Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” by A. Miller


Death of a Salesman” is one of the brightest works of Arthur Miller, and the problems enlightened in it remain actual long after the work was first published (Scheibe 26). The play describes the beauty of a dream and the impossibility of following the standards of our society regarding success and happiness. This paper is dedicated to the research of the concept of tragedy and its expression in the main character of the play.

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The Concept of a Tragic Hero

The tragedy is expressed in art with the impossibility of solving the conflict in a positive way (Golden 17). In the classic approach to literature, tragedy may cause death or hard suffering of the hero. The tragic effect of the work of literature is described as the purifying moral and mental impact on the reader. The aestheticism of tragic suffering ends up with an inevitable reveal. A tragic hero is as a rule highly spiritual, and the plot might involve the scenes of committing a crime by the main character.

These crimes may be interpreted as mistakes, and the main character is often perceived as the one who suffers from committing these mistakes. Thus, the sources of tragedy can be the hero’s fault, fatal error, or some external circumstances that could not be positively solved. Following Aristotle, a tragic hero is the one who makes the reader feel pettiness and fear (Golden 22). At the same time, a tragic hero needs to have a quality of virtue, but never to the extreme extent.

A Tragedy of Willy Loman

Willy Loman, the main tragic character of Miller’s play, is a typical American, who is married, has two children, a mortgage, and a work that he considers to be stable and the one that reveals his true potential. At a young age, he had a lot of dreams and optimism, relying big hopes on his son. With time, the reality changes on the reasons that do not depend on him. The landscape around his house changes with the construction of high-story buildings that close the view and the work of a salesman becomes tiring for a 60-year-old man.

Loman is not getting enough payment, and the relationship with his sons is far from perfect (Miller 32). Loman feels loneliness and despair, regardless of the presence of a wife and two sons. He thinks that his life was idle and calls himself a small man.

Loman refuses to recognize that success is a result of hard work and decisiveness. At the same time, he is too proud to accept his neighbor’s job proposal. Loman thinks that those who are more successful have luck and charisma. He regrets the things that he didn’t do in his life to earn more money. After Loman lost his job, he realized that he will never achieve success in business. He sees that despite all attempts, his son did not reach the success his father wanted for him.

Loman does not accept his mistakes, telling that he is too old to change his attitude and decisions, stating the impossibility of changing the past mistakes either. The play ends up in a tragic manner, where the main character commits suicide, hoping to get a significant sum of money as an insurance payment. This decision was made to provide financial stability for the family that he failed to ensure with work.

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On the other hand, Loman can hardly be called a tragic character, as the presence of his highly spiritual character is doubtful (Patsiaouras et al. 61). A tragic hero in classic literature is a person who can die defending their dignity. Instead, the main character is terrified by realizing that he is not a successful man by the standards of society (Greenfield and Nolan 50). He experiences mental sufferings, which lead him to suicide. Nonetheless, his final decision characterizes him as a man with a weak spirit, the one who does not have enough courage to realize his past mistakes.

Loman failed to come up with a favorable decision for him and his family. Suicide is most societies and religions is a sin, a sign of a weak person, and an action that must not be justified (Lehmann 27).

A positive solution would have been realizing mistakes, changing the attitude to life and children, and developing a new strategy that would afford to solve the problems positively. Nonetheless, according to Aristotle’s definition, Loman can be recognized as a tragic character for being the one who evokes feelings of fear and pettiness. Pettiness for the lack of spirit would allow him to solve the problems without a tragic end. The sense of fear for our own lives that evokes after seeing an example of a weak man, who took his own life away, because he was lost in his misconceptions about how it should be.


The actions of Willy Loman, the main character of Miller’s Play “Death of a Salesman,” make the reader experience tragic feelings. A sense of fear makes readers remember that the same tragedy may happen in their own lives. Thus, even though the main character can hardly be called a person with high spiritual stamina, according to Aristotle’s definition he can be still recognized as a tragic hero.

Works Cited

Golden, Leon. Aristotle and the Arc of Tragedy. Radius Book Group, 2017.

Greenfield, Thomas. A., and Nolan, Meghan. “All my Journals: Arthur Miller Journal as Intro to literature College Text.” The Arthur Miller Journal, vol. 11, no. 1, 2016, pp. 48-57.

Lehmann, Hans-Thies. Tragedy and Dramatic Theatre. Routledge, 2016.

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Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.

Patsiaouras, Georgias, et al. “Beyond The Couch: Pdychoanalytic Consumer Character Readings into Narcissism and Denial. ” Marketing Theory, vol. 16, no. 1, 2015, pp. 57-73.

Scheibe, Karl E. Deep Drama. Exploring Life as Theater. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

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