The events in the life of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman are no doubt tragic, yet whether or not he can be considered a tragic hero in a traditional sense is a topic requiring some discussion. Aristotle set the criteria for qualities a character must possess in order to be considered a tragic hero. In order to reach a conclusion on this matter, all six criteria must be examined to determine whether or not they are present in the character of Willy Loman.
The first criterion for a tragic hero is hamartia, or a tragic flaw in the character's personality that brings about their downfall. Willy Loman definitely does possess a tragic flaw, and in his case it is pride. Loman cannot accept that he is a terrible salesman, a substandard provider, and suffering from mental illness. He borrows money every week from Charley, his neighbor, so that he can tell his family stories of his successful sales trips.
While Willy definitely does possess a tragic flaw, another criterion required by Aristotle is peripeteia, a character's reversal near the end of the story for the purpose of self-reservation. Willy definitely does not meet this criterion. When Willy is terminated from his job late in the story, Charley offers him a job working for him, but feeling too much pride, Willy turns it down, saying he's already got a job. He turns down a chance to make a decent means to finish paying off his house and refrigerator, but turns it down because of his stubborn pride.
A tragic hero must have a mix of both good and bad qualities, predominantly good, so that they are more of a character that readers could relate ...
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...Sons in which the main characters are somewhat like tragic heroes but lack the high standing. They are all just common people, which might lead to the idea that Arthur Miller tried to create a mold for an American tragic hero. This however, is not a topic relevant to this assignment. So overall, Willy Loman is not a tragic hero, but just an unlucky man destined to be the Low Man.
Field, B.S. "Death of a Salesman" Twentieth Century Literature. January, 1972. 19-24. Rpt. in World Literary Criticism. Ed. Frank Magill. "Arthur Miller" Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. 2366-2368.
Hoeveler, D. J. "Redefining the Tragic Hero Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: Modern Critical Interpretations. Ed. Harold Blum. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1988. 72-81.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Gerald Weales, ed. New York: Penguin, 1996
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