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Likewise, Willy has flaws just like Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo. These flaws eventually cause his downfall and ultimately, death. For example, his unrealistic view on things and his pride drove Biff away and he was left without a job despite being offered one due to his pride. It was also his pride in himself that stopped him from being successful as a salesman – he thought that everyone liked him and that’s all that matters. In reality, many people did not like Willy because he simply tried too hard to be liked and constantly made jokes which were, in fact, quite awful.
All the negative consequences of these flaws accumulated into a very bad life for Willy and his family – eventually making him realise that he can only be of any help when he’s dead. This is of course a very tragic thing to watch happen to a man and portrays a ‘downfall’ perfectly, even if Willy wasn’t in a very high place to fall from to begin with.
Unlike the heroes of Shakespearean tragedies, Willy is not at all anyone important in society, nor does he do anything that can be seen as heroic.
He is no nobleman like Romeo or a prince like Hamlet and he never performs an action that would earn him the title of a hero such as saving a life, but within his own household and to his own family and friends he is very much loved despite the fact he does not show this love back – Linda being a perfect example.
From this, we can argue that Death of a Salesman is the tragedy of the ordinary, simple man and not of people of high standing which is the norm. The admiration he gets from his family is obvious whenever Linda defends and tries to rationalize Willy’s actions – even his attempts at committing suicide.
An example of the extreme devotion Linda has to Willy (something which was expected of housewives during that time) is when she says to Biff, “Biff, dear, if you don’t have any feelings for him [referring to Willy], you can’t have any feelings for me”, this quotation shows that Linda would block out her own son for the sake of Willy. Other members of the family do not love Willy to the same extent Linda does but they do care for him nonetheless. Happy, for example, tries to get the attention of his father by saying, “I’m gonna get married, Mom.
I wanted to tell you”, to which he is nonchalantly dismissed. He may say these sorts of things as he may be jealous of the amount of attention Biff receives from both his father and mother – which shows he does care for Willy. Even Biff, who has always had an uneasy relationship with Willy, shows he cares. When he rushes down the stairs after realizing his father has sped away in the car and exclaiming, “Pop! “, shows this. On the other side of the spectrum, the same argument shown in the above paragraph for the play being a tragedy can be flipped to argue against that too.
Willy being a ‘hero of his household’ may not be accepted by some as a valid argument. Instead, they would say that since Willy does not live up to the high standards of all other heroes in literary works of tragedy he cannot be classified as one; therefore the play cannot be called a tragedy since it lacks a hero. Just as he does not have a high place in society, Willy never performs heroic actions (in the course of the play, at least). As a matter of fact, Willy is a bad person in some ways, unlike a hero who you would expect to be noble.
Just to name a few, Willy neglects and mistreats his wife, as can be seen when he constantly shuts her up for interrupting while he is talking to Biff, “Stop interrupting” and “Will you let me talk? “, are examples of this. Also, he was at one point unfaithful to Linda with a nameless person simply called ‘The Woman’ in the script. This is what leads to the falling out between Biff and Willy when Biff catches him with her red-handed. At first he lies to his son, “No, that was next door”, when Biff hears her laugh from the bathroom.
These are the sort of things you would not expect from a good person, let alone a hero – someone you’re meant to look up to. To end off the arguments against Death of a Salesman being a tragedy, it should be pointed out that classical heroes in works of tragedies commonly have quite grand and dramatic flaws. Romeo was too much of a fool for love and he was very dramatic. Macbeth always listened to his wife against his better judgement and he was very arrogant. Hamlet was mad – and so on.
Willy was also an arrogant and mad man, but not to the same extent of the likes of Macbeth and Hamlet. Instead, his more major flaws were the common everyday flaws you see in ordinary human beings. Stubbornness, pride, unrealistic, full of false hope, too optimistic, etc. Also, none of these flaws are so significant in Willy that they become dramatic – just like most people. The point of a hero is to be extraordinary, to stand out from the common man. Willy is as ordinary as you can get. In both who and what he is.
In conclusion, we have seen the argument presented from both sides and it is clear that both sides present a convincing case, making this not a simple decision. It is clear that the answer to the question lies in whether Willy can be seen as a ‘hero’, that is for individuals to make their minds up on by weighing both arguments thoroughly and then making a choice. From my view point, I do not see any argument which is stronger. Of course, if we are judging by the literary standards set by Aristotle and Shakespeare, then no, it is not a tragedy as the case against Willy being a hero is stronger.
From this, we can finish off by saying that Death of a Salesman is not a tragedy as it is missing a key ingredient – a hero – in this case; Willy, who does not measure up to the requirements of a literary hero. However, you can only make this conclusion if you judge by the standards and definitions set by Shakespeare and Aristotle. To modern people and even late 1940s Americans right after WWII, Death of a Salesman can be seen as a modern tragedy of the ordinary person as it is a very tragic thing to see happen to any man and his family. So – is Death of a Salesman a tragedy? Depending on how you define it: yes and no.
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