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In Arthur Miller’s essay about “Tragedy and the Common Man,” he argues that the common man is as appropriate a subject for tragedy as the very highly placed kings and noble men. Mankind keeps tragedy above all forms because they are given the same mental abilities as the nobles. In “Death of a Salesman”, Willy Loman is a common man and a middle class worker, enough saving to provide food for his family. So if the tragic hero can be a common man, does Willy fit in that category? Even though he is a common man he fails to live up to the standards of being a tragic hero because he never accepts nor admits to his own errors. He, therefore, loses his dignity. One of his biggest errors is his failure of be a good father.
Willy Loman’s character is capable of making errors. He believes he is a very successful salesman and well liked. He also thinks that the company likes what he is doing. He once said, “I’m the New England man. I am vital in New England” (Miller pg. 32) Because of his false belief about his success Howard fired him. After he got fired charley offered him a job, but he refuses to accept, because he is too proud and jealous to work for Charley. His actions were wrong because at no time was a successful salesman. He is not a powerful character. Willy lives in his fantasies where he is the man. Who goes out to another place and comes out rich, he is love by everyone and admired by his family. In real life, he is lazy and does not live up to his own ideals. “As Aristotle explains, a tragic hero must be one of noble character and must fall from power and happiness.”(Www.ccd.rightchoice.org/lit115/poetics.html) but Willy neither has a noble characteristic nor does he fall from power because he does not have a position of power.
According to Miller, a tragic hero is someone who dies for personal dignity. Willy does die for his dignity. “Those who act against the scheme of things that degrades them.”(Miller. Tragedy of the Common Man) Willy, in his ideas and action of committing suicide, fits in that category. In act 2, Willy reveals his desires to win back Biff’s respect by committing suicide.
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Willy is not a good father for many reasons. First, he makes his job his first priority. His travels were extensive. He did not have the opportunity to get to know his sons. As a result, he did not love them like a father should. His love for Biff is based on his achievement as an athlete and when Biff loses the scholarship, Willy was so mad that he no longer loved Biff as he once did. Willy wants Biff to be successful like his brother Ben. Furthermore Willy is unable to admit his faults because he has too much pride. In all his mistakes, Willy fails to be a good father. Instead he is crazy selfish failure. Later on, this aspect of his was defined as a failure.
By studying the character of Willy Loman carefully it is evident that he is not a tragic hero. He neglects his responsibilities as a father. He is not truthful, and this leads to loss of his pride and dignity. Willy is blinded by his pride that he did not realize the consequences of his actions. Unlike a true tragic hero, Willy does not admit his own errors and his false pride.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Koon, Helene Wickham, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Death of a Salesman. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice, 1983.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Literature. Ed. Sylvan Bates New York: Longman, 1997. 1163-1231.
Miller, Arthur. "Tragedy and the Common Man." Weales, Gerald, ed. Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism. New York: Penguin Books 1996.
Parker, Brian. "Tragedy in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman." University of Toronto Quarterly 35 (1966): 144-47. Rpt. in Koon. 41-55