Willy Loman: the Tragic Hero

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Arthur Miller made the comment that a tragic hero “has the inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity.” Nowhere is this more evident than in Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, where salesman Willy Loman desperately struggles to regain a sense of dignity after experiencing a number of setbacks in his life. Despite not being able to provide for his family, Willy Loman continues the futile struggle to earn a living, which shows the despair of falling from a position of respect to a position of uselessness. The hopes and dreams that he has for his kids in the past never come into existence, but Willy still enthusiastically pushes his adult children to accomplish unrealistic goals, highlighting his overly sanguine outlook on life. Unable to conceive a redemptive plan, and unwilling to remain passive, Willy’s suicide reveals that when people are rendered useless and unwanted by society, they often see no more purpose in life. Throughout Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller’s portrayal of a struggling tragic hero shows that high expectations unfulfilled can end in tragedy.

Willy Loman, once a very successful and well admired traveling salesman, does not want to accept the fact that he is older, weaker, and less capable of providing for his family. Willy is an ordinary man who is responsible for his own life and family’s well being, but when he discovers that he can no longer fulfill his job due to his age and health, Miller has Willy fall into a state of self-deception and mental breakdown. Arthur Miller wants the audience to see that people do not have complete control over their lives. Although Willy Loman was never a rich man, he was never very poor, and refuses to start living the life of a more impoverished man. His pride is most evident when he says to his wife, “I won’t have you mending stockings in this house! Now throw them out!” (39). To Willy, mending stockings is a symbol of poverty, and...
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