Willy Loman, Tragic Hero or Selfish Individual?
Willy Loman, the protagonist in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, is often referred to as a tragic hero who is forced to commit suicide to valiantly save his family from the “elusive” American Dream. The majority of critics give readers the impression that Willy was a selfless man that worked himself to death in order to support his family and ensure their success and happiness. He is portrayed as a hard worker with a life full of tribulations and challenges. However, his hard work never seemed to pay off and instead he found himself living the American nightmare. Unfortunately his true character and image is constantly being distorted and readers constantly fall into the trap of believing Willy Loman is a tragic hero, whom deserves nothing less than respect and sympathy. However, after complete understanding of the play one realizes that Willy Loman brought all his misfortunes upon himself due to his warped mindset about success, his dedication in acquiring the approval of others, and his tunnel vision that was only directed towards money and wealth. Critic Bert Cardullo summarizes this whole play by claiming, “What is left in this play is neither a critique of the business world nor an adult vision of something different and better. Rather, it’s the story of a man (granting he was sane) who failed as a salesman and father, and made things worse by refusing to admit those failures, which he knew to be true,” (Cardullo 9). Not only did Willy Loman refuse to admit his constant failings, he also abruptly ends his own life at the end of the play, which should not grant him the title and status of tragic hero, instead Willy should be considered a selfish and arrogant salesman who’s constant failings lead him to commit suicide in order to escape from his dead end life.
Critics across the world agree on very few issues when it comes to analyzing literature. However, critics were able to come to a common consensus in defining a tragic hero. All tragic heroes have common characteristics such as wisdom, a flaw or error, recognition that their own actions is leading down the wrong path, and a reversal of fortune. When comparing Willy Loman to the common archetype of the tragic hero he does not come close to fitting the mold all critics agree upon. Through his actions and business endeavors only realizes that Willy Loman lacks any type of wisdom. His constant failures also show that he refuses to recognize the action’s he has taken have been the wrong ones and therefore his difficulties were self inflicted.
As the play begins Willy Loman appears to be a salesman hit hard by America’s capitalistic society, which leaves him with most of his unsold merchandise at the end of the day and a family that he is unable to provide for. The fact that he must travel hours on end to attempt a sales deal, and go through many inconveniences to keep his commission-based job, and still have to borrow money from his successful neighbor, portrays Willy as a man who has no luck and is in a desperate state. However, as the story progresses Willy Loman displays a great deal of stubbornness and an irrational understanding of success. His only concern in life is to achieve the elusive American Dream. Unfortunately, “in a country with an every-man-a-king theology the delusion of royalty is a powerful drug, a dangerous dream. And Miller argued that the fall, on waking up, can be fatal, can meet the demands of tragedy,”(Corliss). The reader realizes early on that Willy did not truly understand what the American Dream meant and that he was headed down the wrong road.
Willy is in this position of desperation because he acts like he is working hard to support his family when in reality he is only consumed with acquiring wealth and status. During one of Willy’s flashbacks he says, “Bernard can get the best marks in school, y'understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y'understand, you are...
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