Willy Loman as Tragic Hero of Death of a Salesman
Willy Loman, the title character of the play, Death of Salesman, exhibits all the characteristics of a modern tragic hero. This essay will support this thesis by drawing on examples from Medea by Euripedes, Poetics by Aristotle, Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, while comments by Moss, Gordon, and Nourse reinforce the thesis.
Death of Salesman, by Arthur Miller, fits the characteristics of classic tragedy. ?.... this is, first of all, a play about a man's death. And tragedy has from the beginning dealt with this awesome experience, regarding it as significant and moving.? (Nourse). The first defining point of a tragedy is the hero. The traits for a tragic hero, as defined by Aristotle in Poetics, are social rank, hamartia, ability to arouse pity, peripeteia, hubris, and anagnorisis. Will Loman's classification as a tragic hero has been debated because he lacks the high social rank and nobility to be considered so. Arthur Miller chose to argue this, however, by stating that Willy Loman was ?a very brave spirit who cannot settle for but must pursue his dream of himself to the end,? (Moss, 27) reasserting the character of a modern hero as noble, not in position or wealth, but as one noble in spirit. Loman, indeed, is not of high position, but rather a member of the middle class, with bills to pay and mouths to feed, but he has the highest hopes of living his life to the fullest, and benefiting his family no matter what the cost.
His tragic flaw, however, is more than evident. Like Jason in the classic tragedy Medea by Euripedes, his sense of pride clouds reality. His business is in the work of a simple carpenter, but his pride won?t leave him to settle for such low-class work. ?Biff: What the hell do you want from me? What do you want from me? Willy: Greatness-? (Miller, 220.) His judgment is so skewed by his dreams that he even begins to try and live his fantasies through his sons, leading to his eventual end. ?I?m losing weight, Dad, can?t you tell?? (51), Happy says as Willy boastfully rambles on about Biff?s great achievements in football. The resentment that builds up because of the lack of interest in Happy?s life on Willy?s account, also lead up to the tumultuous animosity between the two song and their father.
Pity for Willy is hardly avoidable when reading Death of a Salesman. His low rank, the lack of respect displayed by his sons, his misguided dreams, all lead to sympathy for a character on the verge of senility. ?Nobody dast blame this man,? (231) says Charley at the grave site, because, despite what Willy was lead to believe, they understood the position he was in, even though the means do not justify the end. His dream of success as a salesman failed. The sons whom he took so much pride in, grew up to be nothing more than a philandering business assistant and a thief. It is obvious that he is in...