Willy Loman is a Tragic Hero
Tragic heroes are those who experience failures and successes that ultimately lead to their downfall. Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” uses Willy Loman to portray a confused and depressed main character. The question of Willy Loman being a tragic hero is also left open by Miller.
Miller takes Willy Loman’s hopes and dreams and makes them failures in order to portray him as a tragic hero. Willy Loman seems to live a normal existence from an outsider’s perspective. He is a travel salesman, with two grown-up sons and a beautiful union. Is that the life he really has? It isn’t.
Willy’s first disappointment is his son. “Biff Loman gets lost. A young man with such – personal attractiveness — gets lost in the greatest country of the world.” (207) this story takes us back to high school senior Biff. He failed the math class that was required to graduate. He was unable to take a math class that required him to graduate.
Since then, Biff has been on a downward spiral. Linda and Willy both notice the devastation and are both shocked. Willy, however, becomes angry and agitated over his son’s behavior. Biff was not the son he expected to be. Biff didn’t want to be a star football player like his father .According the paper, Shakespeare’s criteria include being of noble birth, having a fatal character flaw and dying from this flaw.
Although Willy doesn’t fit the criteria, the author came up with another way to make Willy a tragic hero according to Shakespeare’s requirements. “Willy is universal because he embodies dreams, hopes and fears that could be typical for all of us.” (xi). The reader can see Willy’s dreams, hopes, and fears throughout the story.
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman illustrates the tragedy as described by Aristotle in Poetics. Miller’s play features Willy Loman as the protagonist. He has many characteristics that make him a tragic hero.
The Aristotelian tragedy is the death of a high-esteem person, such as a ruler or king, as a result their weakness, also known as a tragic defect. According to Aristotle, harmatia is the cause of the tragic hero.
Tragedia is a serious play which evokes sympathy in the audience for the tragic hero. Aristotle believed that tragedy should elicit emotions such as fear and pity among the audience. He also advocated catharsis to purge these emotions. Aristotelian tragedy also has six elements: plot, character (diction), thought, thought, spectacle and song or music.
According to Aristotle, the tragedy of Arthur Miller’s play Death of Salesman is a tragedy. Miller’s tragic hero could be described as Willy Loman, the protagonist. Willy’s tragic flaw, unlike the Aristotelian or classical tragedy in which the hero is too proud, is his obsession with illusionary sight.
The playwright uses Willy to discuss the unattainable American dream, which will forever be an illusion for most people. He was so focused on his dream of being a successful salesman that he didn’t see the harm that he was doing to himself and those around him.
Willy may have taken pride in the fact that he refused reality to be accepted and believed in his vision. Willy, once a prominent member of society and a well-known businessman, had fallen from grace to a disillusionment and unhappiness. Tragedies were a serious play that ends with a tragic or sad ending, according to Aristotle. Miller’s tragedy is emphasized by Willy’s suicide, after realizing he wouldn’t be successful.
Willy couldn’t have accepted the fact that he had failed to achieve his vision, and that he was a horrible husband and father. He needed refuge in death. Willy’s family was left with nothing to inherit and the grief of losing their father and husband. Because he was unable to adapt to change and had made many mistakes in his life, the protagonist chose death.
As the play progresses, the protagonist is faced with many obstacles. Willy was his biggest obstacle because he refused to accept his failures and shortcomings. Willy chose to accept the truth and strive to be a better person than he did. He committed suicide.
Willy made many errors in his life. However, the tragedy of Willy’s failure to admit it adds an element of sadness. Willy’s failures weigh down on him and eventually, he commits suicide. Willy has to deal also with his declining health as he gets older, but he still believes in his goal of being a successful entrepreneur. Willy is no longer as productive in his work as he was when he was younger. “After all the roads, trains, appointments, and years, you end-up more dead than alive.” (Miller 1823). Willy’s thoughts were a foreshadowing of the tragic end that would see the protagonist take his own life. Miller’s tragedy is not just about the protagonist, but also other characters, especially his family.
The play is about a husband’s failure that drags his family to their doom. Willy had two children, but it is clear that his failures would be passed on to his sons. They would also live in poverty. Biff, Willy’s son, might have been successful if he had accepted to go to college to become a footballer. Linda, Willy’s wife, is also dismay because her sons and daughters were completely dependent on Willy.
The tragedy of the play ends with the family destined for a miserable existence after the loss of their provider. Willy’s entire extended family contributes tragic elements to the play. Miller uses the characters and the setting to create an atmosphere that is filled with misfortune, failures, despair, tragedy, and despair. It is also tragic because it stirs up the emotions of fear and pity among the audience.
Miller’s plays follow the Aristotelian rules of tragedy. However, the playwright tries to create or imitate a modern form of tragedy. Miller’s famous play was written in post-World War II, when the nation was still recovering from the war toll. Miller discussed the tragic consequences of the American dream. Miller used Willy to describe ordinary Americans who struggle with issues such as financial difficulties, parenting roles and marriage.
Willy wasn’t the only salesman to have a hard life, as shown in “…. He died in his green velvet slippers, smoking, and hundreds of buyers attended the funeral.” (Miller 1814). It is also important to mention that Miller’s play doesn’t exactly meet the Aristotelian definition a tragedy.
Aristotle believes that a tragic hero must have a noble background. But Willy, the protagonist, is just an average man. He’s not a great man, but I don’t think so. Willy Loman didn’t make a lot of money. His name wasn’t in the newspaper. Miller, 1802). Willy, however, plays an important role in the development of the play as tragedy making him a tragic hero. This is evident in his suicide.
Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a classic example of modern tragedy, is Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It follows the Aristotelian tragedy guidelines through the use of characters such as Willy Loman or his family to elicit emotions of pity/sad among the audience.
Willy Loman is a Tragic Hero: We’ll all be Willy-nilly
We feel sorry for Willy, but we also fear that Willy could be our fate.
We are afraid that we might end up like Willy, the salesman, and have nothing left to show for our lives. We also fear that we may end up having children who do not meet our standards and dislike us. We fear that, like Willy, the husband, we may succumb to temptation and cheat on our spouses because of our loneliness.
We fear we are too like Willy Loman. His surname, Lo-man, reminds us of a “low man”, a man considered inferior or lowly by capitalist society.
The tragic story of the salesman is not due to Othello’s jealousy or Macbeths ambitions, but rather from the everyday, which makes it much more relatable (and, for some, more tragic) to theatregoers. He reminds us of ourselves, because he is all too human.
We won’t be Othello nor Macbeth so our sympathy or fear for them will always be distant.
However, almost everyone has a Willy Loman potential within them, so Willy is the tragic hero of the common man or woman.
Let’s take a look at two key reasons Willy is so tragic. They are:
Willy Loman is a Tragic Hero: Willy is not self-aware
Willy believes that he is a successful man or at the very least, a man who has yet to achieve success. His biggest point of pride is in his alleged ‘likeability’; he believes that he has ‘friends’ all over the place in New England when these are but one-time clients, and he is the sort who thinks that connection-by-association (albeit superficial or fleeting) is the key to success. He prefers vanity metrics such as fame, popularity, and appearance to humility and maturity. None of these are his.
Willy was a maker by his nature, which is one of the saddest aspects about him. He is someone who is skilled with his hands and could have made things like a carpenter or builder. Linda, who was grieving for Willy’s death, said that he was “so wonderful with his hands”. He shuns laborious work and opts to become a salesman, a career that is essentially a poster-capitalist occupation. But he’s not very good at this trade. He is too blustery and pompous, but not enough savviness and tact.
The more someone talks about a big game the more he exposes the lack of it. And the fastest way to make others feel inferior is to proclaim that you are better than everyone else. This is particularly evident in the scene where Willy gets irritated at Biff reminding him of his social inferiority.
Willy Loman is a Tragic Hero: Willy is ‘alone in his world’
Willy is fascinating because of his moral complications. He is as much a “lo-man” as he is an “alone man”.
Ironically, though, he is almost always technically alone in the play.
He is almost always accompanied either by a real or imagined presence. If there is no Linda, Biff or Hap, or Charley, there is Ben, his brother and late successful, to talk to.
Willy’s problem is that, despite all the voices around him, he doesn’t listen to them. Instead, he is completely consumed by the sound and noise that constantly ricochet inside his head. Willy is so concerned about making an appearance, or making it big that he doesn’t see the fact that anyone cares about his success.
He’s been a shrewd, insensitive, and obnoxious person his entire life. Linda, his loving, loyal, and endlessly forgiving wife, is the only one who can see this clearly. Linda defends her husband despite Biff’s critique of Willy’s verbal abuse of her.
Linda, unlike Willy has sharp insight into her husband’s true nature and she loves him unconditionally because of it. He’s not a famous man, he’s hardly a great husband and he isn’t the most moral person in the world. He’s a human being “and this declaration is the heart of the play’s tragedy.
Miller suggests that we shouldn’t be moved by third-world suffering or extreme strife. Instead, our sympathy should be triggered by a simple man trying to be human. It’s hard to live in a constantly changing world and feel like you’re always chasing after the next person.
Linda’s empathy can’t save Willy, however, as his loneliness is purely internal. He has a constant sense of inferiority that makes him feel weak and compels him to cheat while he travels.
Arthur Miller therefore emphasizes Willy Loman’s character in Classical tragedy not as a tragic figure, but as a modern tragic hero and a pathetic, tragic hero in America in 1940’s America, who seeks self-identity in the harsh realities of the marketized world.
Miller creates a modern hero with an influence of the social movements of his time. Miller rewrites both the tragic hero and the tragedy of classical times to create the modern-day tragedy he loves.
Lewis stated that “Aristotelian ideas weigh heavily on an alter world” (1970. 47). Modernist era, which began with industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, saw a new type of tragic hero created. This was in response to Romanticism, the Age of Enlightenment and the English Renaissance. Modern heroes do not need to be high-ranking, but “ordinary people”.
These ordinary people are most affected by capitalist and materialist values, as Willy Loman shows in Death of a salesman. Modern heroes don’t necessarily need to be able to experience traditional catharsis2 in order to end the story.
He might suffer, but he may not be able to alter the events. It is possible that the story ends without resolution. The “anti-hero” or “modern-day tragedy hero” can be described as the new hero of modernism. What is the origin of this anti-hero? What caused the rise of these protagonists? Perhaps the answer lies in the socio-economic outcomes of the period between the great American Depression (pre-WWII), which affected most Americans whose “American Dreams”, as they were called, are being destroyed by the cruel Capitalist system.
Miller has turned the genre tragedy’s tenets upside-down to emphasize the devastating effects of this era. Miller rewrote the Aristotelian tragedy to create a modern-day tragedy. Miller stated that “it is now that we, who are not kings, take up this bright thread in our history and follow it to the only possible place it can lead in our times – the heart and spirit of average men” (1974, 897).
He reworked the tragic hero and Willy Loman became a modern tragic hero, crying out for the injustices of society through this revision.