How to Display Tragedy

4 Nov

During our last class session, we were discussing whether we could consider The Corner to be a tragedy.  While I’m wary of labeling it as such because I don’t want to pigeonhole it into a set genre when it has so much more going on than a typical tragedy, I certainly believe it is a tragic story, and it can be considered this way because of its major theme:  failed attempts at reform and change.  In DeAndre’s case, we can see that he is very intelligent, and could do very well in school and be successful in life if he stopped trying to sell drugs on the corner.  In Gary’s, we see him attempt to climb out of the hole of addiction he has buried himself in by trying to get a steady job.  However, in both cases, their environment gets the better of them, and they are unable to realize these dreams, due no more to flaws in their characters than flaws in their surrounding environment which they cannot escape. 


This is a perfect example of a very effective way of expressing tragedy in a way that viewers can relate to it, as by depicting characters (whether or not they are based on real people) whose moral makeup causes them to want to change their lives for the better, writers can help us to identify with them and hope that these attempts at change will succeed.  If these attempts do not succeed, particularly because of institutional circumstances more or less out of their control, we are affected emotionally because we can be drawn to question whether something similar might happen to us if we were in their situation.


The Corner is one of many series which displays tragic elements in this way, and for another great example we can look to David Simon’s subsequent creation, The Wire.  McNulty’s self-destructive nature doesn’t stop him from always attempting to do what he feels is just, regardless of what any of his superiors might have to say about it, but most of the time his efforts are squished by the bureaucracy which he himself has signed onto.  There are many other examples of this in the series, such as Major Colvin’s ultimately fruitless attempts to combat drug enforcement laws which serve to cause much more violent crime than would exist without them.  Another great series which involves plenty of tragedy and is based entirely off of failed attempts at reform is OZ, where many prisoners attempt to clean up their acts so that they can have a chance at getting paroled and experience life on the outside.  However, virtually no one succeeds in getting out, and even those who do succeed in getting out temporarily often get drawn back in, causing the audience to feel awfully for them, whether we might consider them to be hardened criminals or not.

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