The Tragic in Selected Works by Eugene O’Neill and William Faulkner: Its Major Forms and Meanings

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Université Mouloud Mammeri


This research seeks to explore the forms and meanings that the Tragic/Heroic assumes in selected works by Eugene O’Neill and William Faulkner. Methodologically it relies on a cultural materialist and dialogic paradigms borrowed from Raymond Williams’s major works. One major of its findings is that O’Neill’s and Faulkner’s works do not simply hold a dialogue with previous and contemporary literatures and drama of their time, but they also reflect a debate with classical and modern critical theories of tragedy. The second finding is that tragedy is not dead as claimed by George Steiner but that its spirit remains alive even in the modern world and that it is shaped differently. The third finding is that the Tragic/Heroic is not developed only in the major classical literature but also in minor popular literatures of our time such as in Faulkner’s Sanctuary. Its fourth finding relates to the deterriterrolisation of the Tragic/Heroic from a modern myth to a Greek one. In fact, this Doctorate dissertation has charted an historical evolution of the Tragic/Heroic by emphasizing thematic continuity over strict chronological order; it has linked the texts discussed with ten correlating theoretical perspectives, and it deduced its meanings and forms from the personal stances and words of the forty nine Faulknerian and O’Neillian heroes and heroines it has analyzed. Because of this ongoing interrogation whose legacy about the Tragic/Heroic is recognized, this research contended to provide an answer to the following question: How has the Tragic/Heroic evolved aesthetically and ethically in relation to some major issues like Gender, Race, Class, Identity, Religion and Region since ancient Greek tragedians until the mid-twentieth century? It demonstrated the transcendent literary significance of the Tragic/Heroic throughout three different literary ages that it considers as periods at which there has been a constellation of influences and circumstances that opened new opportunity to question, reinvigorate, improve and give tangible form to new ethical and aesthetic meanings about the Tragic/Heroic. It considered that tragedy cannot be outdated or rendered obsolete. Seven novels by Faulkner and thirteen plays by O’Neill were analyzed because of the many theoretical perspectives this research has appealed to, and because of the many influences both authors underwent. Methodologically and in accord with the afore-mentioned announcements, this Doctorate dissertation argued that new aesthetic and ethical meanings about the Tragic/Heroic have been conceived and crystallized out of three most essential historical, social and cultural backgrounds. The first great age in this literary investigation is located from the rise of the Greek tragic until Nietzsche, and it has been entitled: The Rise of the Classical Tragic from Ethics to Aesthetics. The second great literary age is labeled as: The Tragic/Heroic between the Cultural Hegemonic Wholeness and the New Alternatives of the Romantic Age. The third designated great epoch of the Tragic/Heroic is located in between World War One and the 1970’s and it is entitled: The Tragic/Heroic Encounter of the Modern and Post-modern ‘Others’. On the whole, it has been shown that Faulkner and O’Neill experienced an inevitable influence of all what is Greek [Aristotle], and that they were also affected by the many aesthetic and philosophical thoughts about the Tragic/Heroic as developed by Friedrich Nietzsche, G.W.F Hegel, August Strindberg, Henri Bergson, Berthold Brecht, Arthur Miller and Carl Gustav Jung. It has also shown that this ongoing transformation of the Tragic/Heroic can also be mediated throughout the application of postmodern theoretical notions as developed by Raymond Williams, and Gilles Deleuze. In sum, this Doctorate thesis sought to demonstrate the connectedness and the appropriateness of the Tragic/Heroic, under its various forms, to the modern literary works of O’Neill and Faulkner. Multiple examples of heroes [ranging from the classical and neo-classical to the narcissistic romantic, and to the solitary modern and modern-postmodern] have been analyzed in relation to their magnificent but impossible pursuit of identity uniqueness and comfort.




Ethical meanings, Tragic/Heroic