Arthur Miller depicts a salesman, named Willy Loman in the play Death of a Salesman. Faced with hardships and troubles, Willy maneuvers in ways that cause his unfortunate outcome. In the tragedy, Death of a Salesman, the main protagonist Willy Loman’s fatal flaws were his unrelenting pride and his inability to face reality, which ultimately led to his demise. This novel is a tale about the tragedy that was the life of Willy Loman. A tragedy is a “serious drama” that depicts a “conflict” between the protagonist and a “superior force” such as which ends up with “disastrous consequences” that elicits “pity”. (Merriam Webster) Death of a Salesman is a tragedy because the main protagonist is a man filled with unrealistic hopes and dreams that lead to his demise. Although the story portrays a tragedy, I believe Willy Loman attempted to find optimism in defeat. By definition, a tragic hero is “a great or virtuous character in a dramatic tragedy that is destined for downfall, suffering, or defeat.” (Dictionary.com) Willy’s life resembled that of a tragic hero, he was not one by definition because there was nothing great or virtuous about him.
He was an average person who lived a tragic life. As one critic suggests, “Willy Loman is too far down the social scale to be considered a classical “tragic hero” he represents the average man.” We learn that he made mistakes just like any other human being. In fact, one of the mistakes he made changed the very way he lived his life and perceived himself. In the beginning of the story, Willy cheats on his wife and is caught by his son Biff, which negatively affects their long-term relationship. As a result, Willy always feels guilty, leading to a constant struggle between father and son about almost everything. One example of this is in Act II, after arguing Biff says to his father, “Dad, you’re never going to see what I am, so what’s the use of arguing? If I strike oil, I’ll send you a check. Meantime, forget I’m alive” (129). A lot of times they argued because Willy always wanted to see the positive even when in reality things were not as he believed.
The tragedy is that his life was full of delusions and misguided dreams. In the beginning of the story, Willy explains to his wife why they cannot leave the crowded city to live in New York “They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England”(4). However, as the story continues we see that Willy had a false perception of himself. In fact, he was not well liked. Instead, he was laughed at and pitied. In actuality, his boss had wanted to fire him, but just did not have the nerve to do it. This is seen when Willy goes to his boss asking to be given a position as a floor salesman, his boss tells him, “I don’t want you to represent us. I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time now”(83). After Willy’s life long commitment to the company, he is fired and even then, he does not wake up to the understanding that in society he is nothing special. Biff tries to make his father realize that he is nothing special by saying, “Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!”
This infuriates Willy who counterattacks, “I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!” Another one of Willy’s flaws was his unrelenting pride. For example, when Charley offers him a job he refuses saying he already has one even though in truth he was just fired. After further discussion Willy finally responds saying, “ I can’t work for you, that’s all, don’t ask me why” (98). We see irony here because a little after this Willy is willing to ask Charley to borrow money but refuses to take a job from him. Willy Loman’s flaw was his hubris and his inability to face reality. He had the right idea just the wrong dreams. Ultimately, his unrelenting pride and his inability to face reality led him to his demise. One must acknowledge that throughout the whole story he strived to make up for his mistakes and do the right thing.
He had mostly good intentions, however, he made mistakes just like any other human being. However, contrary to most people, he judged himself harshly for his mistakes and constantly criticized himself. He tried to overlook his mistakes or hide them for the rest of his life. As the play goes on, we learn that he has a hard time facing reality that is complicated by his unrelenting pride and at the same time, he suffers from self-loathing. As the play goes on and Willy’s identity as a salesman is stripped from him, we begin to understand better the importance of his life insurance policy. After Willy loses his job, which was his primary identity, he is forced to face reality that he could never be like his brother who was his hero. He could never be the father he wanted to be or thought his sons deserved.
He wanted his son Biff to look up to him and excel in life. He realized that he was not the star salesman he always believed himself to be. We see this as he becomes increasingly preoccupied with his life insurance policy, which symbolizes the only other way he can provide for his family; he has been a failure at everything else. He always had the best intentions and the play ends with Willy trying to provide for his family in the only way possible, as the critique states, “Willy of course ends the play with nothing he can sell – except himself, hoping that his expired life insurance policy will pay up.”
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of a tragic hero is “a great or virtuous character in a dramatic tragedy who is destined for downfall, suffering, or defeat.” Although Willy was not a virtuous character, in the end, he tried to do what he thought was right by providing for his family in the only way he thought possible. His life was tragic because he tried to cope by living in denial about his failures. In the end, he faced reality in the only way he thought he could, by taking his life.
1. Miller, Arthur, and Gerald Clifford. Weales. Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman, Text and Criticism. New York. Penguin, 1996. Print. 2. “Tragedy.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 09 Apr. 2012. . 3. “Tragic Hero.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com. Web. 08 Apr. 2012. . 4. Literary Criticism Attached