fundamentally change my views on tragedy, but it did offer some new helpful information. For example, when Miller said that it suggests more optimism than comedy, it made me think more about the purpose of tragedy, which I would now say is to highlight something unique to the human experience: our emotions. Miller talks endlessly about how tragedy can only arise in certain conditions, which all require a certain feeling. There is even a tragic feeling. Without emotion, tragedy would not be tragic. A robot civilization (or perhaps Vulcans) reading human literature would probably be lost in tragedies as they result from people being emotional. Miller also challenged my ideas about tragedy being pessimistic. I took that part of the argument to mean that the author of tragic stories usually doesn't have a pessimistic view of humanity, otherwise they'd write something that would make everyone lose their faith in humanity instead of highlighting a part of the experience. If you'd like to read Miller's argument, you can read it here.
For those of you who are reading this and are not in the same AP Lit class as me, I have two things to say: first, I can't believe you're choosing to read this, and second, we watched a TED Talk in class delivered by Alain de Botton entitled "A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success." I found this talk to be generally interesting. De Botton talked about the idea of meritocracy and how everyone views it as the ideal system, despite its shortcomings. He mounts an argument for his own ideas about success by saying that the meritocracy results in people at the top viewing the people at the bottom as having 'deserved' it. He elaborates on this by saying that there is a stark difference between an unfortunate and a loser. I think this is a valuable distinction to make since someone who is at the bottom is not necessarily a loser. He says that the meritocracy is blind to this and everyone at the bottom is a loser. I don't necessarily agree with him on this, because if it was accurate I don't think we would be able to recognize that there is a distinction to the length that we do, especially since we live in a meritocracy.
As for how this TED Talk connects to tragedy, I must make a confession: we did not finish the talk in class, and I never finished it completely outside of class. I went through and read the forum posts to get an idea of what he finished the talk with, and it sounded like he might have connected it to tragedies in particular. I'd imagine that you'd expect me to analyze this part of the talk since it's directly related to tragedy. I will choose to take a different route, however. Let's begin with de Botton's talking points on the meritocracy. As I mentioned before, he believes the meritocracy creates a system belief where those at the bottom 'deserve' their place. Perhaps this can relate to tragedies in the sense that the human experience itself is a tragedy; the story is sad, but there is a good feeling at the end. With de Botton's worldview, this would be particularly true for those on the bottom. They live a sad life of feeling like a loser or being told they're losers by those above them, only to have the relief of death, or in some cases, social mobility toward the end of their lives. Maybe life is so tragic that we have to create escapes, just like de Botton mentions when he talks about nature. He described nature as an escape from the human anthill. These escapes are the little bits of relief that could exist in a tragedy. If you're still reading this, get a life, then check out de Botton's talk here.
I have always thought of tragedies as sad stories. Romeo and Juliet comes to mind when I think of them. I'm not certain if it is a tragedy, but it fits my notion of what a tragedy might be. I also seem to remember talking about tragedies freshman year and hearing that the colloquial definition of tragedy does not match the literary definition, but I could be remembering incorrectly. A tragedy in the sense of events is usually a devastating event that causes grief for people and isn't easy to recover from.
After doing a bit of research, I think it was safe to assume that tragedies usually have a sad story or event. It appears, however, that tragedies usually have a sort of good feeling at the end that releases the audience. This is contrary to what I thought since I believed the point of tragedies was to evoke bad feelings in the audience. It also appears that tragedies are generally written as plays. You can find more on the enigmatic literary manifestation that is the tragedy on Wikipedia here.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.