Tragedy and the Common Man

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In Arthur Miller's 1949 essay, "Tragedy and the Common Man," Miller began by saying, "In this age few tragedies are written." This particular essay was published in the New York Times, was also the preface that was prepared for "Death of a Salesman" in 1949. Before Miller's "Death of a Salesman," there was only one type of tragedy—that which fit Aristotle's definition. For Aristotle, plays of tragedy had to revolve around kings, gods, or people of high class. In these classic tragedies, the diction must be elevated and fitting of the characters.Arthur Miller challenged just about every belief and convention that had previously been accepted about tragic plays, as in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"—which could be considered the paragon of tragedies. In claiming, "The tragic mode is archaic," Miller explains "that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were." This very notion that regular people are just as fit to be main characters in a tragedy as royalty was also applied to the audience's understanding of a tragic play. If the play was supposed to be about upper-class people, and was spoken in a vernacular that was only known to the high-bred, how were the common people who saw these plays supposed to comprehend their meaning? The only way for this problem to be solved, according to Miller, was to present a character to whom the audience will readily relate. Miller did this by presenting Willy Loman, the main character of "Death of a Salesman," who was a common workingman with a wife and two kids.The reason that there is such an absence of tragedies in this day and age, is that "the turn which modern literature has taken toward the purely psychiatric view of life, or the purely sociological," has been one that creates skepticism. With so much thinking involved, and analyzing, no one can really enjoy a play for what it is—pure entertainment. By constantly trying to figure out a reason for why something happened, the...
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