Comparison Essay: Oedipus, Willy Loman and Tom Wingfield
Oedipus the King by Sophocles, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and the Glass Menagerie by William Tennessee are three plays of self-deception and delusion, inability to live in the world of reality, blindness and abandonment.
The story of Oedipus is very tragic indeed. The character becomes a victim of his fate. At the beginning of the play we see the king at the top of his fame and prosperity. He has the right to be proud of himself. He managed to solve the Sphinx’s riddle and saved Thebes, having become its king in one night. “Here I am myself— you all know me, the world knows my fame: I am Oedipus” (7–9) – announces the character of his appearance. The choir blesses him. Oedipus is a very strong personality, prone to passionate and rushing actions. He is clever and cares of his subjects. He is depicted as a compassionate ruler. When the city is struck with plague he sends Creon to the oracle even before the citizens ask him for this. However, soon we realize that his passionate nature also causes troubles. In his rush Oedipus killed the groups of people on the road, his father being one of them. Now he denies believing Teresius and gets angry with him, blames Creon for a non-existing coup, insists on finding the witness of Laius’s death and the shepherd who found him in the woods. Jocasta and other people try to stop him, asking not to learn the truth. However, Oedipus is stubborn. He wants to solve the puzzle of his life and to save Thebes. In fact both Jocasta and Oedipus are punished for their disobedience to gods and attempts to deceive their destiny. They refused to believe oracles and tried to change their fates instead of receiving it as the inevitable. “Fear? What should a man fear? It’s all chance, chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark. Better to live at random, best we can. And as for this marriage with your mother—have no fear. Many a man before you, in his dreams, has shared his mother’s bed. Take such things for shadows, nothing at all— Live, Oedipus, as if there’s no tomorrow!” (1068–1078). These words of Jocasta point to the major sin of hers – refusal to receive the predisposed by gods. Oedipus believes in his personal power too much, not realizing that people are only toys in the hands of gods. For this he is punished.
Willy Loman is a man in his search of meaning. Having deceived himself through his whole life, Loman tries to acquire meaning and weight through death. Willy’s suicide is the character’s attempt to prove that his life wasn’t that fruitless and meaningless and that his belief in American Dream, which served as the basis for his worldview, is real. Loman confesses to his elder brother Ben that he feels “kind of temporary about” himself. Willy dreams of becoming great, taking Singleman as his cult figure. Indeed, even Willy’s surname means “low man”. Willy badly orients in the world, looking at it through pink glasses of his interpretation of the American Dream. His perception is childish and mythopoetic, and as all of us he is awfully afraid that his world can be broken, while as all of us he is not able to find his place beyond the mental frameworks he has built his life on. Loman’s interpretation of the American Dream makes him measure happiness in terms of success and material wellness that can be reached, as in a fairy tale, due to luck and favorable appearance. Abandoned by his father and elder brother, Loman strives for being “well-liked”. However, he doesn’t even have friends. Unable to realize his dreams himself, Willy puts great hopes onto his sons, who fail to justify them. Frightened and directed by false visions, he is constantly lying to himself and people surrounding him. This way he tries to blind himself. “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house!” – exclaims Biff. Loman has no friends. At last Willy is abandoned even by his sons. His suicide becomes a childish attempt to be loved at last. Planting the garden at night, Willy imagines his funerals: “Ben, that funeral will be massive! Theyll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old-timers with the strange license plates—that boy will be thunderstruck, Ben, because he never realized—I am known! Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey—I am known, Ben, and hell see it with his eyes once and for all. Hell see what I am, Ben! Hes in for a shock, that boy!” Death is an opportunity to make his sons regret of him and see that his life had meaning. Naively Willy associates his funerals with those of Singleman, to which “hundreds of salesmen and buyers came.” Funerals are to become Willy’s triumph. In fact, all his life is waiting for those funerals, demonstrating that he is “well-liked” and respected, that he has achieved much in life. Willy commits his suicide in hope that his family will get insurance money. This is the quick way to richness and success. Willy is unable to deny his life-long belief in the American Dream. He has not understood till the end that good appearance and luck are only tiny ingredients of the American Dream, presupposing hard work and persistence. To recognize that he was not right means to admit that his life was a big mistake. Willy’s will is too weak for this. He prefers to die in the name of his self-delusions.
Tom Wingfield is an ambiguous character. Tennessee depicted his own youth in this play. Like Oedipus and Loman, Tom is lying to himself. He pretends to dream of freedom and escape. Though the play is aimed at the criticism of Amanda and Laura and their tiny world, this is the world Tom loves heartily. He quarrels with his mother about the novel of Lawrence, writes poetry and escapes the reality in the movies and magic show. However, his heart is nailed down to the tiny world of his mother and sister. Physically strong and healthy, Tom could easily leave his family. He often speaks of adventures waiting for his outside this world of Amanda and Laura. Yet he continues staying with them, looking at the fire escape, and remembering his father. Tom calls himself “a bastard”, yet his past and his parents and his sister Laura are an important part of his life. “I descended the steps of this fire escape for a last time and followed, from then on, in my father’s footsteps, attempting to find in motion what was lost in space. . . . I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something. . . . I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes. Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!” These lines of Tom’s closing speech convey the truth. Tom feels guilty for having abandoned his family, just as his father did. He would prefer to stay with them. Besides, we realize that his feelings to Laura are a bit more than those of a loving brother. The memories of her hunt Tom. He could not leave home, because he felt too attached to his sister, whom he found odd and unable to live in the outside world. Earlier in the play Amanda mentions that Tom is jealous and wants to leave Laura to himself, while the girl could easily adapt in the world. Strong emotions arousing through the play demonstrate that Tom is still suffering his separation from his mother and sister.