Tragedy is a dramatic form that was first developed in ancient Greece. A tragedy usually has these characteristics:
The main character is involved in a struggle that ends in disaster. This character, often called the tragic hero, is a person of high rank who has the respect of the community. The tragic hero’s downfall is usually the result of some combination of fate, an error in judgment, and a personality weakness often called a tragic flaw.
Once the tragedy is in motion, the downfall is usually inevitable.
The tragic hero gains wisdom or insight by the play’s end.
Tragedy arouses feelings of pity and fear in the audience. Spectators pity the plight of the main character and fear that a similar fate might befall them. A tragic drama may also suggest that the human spirit is capable of remarkable nobility even in the midst of great suffering. An allegory is a story with more than one layer of meaning: a literal meaning and one or more symbolic meanings. The characters, settings, and themes in an allegory are symbols of ideas and qualities that exist outside the story.
The Crucible is an allegory, because Miller uses one his torical period and setting (seventeenth-century New England) to comment on another (1950s America). The tragedy that occurs in Salem is an allego ry for the anti-Communist hysteria that gripped the United States during the 1950s. As you read, notice how the events in Salem echo the events surrounding the McCarthy hearings to tragic effect.
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