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Posts Tagged ‘morality play’

Thanks to Netflix and this useful site, I recently watched my way through Breaking Bad. This was a thoroughly pleasing series, both for its relentless logic and its humor. There is also a point of interest for those of us who study literature.

First, consider the character of Everyman.

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He is the subject of the mediaeval morality play by the same name about a man who must account for his life before moving on to either heaven or hell. The term has moved over the years into a name for an ordinary person who gets caught up in difficult times.

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Alfred Hitchcock made most of his films on this character type.

Also recall the last discussion about tragedy. In the ancient days, a tragedy required a hero–someone with a divine parent in the ancestry–who also has a character flaw, typically hubris. Again, these days, tragedy gets applied to just about anyone whose life goes from good to bad due to some personal failing. (It gets applied to a lot more, but that’s often in error.)

These things bring me to Walter White.

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He starts out as a high school chemistry teacher with a disabled son and a baby on the way, a man who founded a company using his skills as a chemist and got cheated out by his partner, and then finds himself with lung cancer.

(Heere there be spoilers.)

By the end of the series, everything in his life has come crashing down. The fact that he tears down his enemies with him doesn’t change the nature of the story as a tragedy.

The point here is the nature of tragedy in the modern world. Walter White gets screwed over by corporations, by his health insurance company, and ultimately by his life. Breaking Bad is a well done show, but it reveals the tragedy of our days. The real flaw is our willingness to accept the power of the few abusing the many.

This is not a flaw that is beyond cure.

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