Discuss how Waugh blends comedy and tragedy in ‘A Handful of Dust’:
The blend of an essentially tragic plot with comical situations and characters is noted by Peter Quennel, saying that the reader “smiles and is subtly horrified at the same time” by Waugh’s sometimes humorous punishment of his characters. As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly symbolic, exacerbating the amusing factors of the tragic
To understand how Waugh blends comedy and tragedy in this novel, it is also important to understand why. Waugh felt that society was descending into “fear in a handful of dust”, the title referencing TS Eliot’s ‘modernist poem, The Waste Land’. A Handful of Dust is the first of Waugh’s works that has an inherently religious message. With the serious tone and often upsetting plot, Waugh felt that humour would sufficiently lighten the mood of the novel and also unsettle the reader.
The comic and tragic elements serve the same purpose and in their own ways belittle the characters and their situations. Early in the novel, in a discussion with Beaver, Jock remarks that ‘Tony’s the happiest man I know,” with an apparently “devoted wife”. Beaver and Jock are largely responsible for Tony’s devastating downfall, yet they consider how perfect his life is before doing so. This is exactly the kind of self-mocking ironic satire that Waugh aims to achieve, making his characters seem worthless and surreal. John Andrew continues this theme when referring to Polly Cockpurse as “that monkey-woman”. She is a tragic woman, similar to Beaver in that her purpose has been to climb the social ladder, a pointless activity as far as Waugh is concerned. Yet John Andrew’s innocent interpretation of her appearance amuses the reader for more simple reasons. Waugh contrasts instances that are funny for obvious reasons with tragedy that is more complex and vice versa.
The Essay on Is President Bill Clinton A Tragic Character
Is President Bill Clinton a Tragic character A tragic character is someone who is basically good, strong, intelligent, and not a martyr. A tragic character must have good fortune and be successful. A tragic character must also possess a tragic flaw, which in an attribute that would lead to a downfall. The character must also be of great importance or in a position of greatness. The character must ...
Tragedy and comedy combine to the same satirical ends throughout the novel. This is particularly true for Tony’s ‘Fisher King’ fate, when Mr Todd says, “We will not have any Dickens today… but tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that”. John Cunningham notes that Tony’s “history and his condition at the end of the novel seem to be punishments too severe for his only crime – being tiresome”; the modern reader feels that Tony’s brutal suffering is too much, yet the reader is also amused by the manner of his suffering.
Waugh uses his characters’ obliviousness to create a droll yet destructive novel. Tony drowns his sorrows over his failing marriage, insisting “I’m not feeling low, I was but I’m not any more”; he tries his hardest to see Brenda while she does her utmost to avoid him and spends her time with her lover. Beaver has to let Tony know that his wife is “very sorry but she cannot join you tonight”. This shows Brenda to be a coward, Beaver is pathetically obedient and Tony is painfully desperate. The reader is saddened by this state of affairs, but cannot ignore the amusing scene as the contrasting themes are interweaved and juxtaposed. A separate example of Brenda’s self-delusion shows what a character’s obliviousness can lead to in A Handful of Dust; she pleads with Tony, “don’t make me feel a beast.” seemingly unaware that she is exactly why “Everything has been so difficult”. The reader is torn between laughing at this ridiculousness and despising Brenda for her appalling actions. All the characters appear to side with Brenda, but the reader feels Tony is the only one seeing any sense. Therefore the fact that he is being punished only adds to the sense of (an admittedly amusing) injustice.
Brenda’s sometimes swift and blunt personality is utilised to both comedic and tragic effect. This is seen on a small scale when Tony read “with Brenda, until, one day, in a moment of frankness, she remarked that it was torture to her”. Brenda lulls Tony into thinking she is happy, until she brings Tony back to reality in unpredictable but admittedly funny circumstances. Brenda’s cowardly letter of divorce, where she proclaims: “I am in love with John Beaver” is an example in the same vein. The repercussions of this rather more serious matter are amplified for a more amusing yet also chilling outcome than the incident of Ton’y reading. She proclaims: “I am in love with John Beaver”, and also to highlight a previous point, shows complete obliviousness in hoping “afterwards we shall be great friends”. These factors contribute to Brenda’s role as the key figure of inflicting Waugh’s combination of comedy and tragedy.
The Term Paper on Shakespearean Comedy
Shakespeare wrote many plays during his lifetime. Some of his plays have similar comedic characteristics and then other plays are the exact opposite of comedy. Shakespeare wrote tragedies, romance, history, comedy and problem plays all with great success. During the performance of these plays there was no scenery so great time was taken when developing the characters and the plot so the plays ...
Metaphors and symbols are used to blend comedy and tragedy. For example, when Mr Todd notes of Dickens that “There are passages of that book I can never hear without the temptation to weep.”, which of course, bears a striking similarity to A Handful of Dust itself. This irony is satirical, but an obvious reminder of the dark and upsetting tone to the novel. The entire second half of the novel is abruptly transformed into a symbolic monster and, Douglas Lane Patey believes that Waugh was “finding the novel too long… packed Tony off… creating a break in genre and tone that has troubled readers ever since”. This is interesting as Waugh had not originally intended to unsettle the readers in this way. However, one of his main aims with this novel was to alienate the reader through the odd combination of comedy and tragedy. This “break in genre and tone” works well with Waugh’s combination of comedy and tragedy.
Waugh uses an array of irony, obliviousness, ridiculousness and satire to drive his combination of comedy and tragedy through to the reader in A Handful of Dust. John Cunningham notes that “Tony’s old life must come to dust and ashes before the possibility of comic redemption can be offered to him”, whereas the reader is constantly wrestling with comedy and morality.