Aristotle's Poetics defines the making of a dramatic or epic tragedy and presents the general principles of the construction of this genre. Surprisingly, over the centuries authors have remained remarkably close to Aristotle's guidelines. Arthur Miller's twentieth century tragedy Death of a Salesman is an example of this adherence to Aristotle's prescription for tragedy. It is significant to test Aristotle's definition and requirements of tragedy by comparison and contrast, against a contemporary tragedy and to make observations with regard to what influence society and culture may have on the genre. This discussion however, will be confined to the realm of plot and the more notable aspects of the construction of the incidents in tragedy because of the complexity of this element.
Aristotle's attention throughout much of Poetics is directed towards the requirements and expectations of plot. Plot, 'the soul of tragedy', Aristotle says, must be an imitation of a noble and complete action. In Death of a Salesman, Miller does provide a complete action, that is it has what Aristotle identifies as a beginning, a middle, and an end. These divisible sections must, and do in the case of Death of a Salesman, meet the criterion of their respective placement. Whether Miller provides a nobel action, however, is an issue of culture. Willy Loman ultimately takes his own life so that his son Biff may benefit from the insurance money that he will receive. The question then, is according to our culture is his suicide noble? Since Willy's suicide is perpetrated for Biff's benefit, one could view this act as sacrifice. Sacrifice is in our culture, a pious and admirable quality, one of...
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Hoeveler, D. J. 'Ben's Influence.' Arthur Miller?s Death of a Salesman: Modern Critical Interpretations. Ed. Harold Blum. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1988. 72-81.
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