Willy Loman, Redefining the Tragic Hero in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
The events in the life of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman are no doubt tragic, yet whether or not he can be considered a tragic hero in a traditional sense is a topic requiring some discussion. Aristotle set the criteria for qualities a character must possess in order to be considered a tragic hero. In order to reach a conclusion on this matter, all six criteria must be examined to determine whether or not they are present in the character of Willy Loman.
The first criterion for a tragic hero is hamartia, or a tragic flaw in the character's personality that brings about their downfall. Willy Loman definitely does possess a tragic flaw, and in his case it is pride. Loman cannot accept that he is a terrible salesman, a substandard provider, and suffering from mental illness. He borrows money every week from Charley, his neighbor, so that he can tell his family stories of his successful sales trips.
While Willy definitely does possess a tragic flaw, another criterion required by Aristotle is peripeteia, a character's reversal near the end of the story for the purpose of self-reservation. Willy definitely does not meet this criterion. When Willy is terminated from his job late in the story, Charley offers him a job working for him, but feeling too much pride, Willy turns it down, saying he's already got a job. He turns down a chance to make a decent means to finish paying off his house and refrigerator, but turns it down because of his stubborn pride.
A tragic hero must have a mix of both good and bad qualities, predominantly good, so that they are more of a character that readers could relate to. Willy is a hard worker, although a bad salesman. He wants the best for his family. Overall, Willy is a typical middle-aged white-collar worker. However he does have a few bad qualities about him in this story. One that is brought up more than once is his adultery in a hotel while on a sales trip. Biff walked in on this escapade, causing him to subsequently lose faith in his father and give up on trying to please him. Failing to see this as his own fault, Willy then labels his son an underachiever. When Biff and Happy were children, Willy favored Biff for his skills with the ladies and laughed off his bad habit of theft. Happy, trying to earn his father's respect, eventually duplicates his brother's actions, sneaking up the corporate ladder by stealing his superiors' women and sleeping with them.
Aristotle believed that a tragic hero must be a character that readers would be inclined to have both pity for and concern for the character's well being. This is definitely a factor in this story. One of the major reasons why readers might pity Loman is that all the time that his mental condition is worsening, his family realizes it. They see through his lies to the reality that he is steadily heading...