In Tragedy and the Common Man, Arthur Miller discusses his definition and criteria for tragedy as they apply to the common man. The criteria and standards proposed by Miller may be used to evaluate his timeless work, Death of A Salesman.
The first major standard of tragedy set forth is: “...if the exaltation of tragic action were truly a property of the high-bred character alone, it is inconceivable that the mass of mankind should cherish tragedy above all other forms.” All persons regardless of background, nobility stature, rank, or pretended or actual social division can innately empathize with the tragic hero. In the case of Willy Loman there is a certain familiarity. He is the proverbial man down the block; indeed we may say in viewing the play common man is empathizing with common man. Willy Loman is real. Where as some may remark, “I know someone like him,” perhaps they may even see themselves in him. Miller’s subtle wordplay of “Loman” and “layman” is interesting in this regard. It is our familiarity with Willy Loman that is the endearing quality which draws us closer to him. Through, identification with his struggles and pains we achieve an appreciation of his plight. This identification is universal. The universality of identification is, among those reading or viewing the play, a bonding force for persons of every station. Miller’s success in this point is bred from our own pathos for Willie Loman.
Another point by Miller is that, “the tragic feeling is invoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is willing to lay down his life... to secure one thing- his sense of personal dignity.” Willie Loman is tha...
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...mething greater than himself, his image, or his success. He is motivated by his love for his son. Therefore, since his primary focus is beyond himself, it consequently elevates him. He taps into and is accordingly clothed with the grandeur tragedy.
Considering the points discussed here in this paper, which is by no means a comprehensive analysis of Miller’s essay, several questions are raised in my mind. Did Arthur Miller provide us with this essay as a response or defense of Death of a Salesman? Is he trying to justify his work by remolding the definition of tragedy to justify and elevate this play? Whatever the case it is clear that Death of a Salesman fits the model set forth by Miller in Tragedy and the Common Man.
Miller, Arthur. "Tragedy and the Common Man." Weales, Gerald, ed. Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism. New York: Penguin Books 1996.
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