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Abstract The sober treatment of a lowly unheroic protagonist in Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman flatters the audience The more obvious way that it flatters us is by alienating us from the protagonist in his downfall so that we watch his destruction from a secure vantage Less obviously the form of the play typical of modern American tragedy romanticizes the protagonist through what I call the audiences paradox that tension created when a serious work of literature employs an obscure and lowly character as protagonist and so makes him the center of our attention makes him famousMany nineteenth and twentieth century writers seek to convey the experience of a lowly character chafing against his obscurity But how can an author convey such an experience when the very attention of a readership confers upon the character social significance and dignity even fame Exactly how obscure can Jude be when he has a four-hundred page novel written about him and written by Thomas Hardy no less This is a problem I call the audiences paradox a special form of the observers paradox In essence the audiences paradox is the tension created when a lowly character chafing against his obscurity serves as the protagonist of a work of literature and so becomes the center of the audiences attention becomes famousThe paradox is endemic only to post-Enlightenment tragic literature Whereas pride stands as a pivotal human imperfection in both the Ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions the metaphysics of a debased form of romanticism valorizes pride both hubris and narcissism while denigrating humility In America the roots of this tendency can be seen at least as early as Walt Whitman The title of his Song of Myself signals a poem unblushing in its swelling praise of the poems speaker and even if we insist that the speaker is not Whitman the man but a cosmic Whitman joined to all humanity by a boundless love the contempt for humility evinced
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