Arthur Miller succeeds in demonstrating incredibly well in Death of a Salesman that not only is tragic heroism still possible in the modern world, but that it is also an affliction to which both king and commoner are equally susceptible. However, Wily Loman is not a tragic hero because he is pathetic, not heroic, in his personal "tragedy" that comes from his inability to admit his mistakes and learn from them. Instead, he fits Miller's description of pathos and the pathetic character, one who "by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the very air he gives off, [is] incapable of grappling with a much superior force," (Miller 1728).
The tragic right to Arthur Miller is a condition of life that enables an individual to travel the route to self-realization and allows one to blossom to the fullest extent of his or her capabilities. This learning only occurs when the individual has courageously and unblinkingly "shaken" and undergone the "total examination of the 'unchangeable' environment" (Miller 1727). From this examination often comes the fear and terror associated with tragedy, as the individual is confronted with his own impression of his 'rightful dignity' in society (who and what he thinks he is) as opposed to the dignity afforded him by society-at-large. Only the tragically heroic are ready to die to secure this personal dignity, one that imbues them with heroism because of their "unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what [they] conceive to be a challenge to [their] dignity, [their] image of [their] rightful status," (Miller 1726). Thus, one is only flawless if they remain passive in the midst of this common-among-all-human-be...
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...n debarred from such thoughts or such actions," (Miller 1727). Therefore, Willy is his own enemy because his unwillingness to change his behavior and thinking keeps him entrapped in a system of values that prevent him from ever being free. This makes him pathetic and tragic, not heroic and tragic, because the tragic hero rejects any system that prevents the freedom of love and creativity in the self, even if it is a system he himself has adopted. This is possible for the common man, but Willy is a common man, who, by standing in his own path of development, cannot achieve it.
Corrigan, R.W. (ed.) Arthur Miller: A Collection Of Critical Essays. Prentice-Hall, NJ: 1969.
Miller, A. "Tragedy and the Common Man." Criticism On Drama. 1949: pp. 1726-1728.
Moss, L. Arthur Miller. Twayne Publishers, Inc., NY: 1967.
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