Medea by Euripides | Analysis

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18th May 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Children are seen as an essential part of a family, as well as the embodiment of the love between two people. One can find numerous references to children and the roles they play in works that analyze society and its defects, such as Medea by Euripides, and Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello. In literature, children are used to represent a great majority of things, but in particular they can represent innocence and purity. This is due to the fact that children are seen as free of any sins or impurities, because their minds do not have the capacity to fully comprehend evil as adults’ do. Both Euripides and Pirandello use children to symbolize the contamination of human nature through loss of innocence and the consequences it can bring.

The children’s innocence in Medea is used to illustrate that love can be a force of destruction. The following examination will illuminate the importance of the theme of loss of innocence in the play. This claim is rationalized by the Chorus after the children’s deaths:

“O your heart must have been made of rock or steel,

You who can kill

With your own hand the fruit of your own womb.

Of one alone, I have heard, one woman alone

Of those old who laid her hands on her children,

Ino, sent mad by heaven when the wife of Zeus

Drove her out from her home and made her wander;

And because of the wicked shedding of blood

Of her own children she threw

Herself, poor wretch, into the sea and stepped away

Over the sea-cliff to die with her two children.

What horror more can be? O women’s love,

So full of trouble,

How many evils have you caused already!” (41-42)

Candidate Number: 002130-005

When Medea murders her children, who are the personification of innocence, not only has she destroyed their innocence, but also metaphorically destroyed her own innocence. At the very beginning of Medea, the reader is shown both Jason and Medea’s transgressions: Medea’s having persuaded the daughters of Pelias to commit murder for her benefit, and Jason’s abandoning Medea and his children for another woman. This serves to introduce the warring reality of the play, as well as Medea’s barbaric tendencies, which further serve to draw attention to the children’s innocence. The Nurse’s comment that the children “have no thought at all of their mother’s trouble” and that “it is not usual for the young to grieve” (2), tells us that the children are not even aware of the great evil that is closest to them. Throughout the remainder of the play, Medea slowly becomes more and more consumed by evil, until she ruthlessly takes the lives of her own sons in order to exact her revenge on Jason. In this sense, they can be viewed as the play’s conscience, manipulating the audience into sympathizing with them through their innocence and at the same time be horrified with Medea’s cruelty and viciousness.

In Six Characters in Search of an Author, the children symbolize the deterioration of human nature as a result of their parents’ seemingly inappropriate decisions, which ultimately leaves the children feeling powerless. The Mother illustrates this when she says:

“But those two little ones over there – have you heard them speak? They cannot speak, sire, not anymore! They still keep clinging to me – to keep my torment alive and present. For themselves they don’t exist, don’t exist any longer. ” (55)

Candidate Number: 002130-005

The Mother’s impulsive decision to leave the Father indirectly affected the lives of her future children, setting in motion a series of events that would change their lives forever. In addition, the children are forced to witness the abuse and neglect that continues to tear the family apart. In the aforementioned example, Pirandello purposefully paints such a clear picture of the children’s suffering, as well as their innocence to show the consequences of potentially immoral decisions. Perhaps the most important aspect of this drama is the fact that both the Little Boy and Girl do not utter a single word throughout the entire play. This not only emphasizes their loss of innocence, but also adds an eerie quality to the play: the families’ tragic past has transformed the children into ghosts that represent the sense of powerlessness and symbolize how a family is ripped apart by death and abuse.

In both Medea and Six Characters, the abandonment of the children further contributes to the loss of innocence resulting from Jason and the Father’s selfishness and neglect. At the end of each drama, the reader is shown just how deadly the consequences can be. Medea condemns Jason’s thoughtless acts when she reveals:

“And how happy among Greek women you have made me

On your side for all this! A distinguished husband

I have – for breaking promises. When in misery

I am cast out of the land and go into exile,

Quite without friends and all alone with my children,

That will be a fine shame for the new-wedded groom,

For his children to wander as beggars and she who saved

him.”. (17)

Candidate Number: 002130-005

The Stepdaughter in Six Characters in Search of an Author further supports this claim when she states:

“It’s not true. [To the Director] Don’t believe it. Know why she says it? For his sake. [Pointing to the Son] His indifference tortures her, destroys her. She wants him to believe that, if she abandoned him when he was two, it was because he [the Father] compelled her to.” (17)

Jason’s contribution to his children’s loss of innocence is demonstrated when he marries the daughter of Creon, and later rationalizes his irresponsible and neglectful actions to Medea by telling her that it was in the children’s best interests. However, in reality, Jason is aware that he will benefit more from this arrangement since his position in Creon’s kingdom is secured. Despite his claim that it is in the children’s best interests for him to marry the princess, common sense dictates that the king would eventually expect an heir through his own daughter. Jason’s marriage to the princess triggered a grave aggressive response in Medea that created a domino effect and led her to obsessively seek revenge on Jason by transforming her children into unknowing messengers of death and ultimately taking their lives.

In Six Characters, the Father forcibly divides the family by acting as the manipulative force behind the Mother and Son’s devastating separation and later neglecting his parental responsibilities. Despite the Mother’s vulnerable state of mind and erratic behavior, the Father, like Jason, ultimately pursues the alternative that is most beneficial to him. His selfishness leads him to send the Son away, thus impeding the crucial development of an emotional relationship between the Son and

Candidate Number: 002130-005

his parents. The Father continues his self-serving pursuit by making inappropriate advances toward the Step-Daughter, which he later denies. As a result of this, the Step-Daughter becomes bitter and resentful, ultimately unleashing her anger and confusion upon the Young Boy, who she blames for the family’s descent into tragedy. Because of the Father’s initial decision, the Young Boy is robbed of his innocence and carefree childhood experiences, and he becomes too frightened to even speak. The resulting loss of innocence leads to the ultimate tragedy in the play, which is the Young Boy’s suicide.

In Medea and Six Characters in Search of an Author, the children’s loss of innocence is the direct result of their parents’ unseemly behavior. In Medea, the children are used to illustrate how lives are destroyed due to rejected love. While in Six Characters, the children represent the final outcome in the deterioration of human nature due to their loss of innocence. Ultimately, the fathers’ ambitions, combined with the mothers’ irrational responses lead to the calamitous destruction of the children.

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