Willy Loman's Death in Death of a Salesman

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Arthur Miller uses Willy, a common man, whose only flaw is his inability to question the validity of the American Dream, to portray a tragic hero, and also to question the ideals of the American society. Willy’s conflicted, lonely and seemingly false character has been created with only one end, and it is through the story of his life, his denial and finally his death, that undeniably grants his validity as a character. As Miller writes, ‘tragedy is the consequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly’, this feeling being evoked when we are ‘in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing- his sense of personal dignity’.

Willy’s character alone has many flaws which bring about his tragic ending, most of which can be attributed to society. Here, society has created and nurtured Willy’s character, passing its values, morals and dreams onto him. Miller has described society as ‘the condition which suppresses man, perverts the flowing out of his love and creative instinct’, although it is a crucial factor in this tragedy. It is because of this society and environment Willy has been surrounded by that he embodies the ideals of the American Dream. The false ideas of success and happiness that Willy has adopted have been readily handed to him by the materialistic and superficial environment he lives in, works in and fails in. Another perception that Willy had acquired from society is its shallowness, which leads to his infidelity and also losing the trust of his older son, Biff.

In a way, society alone cannot be held responsible for Willy’s death nor his role as a tragic hero. Miller has stated that for society to be responsible for this, ‘then the protagonist mu...

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... this idea already having been planted in the first act. As Willy’s wife and sons try to prevent this from happening, the feeling of hope spreads throughout the story. Although every attempt results in failure, the characters try continuously to make things better. Gradually, Willy’s secrets are revealed, his mistress, his lies and his insanity become uncovered, and his failures seem more obvious.

Willy’s failures and lies have been a result in his constant faith and will to achieve his dreams, the dreams which society has implanted within him. His flaws have come from society, but also himself, and Miller has used this to create the conflict and tragedy in the play. It is then that writer then makes the impact of Willy’s failures greater, incorporating his death into the play, crushing his dreams and the dreams of the characters around him, creating his tragedy.

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