Death of a Salesman

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Willy Loman is often recognised as the tragic hero of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman but arguments can be made against Biff being the contemporary hero and thus the true hero of the play. The purpose of a tragedy is to create pity and fear in the audience. A traditional tragedy consists of the central character, the tragic hero, creating chaos in the community he lives in. The hero becomes tempted by something, leading to the exposure of the character’s fatal flaw. The fatal flaw becomes the dominant characteristic of the hero and ultimately leads to the hero’s downfall and demise. After the hero’s death, at the end of the tragedy, order is restored, leaving the audience with a sense of catharsis. Miller creates an American tragedy, as opposed to a Greek or Shakespearean. America has never had a king or nobility who could represent a tragic hero in a traditional tragedy and Miller wanted to give a voice to the ordinary working class man, showing their lives can also be tragic. He once stated “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for a tragedy as kings are” (New York Times. 27th Feb 1949). Despite critics arguing against it being a tragedy Linda declaring “attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person” (Page 44) recognises the tragic status of the play. She also highlights the importance of the ordinary working class, who too can be tragic heroes. The tragic hero is seen to be punished out of proportion for one fatal mistake they make. Willy’s mistake is his belief in the American Dream which he continues to chase relentlessly. His fatal flaw -his hamartia - is his insecurity, which leads him to suffer throughout the play. Willy is an unsuccessful salesman, living in the city, struggling to face reality and re-living memories which he had reinterpreted to fit his dreams (Page. 2003. Page 62). Willy has bought into the American Dream, chasing it relentlessly throughout his life, but his dreams are unrealistic. Dave Singleman, an eighty-four year old salesman, became his inspiration and role model, after he “realized selling was the greatest career a man could want” (Page 63). Willy saw Singleman as loved and adored by everybody and so his insecurity led him to follow the same career path, in the hope he would lead the life that Willy saw Singleman as living. “Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four... and be remembered and loved and helped by so many people?” (Page 63). Willy’s perception of Singleman is a warped perception. Just like his perception of the American Dream, it is just an illusion. Willy fails to realise this and gain a grasp of reality, leading to his death and making him a tragic hero. Willy has lived the wrong dream; he should be out in the countryside with his family, working in a job making use of his hands. He put his own ceiling in his living room and is oblivious to the amount of skill it takes to do such a job. Charley: “Yeah. That’s a piece of work. To put up a ceiling is a mystery to me. How do you do it?” Willy: “What’s the difference?” (Page 34). Biff recognizes Willy “had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.” (Page 110). However, Willy always worked hard for his family, showing courage and determination. Willy wants success to be able to spend more time with his wife and family but is often dismissive of them, even berating Linda for buying the wrong cheese. “Why do you get American when I like Swiss?” (Page 12). Willy is incapable of relinquishing his dream and another character flaw, his pride, stands in the way of him accepting a job from Charley. “What the hell are you offering me a job for?” – Willy (Page 33). Willy’s relentless pursuit of his dream makes him a tragic hero. Willy was abandoned by his father and brother at a young age. Singleman then became his role model and father figure. Throughout the play Willy struggles with insecurity, a result of being abandoned. During times he relives the past and escapes into...
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