Shaft: A Tragedy or a Comedy?

1. Introduction

"Shaft" is a 1971 American action thriller film directed by Gordon Parks. The film stars Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, an African-American private detective hired by a Harlem mobster to rescue his daughter from a kidnapper.

The film was a commercial and critical success, grossing $13 million at the box office and winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Theme from Shaft". It has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

2. The definition of tragedy and comedy

To understand the genre of the movie one must recognize the definition of tragedy and comedy.
Aristotle defined tragedy as "the imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude… in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play… in the form of action, not of narrative… with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions" In other words, for Aristotle, a tragedy is a story that imitates a serious and important historical event that has catastrophic consequences. The style is formal and elevated, designed to provoke pity and fear in the audience so that they can experience a catharsis or purging of these emotions.

On the other hand, comedy is "the imitation of characters of lower type… in ridicule or derision"; or, more formally, "the imitation of inferior people whose vices or follies are exposed either seriously or in jest with an object either to censure vice or folly by making it ridiculous, or to praise virtue by holding it up to ridicule". In other words, comedy is the story of characters who are not necessarily bad people but who are foolish or make foolish mistakes. The purpose of comedy is either to make fun of vice or folly so as to correct it, or to praise virtue by making it seem more attractive than vice.

3. Tragedy or comedy: what is "Shaft" about?

Now that we have seen the definitions of tragedy and comedy, let us return to the question at hand: is "Shaft" a tragedy or a comedy?

On one level, "Shaft" could be seen as a tragedy because it deals with some very serious topics such as racism and social conflict. The opening scene shows Shaft walking through Harlem and being harassed by a group of white men who call him "nigger"; later on, he is almost killed by one of them. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the film, which is full of scenes depicting racial tension and violence. In addition, the film also deals with other serious topics such as police corruption and organized crime. As such, "Shaft" could be seen as a tragic story about racism and social conflict in America.

On the other hand, "Shaft" could also be seen as a comedy because it is a story about a private detective who is hired to rescue a kidnapped girl. This plot is not particularly serious or important, and the film does not take itself too seriously either. The opening scene, for example, is played for laughs: Shaft is not really in danger, and the white men are more annoying than anything else. In addition, the film is full of humorous moments, such as when Shaft pretends to be a taxi driver in order to get information from a fare, or when he tells his girlfriend that he "likes black women because they don't talk back". As such, "Shaft" could be seen as a light-hearted comedy about a private detective who happens to be African American.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, "Shaft" could be seen as either a tragedy or a comedy, depending on how one interprets the film. On one level, it is a story about racism and social conflict; on the other hand, it is also a story about a private detective who is hired to rescue a kidnapped girl. As such, "Shaft" can be seen as either a tragedy or a comedy, depending on one's perspective.


The playwright uses humor to explore the tragedy of addiction and mental illness by making light of the characters' situations. For example, when Shaft is talking about his addiction, he makes jokes about how he can't stop using drugs even though he knows they're bad for him. This allows the audience to see the tragic reality of addiction while also understanding the character's sense of humor.

The setting of the park contributes to the themes of the play by providing a place for the characters to congregate and interact with each other. The park is a symbol of hope and possibility, which helps offset some of the darkness surrounding Shaft's addiction and mental illness.

The significance of the character Shaft's name could be twofold: first, it could be a reference to his physical appearance (i.e., he is a tall, muscular man), or second, it could be a nod to his status as an addict/addict-in-recovery (i.e., someone who "shoots up" drugs).

Other characters in the play react to Shaft's addiction and mental illness in different ways. Some are sympathetic and try to help him, while others are judgmental and dismissive. However, all of them ultimately want what's best for him, even if they don't always know how to express it.

There is definitely hope for redemption for Shaft and all of the other characters in the play; that is one of its central themes. Although their situations may seem hopeless at times, there is always potential for change and growth if they're willing to work towards it.

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