Why Did Willy Loman Die?

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To come to a true conclusion as to whether Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman can be considered a tragedy in the truest sense of the word, it must first be understood what this sense is. In ‘The Poetics’, which is the earliest work of dramatic theory on record, Aristotle shows his belief that tragedy relies on the relationship between plot, audience and character. The key ideas of this, are that for a tragedy to be a tragedy, there must be a tragic hero, a ‘man who enjoys prosperity and a high reputation’. This hero would often be someone of noble birth; for example a king, or someone who has the potential to achieve greatness. The tragedy would then be centred around the heroes ‘fall from his initial high status, in a reversal of fortune’. Aristotle named this term Peripeteia. This fall from grace would be brought about by the heroes fatal flaw. This fatal flaw led to the series of events in which the hero’s demise would occur called Hamartia. The hero of the play eventually suffers a moment of insight, where he ‘realises what he has done and gains a new perspective on the truths of human existence’. This moment of enlightenment is called Anagnorisis. This, is then by Aristotle’s terms, supposed to give the effect of ‘a purging of the emotions that draws out feelings of pity and fear’ in the audience. Aristotle termed this Catharsis, and this moment of purging usually occurred at the end of the play. As this is considered the truest sense of the term ‘tragedy’, it is arguable whether Death of a Salesman really fits these parameters.
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