Can Willy Loman Be Considered A Tragic Hero?

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Can Willy Loman Be Considered A Tragic Hero?

Whether Willy Loman can be considered a tragic hero has long been

debated between critics. Ever since Miller produced the play, people

have discussed whether Willy’s status was high enough for his fall to

be considered tragic, or whether Willy can be seen as an altogether

modern tragic hero, I will be looking at both these views taking into

consideration critics views and also adding my own thoughts.

Tragedy has its origin in ancient Greece. In his Poetics Aristotle

defined a tragedy as portraying a serious, complete and important

action involving pain or destruction and shows the fall of an

important person from happiness and prosperity into misery and

catastrophe. The problem with this view is that some believe it cannot

be used to define modern tragedies as many things have changed and are

no longer relevant since Aristotle’s time of ancient Greece.

Critics such as Bier man, Hart and Johnson1 believe that Willy Loman

can be seen as a tragic hero, they have described death of a salesman

as “a tragedy set in our own time, played out on our own scene, in our

own language”. The fact that the play is modern, helps us to identify

with Willy Loman and therefore it affects our emotions more, there is

more of a connection between ourselves and the character, the fact

that we feel more emotion brings us closer to classical tragedy for

example catharsis. There are many factors throughout the text, which

show connections to the modern world, the references to insurance

payments, front porch, refrigerator, Chevrolet and the tennis are

reflective of contemporary society. These things make the play seem

far more realistic to the audience as they can relate to these


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...t at all whether the hero falls from a great

height or a small one”. The fact that Willy Loman is a modern hero

allows us to connect with him and understand his situation more,

“Tragedy, he argues, should bring out not only sorrow but

understanding” I believe that understanding is shown throughout the

play and that things become clearer in the requiem as it provides some


In my own opinion I believe that it is true, Willy Loman cannot be

seen as a traditional tragic hero, however I believe that he can be

seen as a modern hero to an extent. Willy had a tragic fall in life in

his own opinion, just as it would seem if it happened to someone you

knew. However Willy didn’t do anything in society to make his

character seem heroic. I think that the audience would feel more

sympathetic towards Willy and not feel that the story was a tragedy as

a whole.