This essay reads Ian McEwan’s Children Act (2014) as a literary tragedy that is in dialogue with the classical form and the philosophical discourse that surrounds it. Of particular relevance is George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s definition of tragedy as a collision between two valid but limited articulations of justice. The essay argues that McEwan’s contemporary tragedy enacts such a collision by intensifying the polarization between two competing systems of values: modern reason and religious faith. The novel depicts a complex entanglement between the two paradigms while exploring the limitations of modern reason and its unresolved tensions with faith. Moreover, in highlighting where the clash between reason and faith turns destructive, McEwan also implicitly points to other possibilities, to paths not taken. The Children Act indicates that conflict turns to tragedy when the two sides attempt to disentangle from what seems like threatening “otherness.” Throughout there are hints that if the adversaries could instead endorse their essential interlinkage, could admit to the irresolvable contradictions of each position, then the tragic denouement could be avoided. The novel thus calls for a more holistic response to cultural conflicts while inviting readers to reflect on the contradictions and repressions of modern reason.

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