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Published: 09-10-2019

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The Disastrous Characteristics in Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath

Regarded as to be blueprint for the mechanics of tragedy, Aristotle’s Poetics revolves about the assumption that great performs of tragedy have to contain a generous number of mimetic elements, or elements which readily imitate human life. In addition, nicely-organized tragic plots combine both reversal of fate (peripeteia) and personal recognition (anagnorisis) that largely outcome from a character’s tragic flaw (hamartia). In relation to Aristotle’s proposed framework for tragedy, Sylvia Plath’s short story “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” unintentionally recreates a tragic plot via the life and actions of the story’s principal character.

“Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” details a complex medical doctor-patient partnership amongst an unnamed major character and Johnny Panic himself. Operating as a secretary assistant in an out-patient clinic, the unnamed character is responsible for recording doctors’ analyses. Nonetheless, upon becoming increasingly infatuated with Johnny Panic, she begins to copy his patient’s dreams into a notebook she refers to as Johnny Panic’s “Bible.” As the character strives to be much more and more like Johnny Panic himself, she begins to discover a dark and sinister side to her idol. Yet, instead of deterring her from her connection with Panic, this discovery only leads to a stronger obsession. She starts secretly reading and recording outdated dream logs for the duration of the short periods of time that her co-workers are out of the office. Likewise, her developing obsession leads her to devise a plan to keep in her office overnight and accomplish much more than she could otherwise. However, in the course of the initial morning following an overnight stay, she is caught by the Clinic Director and is forced into a wing of the hospital reserved for in-patients. Whilst the story ends with her unwillingly receiving electroshock therapy treatments, her final believed only concerns the loss of Johnny Panic.

In Poetics, Aristotle claims that a tragic character is neither particularly excellent nor particularly evil. In Plath’s short story, the unnamed character is just that. She is not regarded as excellent simply because she violates the extent of her workplace duties for her personal psychological fulfillment. But she does not commit any type of atrocity which would characterize her as inherently bad or evil. Indeed, she has excellent intentions towards becoming a devout follower of Johnny Panic himself, but her intentions are continuously thwarted by her co-workers’ interruptions. Additionally, the primary character remains constant and realistic for the story’s entirety. She acts correctly in regard to her position as a secretary, carrying out her every day duties nonetheless, she is unable to suppress the expanding obsession she has for Johnny Panic. Right after all, several everyday individuals have discovered themselves engrossed with yet another person or act at some point in their lives. However, it is this identical obsession that leads the unnamed character to her downfall. In the end, the character’s tragic fate is a direct outcome of her dark obsession with anything she believes to be great. Plath’s character perfectly embodies not only this Aristotelean aspect of tragic failing, but also follows the aforementioned framework for a tragic hero perfectly.

According to Aristotle, complex plots should involve either “revolution or discovery,” or each (210). In reference to Plath’s short story, the reversal of the female primary character’s fate occurs when she is caught reading the old journals of dreams and is led by the Clinic Director to the in-patient psych ward. Major up to her unexpected shift in circumstances, she falls so deeply into her obsessive worship of Panic that she starts re-producing “dreams that are not written down at all” (160). Even claiming that copying dreams into Panic’s “Bible” is her “real calling,” she attempts to uncover a deeper which means inside the dreams, ultimately slipping into psychological deterioration (157). Following being forced into the psych ward, she is provided shock treatment options by “the latest model in Johnny-Panic killers” (171). When she is getting the shocks she is in a position hear the devotional chants of the surrounding priests nonetheless, she sees and hears Panic’s presence in the light through each crack of electricity, even stating “his word charges and illuminates the universe” (172).

It is here that Plath’s story deviates from Aristotle’s model of tragedy. The unnamed character in no way achieves complete recognition, simply because to turn against Johnny Panic would be a “crass fate these medical doctors get in touch with wellness and happiness” (166). At this point, it is clear that Panic is in handle of the character’s thoughts his influence is constant. When she is “most lost the face of Johnny Panic appears” to comfort her via electroshock therapies (172). She dramatically states in the last moments of the story “he forgets not his own,” displaying that she has not completely recognized her fatal obsession (172). However, her scene of suffering does in reality “excite either pity or terror” as Aristotle claims (210). In truth, her shock remedies provide a type of release from the suspense of the action, simultaneously evoking pity from her audience. Although full recognition is usually a required feature of tragedy, it is interestingly this lack of recognition that proves this text to be a tragic work. Given that the character in no way completely recognizes her tragic flaw, her ignorance largely contributes to the scene of suffering produced by the story’s finish. The audience has no decision but to empathize with Plath’s character as she unwillingly undergoes electrotherapy.

“Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams” closely approximates the tragic framework presented by Aristotle. Though this approximation might be unintentional, Plath produces a tragic effect all through much of her writing. This distinct short story exemplifies the mimesis of realistic human action that Aristotle so ardently desired. In addition, the cautious crafting of Plath’s unnamed character follows Aristotle’s requirements for a tragic hero. However most importantly, the plot includes reversal, a sort of recognition, and in the end a scene of suffering, all true to the principal contours of Aristotle’s conception of tragedy.

Functions Cited

Aristotle. “Poetics.” Literary Aesthetics: A Reader. Ed. Alan Singer and Allen Dunn. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. 205-210. Print.

Plath, Sylvia. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Quick Stories, Prose, and Diary Excerpts.

New York: Harper Perennial, 1979. Print.
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