Death of a Salesman


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It is known that in literature, a tragedy is one of the most popular genres. It always combines some story which discusses human sufferings with a certain sense of audience fulfillment. The roots of the tragedy are related to ancient Greece. A Greek tragedy is a sad story, which represents a character with a tragic flaw leading to his downfall. In addition, in traditional tragedy, the main character falls from high authority and often it is predetermined by fate, while the audience experiences catharsis (Bloom 2). Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman is considered to be a tragedy because this literary work has some of the main characteristics of the tragedy genre. In this play, the main character Willy Loman possesses such traits and behaviors that lead to his downfall, and the audience experiences catharsis. Willy Loman as a real tragic hero comes to the decision to commit suicide because of serious financial problems of his family (Phelps 79). This play has already been criticized by a number of literary critics who represented different opinions on the plot of the book. The major goal of this paper is to critically evaluate the play Death of a Salesman written by the well-known American writer Arthur Miller, paying special attention to the play’s characteristics of a tragedy.

In the play Death of a Salesman, the author investigates human nature and represents his main character as a person whose dissatisfaction with his own life leads to his tragic end. The plot of this literary work is rather simple. The play consists of two acts. In the first act, Willy Loman, the main character of Miller’s play returns home from New York. It is found that his goal was to travel to Boston, but he could not achieve this goal and returned home. The author of the play states that Willy’s personal dissatisfaction is the result of the tension in interpersonal relations between him, his wife Linda, and their two sons Biff and Happy. The first act of the play is focused on such issues as Willy Loman’s emotional instability because of his personal dissatisfaction, Biff’s frustration and the family’s financial problems. Moreover, the author represents his story is such a way that Willy’s emotional instability leads to the tension in relationships between Willy and Biff, who is also unhappy because of his professional failure. Willy says: “The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he’s rich!” (Miller 31).

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He wanted to use this principle in his life. The first conflict is the conflict with Biff who tries to balance his own desires with the desires of his father. The young man speculates about moving back to New York and starting a new life there. The author uses flashbacks as an effective method to introduce Willy’s emotional instability and refer to other characters of the play. However, the main character responds to the past actions and events as present. For example, Willy Loman remembers that he was buying a punching bag in the past but he speaks about this purchase as if he has bought in the present. In the second act, the main character loses his job. Although he is offered another job, he cannot accept it because he is too proud to do it. However, Willy Loman is not proud to receive loans from Charley. Throughout the play, the main character reveals many uncommon and even bizarre characteristics, such as stubbornness and pride that contribute to his tragic end. In the play, Linda says that her husband is not a great man, because he has never earned much money, his name is not famous and his character is a difficult one. However, “he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person” (Miller 44). By the end of the play, Willy makes a decision to commit a suicide and to provide his family with the insurance money.

In order to critically evaluate the play Death of a Salesman, it is of great importance to discuss the main character’s behavior, personal characteristics and his role in the play. Willy Loman is a person who always perceives himself as a failure in this world. He is just a travelling salesman who is growing old and becomes less productive for his company. The company he helped to organize fires him. However, he cannot accept his failure. Willy Loman regrets that he was unfaithful to his wife Linda and he is not respected by his son Biff, who recognizes that Willy has a tendency to exaggerate real things. However, Willy Loman has no opportunity to deal with all his failures, and he finds a solution – to commit a suicide. Willy hopes to help his family with the financial problems, and he hopes that Biff will respect and honor him after his funeral. According to Bloom, “if Willy has tragic stature, it is because he is exiled from himself, and so can win no victory whatsoever” (8). Willey is sure that if he is not successful in business, he is not deserved to be loved and respected by his family. Bloom states that Willey is destroyed by love and by the “inevitable ambivalences that attend family romances” (9). The true aim of the main character is to experience “a parent’s love and hope” that Biff, his oldest son will be able to supersede his limited success in career (Sterling 93).

Moreover, it is known that the play Death of a Salesman have been criticized by a number of literary experts, most of whom prove the fact that this play is a real tragedy. According to Philip C. Kolin, Miller’s play is “a tragedy of the common man”, which includes the major tragic elements, such as conflict, moral choice, family disruption, and intense losses (p.82). In addition, this play criticizes modern society with its rules, regulations and attitudes. Another dramatic critic Eric Bently states that Miller’s play is focused on the politics of sex. However, he is not supported by other critics who consider that in the play, Miller wants to represent a person, Willey Loman, who is “destroyed by social energies” (Bloom 7). Moreover, Harold Bloom argues that Miller’s play makes a parody of the “American dream” because Willy Loman finally manages to escape the fate of being a poor man. He is sure that the play Death of a Salesman is one of the best tragedies of Arthur Miller, who can be regarded as “the tragedian of what Sigmund Freud called “family romances”. According to Harold Bloom, the play Death of a Salesman is “more the tragedy of a family than it is of an individual or of a society” (8). Some critics consider that this play is closely connected with the existing political system in the United States. They interpret it as a so-called “insightful indictment of capitalism”, in which Willy Loman fails to cope with his psychological and emotional problems. The main character’s feelings of failure reflect not the conditions of the system, but his lack of insight in making decisions when pursuing the American Dream. He seeks love from his family members and friends because he is not strong enough to cope with all the difficulties on his way. Moreover, he tries to find answers to his questions from others instead of controlling his psyche. Eric J. Sterling states that “Willy feels dissatisfied with his life because he has always avoided making difficult decisions while choosing the easier path of co-opting other people’s ideas of happiness” (81). It means that the main character is a weak personality who fails to struggle against difficulties and do everything possible to succeed in life. Besides, Miller’s play can be viewed as “a profound male tragedy”, which depicts a man who is completely destroyed by “a debilitating concept of masculinity” (Sterling 13).

Taking the above mentioned facts into consideration, it is possible to call Willey Loman a tragic hero. Although he did not have a high position in the society and was not a powerful man, he tried to achieve his goal, but he failed. Willey’s ideas and his behavior led to his personal destruction. It means that Willey Loman has a tragic flaw which is one of the major elements of the tragedy genre. However, Miller’s tragic hero differs from Aristotelian tragic hero, who should be a nobleman and should create a fear within the audience. Willey Loman is immersed in fear and terror of the degrading environment.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is necessary to say that the play Death of a Salesman written by Arthur Miller can be viewed as a tragedy because it has the major characteristics of the tragedy genre. This tragedy revolves around the character Willey Loman who is brought to his personal destruction through his own actions and failures. However, some characteristics of the tragedy genre have been changed in Miller’s play. For example, Miller’s tragedy contains only subtle comments concerning the weaknesses of the main characters and the failings of society. It is found that the play Death of a Salesman have been criticized by a number of literary critics. However, most of them prove the fact that this literary work is a tragedy.



Works Cited

Bloom, H. Death of a Salesman. Infobase Publishing. 2009. Print.

Kilin, P.C. Death of a Salesman: A Playwrights Forum. From Willy Loman ed. by Harold Bloom. Infobase Publishing. 2005. Print.

Miller, A. Death of a Salesman. A & C Black. 2010. Print.

Phelps, H.C. Miller’s Death of a Salesman. From Willy Loman ed. by Harold Bloom. Infobase Publishing. 2005. Print.

Sterling, E.J. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Rodopi. 2008. Print


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