The Great Big Comparative Chart

on Oedipus Rex, King Lear, Death of a Salesman, and ‘Master Harold’ …and the Boys


On your exam in May, you will need be ready to write about the four plays we’re currently studying (or have recently studied).  You will need to have an understanding of each of these plays, not only by themselves, but in comparison/contrast to each other.  Furthermore, as I mentioned before we studied Oedipus, because you won’t have the texts in front of you, you will need to have a detailed understanding of the larger aspects of the plays (not the little stuff you’re used to quoting).  For that reason, I have made sure that these plays have many large, shared links with each other.  It is your job (as a class) to uncover what these links are and to explore (and I mean really explore) the depths and intricacies of those links.

Keep in mind:  A “link” can be any shared aspect of the works: their themes, their characters (either in portrayals and relationships and/or functions), or their techniques (remember BICEPS3).  And by “shared,” I mean that those aspects must be the same, close to the same, or similar ideas that are used in distinctly opposite ways.  Some examples of what I mean appear below:

  • Both Metamorphosis and Woman in the Dunes share the theme of entrapment.  (super-simple link)
  • Both Metamorphosis and Woman in the Dunes center their stories on protagonists who are incapable of escaping their situation.  The difference is that Gregor does not realize he wants to escape—even though he lives in a room with three doors and a window, while Niki spends most of the novel attempting escape from the dune, yet when the opportunity to leave practically falls in his lap, he doesn’t take it.  In the end, both die trapped in the lives they abhor yet allow themselves to keep.  (detailed link)
  • (Sorry you don’t know these novels):  Both Love Medicine and The House of the Spirits use multiple narrators and skip around in time in order to tell their stories.  Yet Erdrich’s narrators in Love Medicine are disjointed, and even when they tell the same stories, the versions do not match up.  These choices suggest to the reader that the lives the characters lead are absolutely fragmented, and that trying to put lives back together into a whole will never result in a perfect fit.  Meanwhile, Allende structures the stories of her narrators under the guise of an omniscient narrator, a narrator we find out is actually Alba, the youngest member of the Trueba family.  By filtering all the stories, even Esteban’s, through Alba’s omniscient narrator, Allende creates a story that is whole and continuous.  However, despite their different uses of narration and time within their novels, ultimately both authors suggest that stories provide hope for future generations.  (detailed link)  (ok… don’t freak…. it’s just an example J; however, the more you prep now, the easier it will be to spit stuff like this out on your exams in May and next year in college)

If I was going to write my second sample above up in a chart, it might look something like this:


Shared Aspect



Woman in the Dunes

A Doll’s House

Theme of “entrapment”

§         Main character Gregor is entrapped by his family, his job, and himself.

§         Gregor is so unaware of his entrapment that he even locks himself into his room every night (prior to becoming a cockroach—he mentions this is one of his habits being on the road as a salesman).  We also can see the depth of his entrapment because when he does turn into a cockroach it never even occurs to him to ask “why;” instead, all he worries about is how he’ll get his pants on to go to work.

§         Yet Kafka inserts plenty of ways for Gregor to escape—symbolized by the 3 doors and 1 window in his room.

§         Main character Niki is entrapped by the villagers and eventually himself.

§         Niki is dying to escape from the hole in the dunes.  He makes it his mission to get out and he makes a failed attempt at one point.  However, as time goes by, even though Niki still desires to leave, he gets caught up in the world of the dunes.  We see this particularly with his “invention.”

§         At the end, Abe gives Niki the opportunity to leave when, in the course of his plot, the villagers leave the rope ladder dangling into the hole after taking the woman out to the hospital.  Niki, his escape in hand, chooses not to leave, thereby revealing himself as his own worst captor.

§         Main character Nora is entrapped by her family, her society, and her own ignorance.

§         Like Gregor, Nora is unaware of her own confinement which is created by her marriage to Torvald. 

§         etc….etc…..



Below you will find the 4-Play chart we’ll be working together on filling out.  All of this “filling out” will appear on-line through my website, and you can go there to download more recent versions after people have started filling in ideas they’d like to share.  As you can see from below, I’ve already plugged in a few linked areas to explore.

By 4 pm on Wednesday, April 7, your assignment is to submit 2 individual (yes, work it out on your own) ideas to add to the chart.  By “ideas,” I mean giving your thoughts on at least two of the plays across a linked area.  So, for example, the work I did in the sample chart above with Metamorphosis and Woman in the Dunes would count as ONE idea.  And yes, you should aim at making your idea that detailed, but it could be slightly less and still score well.

Additionally, you may submit more ideas or partial ideas to me for extra credit.  In this case, you may work with a partner to develop your ideas, just make sure you submit your work with both your names on it.  If you want the extra credit to count for this quarter, it must be submitted by 4 pm Wed. April 7.

How does this work?

  • You can submit your ideas to me in writing by either filling out the chart below or drawing your own chart.
  • You can download a copy of the chart on-line, open it up in Word, type in your additions and bold them so I can clearly see what you’ve added.  Then print your work OR email it to me in an attachment to
  • Keep checking on-line for newer versions of the chart to increase your own idea bank and for additional ideas to respond to/add to.

You can find the chart on-line on the IB World Literature page.