Last November, in the wake of Mark Oppenheimer’s New York Times article on Mormon literature, Mahonri wrote a post on Mormon tragedy that sought to make a case for Mormonism’s capacity for tragedy. His argument, if I followed it correctly, was that Mormons can write tragic Mormon stories because Mormons, like everyone else, are not immune to experiences that cause suffering and negative emotions. As he rightly noted:
The amount of tragedy that I have seen Mormons endure has been no more, but certainly no less, than other people of comparable stations in other parts of the world. There are Mormons I know, or who I know of, who have endured homelessness, death of loved ones (including by suicide and murder), racism, sexism, poverty, self-mutilation, mental illness, kidnapping, abuse, depression, betrayal, failure, disfigurement, etc. Thus, if you can find it out in the world, you can find it also among Mormons, to a lesser or greater degree.
Based on this statement, “tragedy” is largely something that happens to someone—either because of someone else’s choices or psychological factors beyond an individual’s control. For Mahonri, the fact that Mormons are just as susceptible to the conditions of the Fall as anybody else creates a “recipe” for tragedy that, while present in everyday Mormon life, is not being used in the kitchen of Mormon literature. His conclusion was that “we as a culture” must nurture our tragedians—and, according to his count, we have many—by “hav[ing] the bravery to look at the shadows in our souls and purge them through catharsis.”