Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sweetest Downfall

If you haven't heard Regina Spektor's "Samson," now would be a good time to change that. It's one of my favorite songs of all time.

Now that you're in the right mood, one of the things that I am most infatuated with in pretty much any piece of literature is trying to understand why people do the things that they do. I'm realizing little by little that that his own problems (say, for example, in trying to justify Milton's Satan figure, not that anyone would do that...), but it's something that's helped me to empathize with a variety of people in all sorts of different circumstances. Anyway, as I read Samson Agonistes, I thought a lot about Samson as a tragic figure, and that got me thinking about his fatal flaw--why, in the end, he did what did.

One might argue that Samson's flaw abides in the fact that he was unwilling to let others help him or that he was unwilling to truly forgive himself. While these are both fine analyses, I would posit that his essential flaw was in fact his vulnerability--his willingness to trust. You're maybe thinking right now, "That's not a flaw at all!" and before I lose all credibility, I'll affirm the same: Samson's flaw is not a flaw at all. In fact, it's what makes him human, and it's what makes us care about him as an individual. I think it's really easy to see Samson just as the warrior or as the melancholy prisoner. Sometimes we look at him and think, "Man, he was so dumb to have been fooled by Delilah after all that." But the thing is, he was still an ordinary person; his heart beats as does mine and yours, and as I see it, he really did love Delilah. So things seemed kind of shifty from the start, but how long can cynicism really hold out before love soften resolve? I don't condone Samson's actions at all, but can I understand where he's coming from? Yeah. Is it bad to love and to want to have somebody to trust? Is the worse state to be shorn of one's strength or possessed of a stony heart? 


  1. It is a tragic flaw to trust blindly. It's the inversion of the moral/virtue that's dangerous. It's okay to trust people, not to trust them blindly. It's not bad to want to love somebody, but it's a bad idea to choose from among your enemies and not expect to get double crossed.

  2. Interesting that I don't really consider love to be one of the main themes of this tragedy. I guess I saw the usuals: trust, betrayal, responsibility, fate, etc...
    Conversation I was having with my sister a while ago: in the song, the lyrics "the history books forgot about us, and the Bible didn't mention us" which suggests that the characters in this song aren't the actual Samson and Delilah, but two people who are having similiar experiences, or at least feelings. The heartbreak Samson (and probably Delilah, too) both felt is pretty universal.

    1. I always understood it as her talking to Samson, i.e. the history books never mentioned Samson and Regina -- only him and Delilah. Not sure, though...

  3. I hadn't heard this song, but it's gorgeous! I never thought of his fatal flaw making him more human. I guess I was just looking at him from a Greek Tragedy view. But it makes sense for a "fatal flaw" to actually be quality that could be good. I think you're right that this is what makes Samson more human and a little more relatable to us. Milton does a good job of making his characters feel a little more human to us, doesn't he?