Tragic Endings: A Paradox of Perspective in American Beauty


David Bergner

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In Aristotle?s conception of tragedy, tragedy?s utility lies in its ability to purge the audience of the emotions of fear and pity and the learning that occurs as the audience vicariously experiences events they would never themselves want to experience. However, as evidenced by the ending of Sophocles? King Oedipus, the protagonist in the story is given no such catharsis or broader understanding to console him, but rather left to wallow in the devastating wake of tragedy. While American Beauty certainly accomplishes the goal of catharsis and vicarious experience, it also offers a new way of seeing the world through the eyes of main character, in which, contrary to our common sense, beauty is not the absence of tragedy such that they can be separated into discrete and independent entities, but rather tragedy and beauty are in fact closely related and ultimately inseparable. Although it fulfils the basic precepts of Aristotelian tragedy, it simultaneously transcends and defies the notion of an exclusively tragic ending by delicately intertwining the beautiful and the tragic, blurring the distinction between them. Just as the main character?s perspective is radically expanded to at last an omniscient perspective, so to the audience is compelled to see the world in its infinite context, where tragedy and beauty are no longer isolated phenomena and distinct from one another, but inextricably tied together. Beauty in this case would be the experiences our souls yearn for and delight to revel in.


Katie Mills




Ford Research Endowment

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