"The Problem of Hope: Literary Tragedy in Mid-Twentieth Century American Fiction" examines Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar through the lens of tragedy. This thesis delves into how conflicts between internal and external identities can create a tragic individual, what kinds of success count toward achievement of the "American Dream," and whether the tragic "common man" is the socially normative one or the socially disenfranchised one. It raises a three-dimensional theoretical approach to American tragedy and, most importantly, considers the significance of tragic hope for American literature. This paper questions the construction of American identities across class, race, and gender according to social scripts. It seeks to uncover what forces these scripts exert on American cultural myths and rereads those myths through tragedy to explore Miller's idea of a noble common man. By moving from Miller to Ellison to Plath, this thesis traces the undercurrents of tragedy through some of the most identity-focused novels of mid-twentieth century American fiction to see how the overarching American narrative changed from 1940 to 1969 as the US underwent significant social changes domestically and image changes abroad. Ultimately, this paper concludes that tragedy in mid-twentieth century American fiction points toward a new idea of American success as a success that occurs beyond social scripts.
- The Problem of Hope: Literary Tragedy in Mid-Twentieth Century Fiction
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