Willy Loman as a Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman

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Willy Loman as Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman, the troubled father and husband in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, can be classified as a tragic hero, as defined by Aristotle in his work, Poetics.

In Aristotle's Poetics, a tragic hero was defined as one who falls from grace into a state of extreme despair. Willy, as we are introduced to him, becomes increasingly miserable as he progresses from a dedicated, loving father, though not without flaws, into a suicidal, delusional man. The definition of a tragic hero, as stated in "Poetics," also describes a person who is influential and is of significance to others. Though, in actuality, Willy Loman may not possess these characteristics, he perceives himself as having them as he cares for himself, his children and his wife. A final distinction noted by Aristotle was that a tragic hero is not a bad person deserving of his impending misfortune, but instead, has made a series of mistakes leading to his downfall. We can see that Willy does not purposely create this harmful situation for himself, he is only ignorant that certain actions of his are wrong, which contribute to his self-ruin. Willy Loman therefore personifies the attributes of a tragic hero as proposed by Aristotle.

Willy, with a house, a car, a job, two sons whom he adores, and a supportive, caring wife, seems to have everything that any man could ever want. He manages, however, to alienate himself from these things that he loves near the end of the play as he slips into a self-induced state of altered reality. Willy, being "...lonely...terribly lonely" (Miller, page #) has an affair with a woman during his marriage to Linda. Even though Linda is not aware of this, or makes no mention of ...

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...id not keep his sales skills sharpened, but he never purposely hurt the people in his life.

Through the actions of Willy Loman, and the reactions of those around him, we can see that his character follows the model of a tragic hero presented by Aristotle in his works, "Poetics." Willy passes through life in a path that begins with prosperity, as evidenced by his possessions and successful family, and ends with misery, when he loses his job and commits suicide. Willy has indeed made mistakes in his life, and we can recognize that they are mistakes and were never intended to harm anyone, but instead to satisfy his own needs. These characteristics then, by Aristotle's determination, make him not a "wicked man" (Aristotle, 1303), and not a virtuous man, but "a man whose place is between these extremes"; (Aristotle, 1303) by definition, the tragic hero.
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