Oedipus the King is Greek tragedy by Sophocles and was first performed 429 BC whereas Death of a Salesman 1949 is a problem play by Arthur Millar. The two plays can compare in a number of ways despite being written in different historical times. Despite the fact that Oedipus is not formally divided into scenes and acts it clearly occurs in six phases, with transition between episodes marked by an ode sung by the chorus or stasimon while Miller's play is divided into two acts, with a requiem at the end.
On the character part, both have tragic protagonist. Oedipus is the tragic in Sophocles case while Willy Loman the sales person is the tragic hero in death of a salesman. Oedipus is the protagonist and the tragic here. After his father Laius from an oracle that his own son would kill him, he goes own to bind the feet of his infant son, Oedipus and order the mother, Jocasta to kill him. However Oedipus is rescued from by a Shepard and taken to Corinth where he is raised by polypus, the king of Corinth as his own. Oedipus in an endeavor to avoid his fate of eventually killing his father and marrying his mother, which he learns from an oracle, leaves Corinth so as to spare his parents the harm he is destined to met on them. In the same light Willy Loman is the tragic protagonist as seen in the last part of the play, requiem. The words of Charley serves to remove blame on Willey, and places it on the requirement of American society to chase the American dream at the expense of a persons emotional and spiritual well being. He points out the fact that no one deserves the kind of returns that Willey was getting at his grueling salesman job. Willy as the salesmen bought the sales pitch that used by the American society to advertise itself and paid for it with his own life. The play talks of mortgages, brand names and big multinationals. At the end of the day, is as able to afford his family a house and decent living and even believes that he would be worth more dead than alive. He believes that Biff, his son would benefit from his insurance compensation following his death.
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Willy, the protagonist speaks the language of the consumers and for him the cut throat competition is maddening. He represents the American middle class that emerged in post war America. When Linda, his wife, reminds him of the due payment for the refrigerator, Willy says: "I told you we should have bought a well advertised machine. Charley bought a General Electric and it's twenty years old and it's still new, that son of a bitch" Miller 1949: 56-57
Structurally, both plays intertwine scenes from the past and present. However death of a salesman depicts events in a sequent that are at odd with their chronological progression. The most notable chronological structure of a play has a liner structure characterized by a pyramidal pattern in its plot, i.e., Rising action, climax, crisis, falling action and resolution. In such a case the crisis scene, appearing late in the story is one able to redirect the drama by enacting a decisive causal event for which someone is responsible. However in death of a salesman the eventual dramatization of the Willy cheating that occurs in Boston comes late in scene two. This is not a new event as it does not turn the action in a new direction and it is also not recently revealed occurrence for any of the character as both Willey and Biff are already aware it, it occurred when biff was only seventeen, and Linda and Happy do not learn about it when its finally dramatized on stage (Bloom 144-156). On the other hand Sophocles's Oedipus has in its structure a pyramidal pattern. The crisis scene happen when it finally dawns on Oedipus that indeed it could have been him who could have killed his father following Jocasta's revelation about her oracle about her son killing his father and the mention about Laius murder at the cross road. This rings a bell in Oedipus mind as he had killed a man in similar circumstance. Sophocles Oedipus is a Greek tragedy whereas the Death of a Salesman is a problem play. The former passes for a Geek tragedy since Oedipus, the tragic hero suffers misfortunes which are foretold by an oracle and which lead to his eventual downfall. He is fated to kill his father and sleep with his mother. Though tries to run away from it, it somehow catches up with him. He eventually blinds himself in an endeavor to escape from reality.
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Both plays have in themselves important literally techniques such as underlying themes, character choice as well as use of dramatic irony.
In term of themes, the American dream is one of the main themes that come forth in Millar's play. Willey understanding of American dream is that an attractive and well liked personality in business is a certain way to acquire material comforts that modern American life offers. However his fascination with the superficial qualities of likeability and attractiveness is at odds with a more rewarding and deep understanding of American dream that recognizes hard work as central to success. His interpretation of being likable is superficial, for instance he dislike Bernard as he considers him a nerd. His blind faith in the American dream causes him psychological trauma to the point that he is unable to make out between the dream and his own life (Miller 122-130)
On the other hand a major them in Oedipus Tragedy is that it stresses the vulnerable nature inherent in human being, and whose suffering is a result of a myriad of factors including human and divine actions. In regard to Oedipus, we see that error and disaster can happen to all, that human being is powerless put against the gods or fate. In addition, a cautious humility is the preferable attitude towards life. At the end of the play when Oedipus blind himself, the chorus points out that even the noblest of men cannot escape fate. Oedipus is noble in position and moral in desire to rid the city of the murderer. His character suggests an individual of certain intellectual and moral capabilities. Oedipus is noble in position, as king of Thebes, and moral in his wish for the city to be rid of the evil that has resulted in the plague. His intelligence is apparent in his when he is able answers Sphinx's riddle. In scene 1, a group of priest comes to Oedipus the king asking for help against Thebes's plague. Fortunately, given Oedipus quick nature in taking action, has already sent Creon to Delphi to ask the gods about the cause and the way forward. He comes with the news that the catastrophes befallen Thebes is as a result of the murder of Laius, the former Thebe's king. Oedipus vows to track down the killer and bring justice for the king's murder. He makes this judgement unaware of the fact that he is indeed the murderer. The second scene presents Oedipus searching for the truth. He seeks the help of Teressia the blind seer. He is hesitant to reveal the truth for he is aware of the fact that it would lead to the downfall of the king. The tragedy thus happens because in spite of such high values, Oedipus unintentionally fulfills the prophecy according to the god and as such brought destruction upon himself (Brunner 67-75)
In both there characters are willing to ignore the truth when it suits them. When both Oedipus and Jocasta begin getting closer to the truth concerning Laiu's murder, Oedipus is quick to exonerate himself. Neither of them feel compelled to comment on the coincidence in their prophesies. Oedipus listens to Jocasta's story about how she bound her son's ankles but fails to think about his swollen ones, while the conversation is largely meant to make the audience aware of the tragic irony, it also emphasizes the desperation in Oedipus and Jocasta unwillingness to speak the truth: they look at the reality of very day life and assume not to see them. On the same note, Willy myopic view of the American dream leads to his eventual psychological trauma. At 68 years of age, he has not yet accumulated enough wealth to make him lead a comfortable life. His notion that American dream dwelt on a person attractiveness and likeability becomes his downfall when at the end of the day he find himself abandoned, unhappy and poor. Another instance, where Willy is willing to stay deluded is when Linda comment on the fact that some mothers fear Biff as a result of his being rough with their daughters, where Willy is enraged by the reality of his son's unglamorous behavior, and as such distracts himself by shouting at them to shut up.
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Millar portrays Charley as obscurely gendered just like Tiresia's in Oedipus plays. As such Charley's prognosis of the situation at had is logical as he recognizes Willy's financial failure and his job offer constitutes a commonsense solution to Willy's woes. Tiresia also points out to metaphorical blindness in human being in his referral to the king's blindness to the truth.
Hochman, Stanley.McGraw-Hill encyclopedia of world drama: an international reference work in 5 vol, Volume 1.VNR AG, 1984
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Pearson Education India, 2007. Print.
Bloom, Harold .Arthur Miller's Death of a salesman. Infobase Publishing, 2007. Print
Brunner, M. King Oedipus Retried. London: Rosenberger & Krauze London, 2000. Print
"Irony in the Requiem of Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman". 123helpme.com. Web. 15 Feb. 2011. Print.