The genre of dramatic tragedy is revealed comprehensively in the play “Death of a Salesman” written by Miller. The main character of the work is Willy Loman, a salesman who is disenchanted with his life and goes through the difficult steps of an internal crisis. Miller represents American reality in the style of realism and emphasizes how deeply one person can experience personal failures and mistakes made in the past.
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The way that the character follows makes it possible to assess the tragedy of human existence in conditions where there is no support and love. Examples from the work allow understanding what message the author carries to readers and what lessons need to be learned from the play. In “Death of a Salesman,” Miller represents the protagonist as a tragic character and describes his pride as a fatal flaw and the result of long-term experiences, which is a clear reflection of Loman’s life crisis.
The personal tragedy of Willy Loman may be interpreted not as a result of his mistakes and life crisis but as a way of purification and correction. When one of Loman’s sons finds him with his mistress and turns away, this becomes a turning point in the salesman’s life, and he seeks to forget about his past life (Miller 24). The main character loses his sons for a long time and overestimates his ideals, which can be compared with biblical repentance.
Moreover, Miller mentions that both Willy’s brother and his friends abandoned him, and the protagonist himself is sure that “today, it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear” (61). As a result, the character experiences a crisis of his own personality and seeks to restore balance through the establishment of relationships with his children and self-analysis. Greenfield and Carlo note that in some of Miller’s plays, he seeks to convey “political, historical, or sociological ideas,” and some aspects of the play may be applicable to this description, for instance, dismissals, insurance payments, and other nuances (150). Such a position may be regarded as an attempt to get away from tragedy to romanticism and find effective ways of returning the joy of life.
Despite the potential interpretation, the character of Willy Loman is tragic, and all the events of the play push readers to this idea. For instance, in one of the scenes, the protagonist exclaims: “All of a sudden everything falls to pieces!,” which is the consequence of his attempts to regain the lost trust and love of relatives (Miller 49). When summing up his life, the character does not find any excuse for himself as a person who could not achieve happiness.
Hoxby notes that a tragic representation has a certain style and language, which manifest themselves not only through emotions but also through the general atmosphere (84). Willy’s environment is such that the character is in a depressed mood and sometimes cannot restrain his feelings, which, however, have dulled over the years of loneliness. As a result, the tragedy is particularly acute when his youngest son, Beef, scolds him, which is a moral punishment for the father. Therefore, the life story of Willy has nothing to do with romanticism.
Based on this assessment, it can be noted that a tragic hero is a character who is not able to overcome the prevailing circumstances and is forced to endure suffering that he or she is unable to atone for or overcome. Those deep feelings that are transmitted in the process of narration are the main author’s tools, and “tragedies compel audiences to engage with these emotions” (Hick and Derksen 141). Consequently, when applying this concept to Miller’s work, it can be noted that Willy is the character whose emotions and experiences are the central idea that conveys the key thoughts of the play. Therefore, the description of the salesman corresponds to the traditional concept of the reflection of literary tragedy.
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Like many tragic heroes, Willy is proud, which, evidently, is his fatal flaw. He does not intend to receive help from his loved ones. When Howard asks him why he does not want to appeal to his sons, Loman replies: “They’re working on a very big deal” (Miller 63). Such a life principle probably characterizes him as a proud person who wants to preserve his dignity despite current difficulties. However, as Smith argues, Loman’s cynicism hides his inner feelings and fears (60). Therefore, despite attempts to prove his own worth, Willy is a tragic character with a difficult and sad fate.
Willy Loman’s life crisis is the reflection of the tragedy that this character endures, and his pride is seen as a fatal flaw. Despite the alternative interpretation that the salesman seeks to understand himself and his feelings, the context of Miller’s play makes it clear to readers that the idea lies in hopelessness and the loss of priorities. The evidence of the character’s tragedy may be found in the play, and the outcome of Loman’s experiences is logical for such a literary genre.
Greenfield, Thomas A., and Erin M. Carlo. “Strange Stage Fellows? Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter.” The Arthur Miller Journal, vol. 12, no. 2, 2017, pp. 150-158.
Hick, Darren Hudson, and Craig Derksen. “The Problem of Tragedy and the Protective Frame.” Emotion Review, vol. 9, no. 2, 2017, pp. 140-145.
Hoxby, Blair. What was Tragedy?: Theory and the Early Modern Canon. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Penguin Books, 1949.
Smith, David. “Death of a Salesman.” The Arthur Miller Journal, vol. 12, no. 1, 2017, pp. 60-62.