Tragic Heroes in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House

Powerful Essays
Tragic Heroes in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House

Dramatists such as Aristotle started to write a series of plays called tragedies. They were as follows: the play revolved around a great man such as a king or war hero, who possessed a tragic flaw. This flaw or discrepancy would eventually become his downfall. These types of plays are still written today, for example, Arthur Millers "Death of Salesman" and Henrik Ibsens "A Dolls House." "Death of Salesman" shows the downfall of the modern tragic hero, Willy Loman, a middle class working man. Nora, in "A Doll's House" displays that characteristics of a tragic hero, in that she shows potential for greatness, but is stifled by her society. Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" and Nora in "A Dolls House" are two perfect examples that illustrate a tragic hero.

In "Tragedy and the Common Man", Arthur Miller discusses different criteria and definitions for tragedy as they apply to the common man. Miller's ideal tragic hero is one who "is intent upon claiming his whole due as a personality," and when approached with a struggle, "demonstrating the indestructible will of man to achieve his humanity." A tragic hero is willing to takes on the role of what makes the audience accept him as a hero when by his own virtue is worthy of their attention and perhaps respect. Miller's common man, Willy, fought the battle of life, by trying to make the best of what he was given, and by living life the only way he knows how, being a traveling salesman. Being prideful, and at times stubborn man, he loses some opportunities to better his life along the way, partly because of his pride, and partly because of the American lifestyle, Willy is still attempting to support his family, even at age sixty. Though we think of Willy as a classic tragic hero, his life is more pathetic and saddening than inspiring. His name implies he is a "low man", an ordinary man, whose dreams and expectations have been shattered by the false values of society he has put his faith in. His problems stem from his own delusions which result of his failure to succeed in life. Willy's obsession and lack of insight thwart all his relationships and cause him to betray his own set of values. His loyal wife supports him in both his fantasies and failures and her life seems to be entirely absorbed into his. Unable to achie...

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...n his world" (Para 14, Miller). Finally in the end, she begins to realize that her whole life has been a lie. Nora's rebellion was deliberate and well planned. She knew what was expected of her and she still did what she thought was right in her own mind. These qualities lie at the heart of Nora's heroic character. For Nora's heroically brave personality shows her confidence in herself and her absolute refusal to live a life where she is not in control of her actions. She flouted society's laws, worked hard, and is now about to reap the success of the action by handing over the final payment.

In conclusion, Willy Loman and Nora are two ideal examples of tragic heros. Both Ibsen and Miller have showed how the common man such as Nora in 'A Dolls House' and Willy Loman in 'Death of Salesman' have emerged as a tragic heroes.

Works Cited:

Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll's House. In Four Major Plays. Trans. James McFarlane and Jens Arup. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Seventh Edition. X.J. Kennedy, and Dana Gioia. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 1999. 1636-1707
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