Shiralkar: George Costanza is a modern-day Sisyphus


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Columnist Parth Shiralkar entertains the idea of George Costanza, a miserable character from “Seinfeld,” being a modern-day version of Sisyphus, a character from Greek mythology who bears the punishment of rolling a stone up a hill for eternity.

Parth Shiralkar

The “Seinfeld” jingle plays in my head as I settle in to write this column. If you have never watched the amazing sitcom, I suggest you start right away and then return to this page. Spoilers ahead.

Some context about Sisyphus: Sisyphus is a mythological character sentenced to an eternal punishment. This punishment is having to repeatedly roll a huge stone up a hill, only to have it roll back down when it reaches the summit. Sisyphus is being punished for being a trickster who managed to cheat Death. This is a nice metaphor for being stuck in a vicious cycle of action, consequence and punchline. Much like George Costanza from “Seinfeld”.

George Louis Costanza is the neurotic best friend of Jerry Seinfeld, the star of the show. Part of the sitcom’s premise is based around Costanza being a human joke. I love the show, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like there is a deeper meaning here that is being overlooked in favor of a laugh track.

From the get-go, we see Costanza struggling to fit in. A man with several personal issues, ranging from sociopathy, random fits of anger and low self-esteem to a habit of cooking up complex plots to get out of uncomfortable situations. This is a good analogy for being a trickster and a lost soul. Why, then, does Costanza have so much trouble with finding lasting happiness or satisfaction? Perhaps he is being punished.

Throughout the show, we can see Costanza struggle with social interaction. He has an abysmal dating life, his relationship with his parents is strained at best and fourth-wall-breaking realistic at worst. There is mention of a brother a few times, but there is no identity associated with this brother. Another minor punishment, maybe? Knowing that there is family outside of the small bubble you have made your peace with, but not knowing who they are or – even more of a punishment – not knowing if they even exist beyond lore.

Costanza was also cursed with a rough childhood. From getting bullied to being ostracized, Costanza’s only friend is Jerry Seinfeld. This, too, perhaps, is an unexamined factor in his life. Is George cursed to always be in the shadow of the great comedian? Is bearing the brunt of more jokes at parties than any person should be subjected to part of his suffering? We shall never know. Through his years of growing up, Costanza’s parents juxtaposed him with a neighborhood kid, whom they adored, thus contributing to his deep-set insecurities.

George Costanza’s proverbial stone up the hill is his inability to cope. As mentioned earlier, he is extremely neurotic and gets fidgety at the slightest setbacks. He also has to exist under a pseudonym for an episode, another one of his attempts to get out of situations. And yet, this identity keeps returning throughout the series, a stark reminder of the stone rolling back down. It is inevitable, then, that Art Vandelay and George Costanza become so intertwined in each other’s identities that there is no other option but to reconsider the very basis of existence.

George Costanza will keep rolling the stone up the hill, a balding and portly bespectacled man wearing a half-decent suit. A stone built of attempts to have faith in himself and find happiness within. A stone that inexorably makes its way back down the hill, putting him back where he started; confused and squinting vaguely at the people around him. A modern-day Sisyphus, stuck in the summer of George.