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In the 1940’s America had become a more technologically advanced country. The television had been invented, along with the world’s first computer and Americans were encouraged that ownership of this technology would make their lives better. This gave people financial problems. At this time the national debt was 43 billion dollars. Willy followed this trend by having the car, the refrigerator, the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner. Willy could not afford to buy these things out right, therefore was under pressure to make payments each month.
This affected his mental state because not only did he have to provide for his family, but also had to earn extra to give his family these items that Americans were being persuaded were necessary. The American Dream is to be successful and envied without using a lot of effort. As Lorraine Hansberry says “something has indeed gone wrong with at least part of the American Dream, and Willy Loman is a victim of the detour. ” I believe that there is a lot wrong with the American and how it is misleading many people into believing that America is the key to success.
However, not all of Willy’s mistakes can be blamed on the American society, because Willy is able to think for himself. Also not everybody was miserable in the 1940’s. This is also the era where people were successful, such as Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis in boxing, Gary Cooper, Betty Davis, Judy Garland and Marlon Brando in film, and, Irving Shaw and Doctor Spock in literature. Aristotle’s tragic theory is that the character in question is a great man, who dies, after: undergoing a fall, having a tragic character flaw, at some point being subjected to some recognition of his flaws and making an audience feels pity and catharsis.
One point that Aristotle made was that the hero of the story had to be a great man. In this play, it is the opposite. Willy is a common man living in America, with a stereotypical job, money problems, living in a normal house with a typical American family. He hasn’t done anything great for society, or even for his family. But, does the fact that he is not a great man, make the audience less impressed or moved by his downfall? This is dubious. On one hand, the audience feel less sympathetic because he is quite ignorant of what is happening, and he didn’t try to help any situations.
For example when he is in the garden planting seeds, he didn’t listen to what Linda said about nothing being able to grow in the garden. Also his flaws could have made him gain less sympathy because in some cases he was to blame, for example the way that he treated Linda, telling her to “shut up” all the time makes him seem rude and disrespectful. By treating Linda this way, he will not gain the audiences respect, making him fail in being a tragic hero. On the other hand, the audience are able to connect with Willy.
As Popkin says Willy is “Everyman” meaning that he is a recognisable character in a realistic world. Another point that Aristotle made was that the character had a downfall or a reversal of fortune. This is true of Willy in the play for he creates pity from the audience when he loses his job and has to tell his sons, “I was fired and I’m looking for a little good news to tell your mother,” some audience members could also feel pity for Willy because he is losing his mind and recalling his past memories, for example whenever he speaks to Ben.
Ben is both a character and a representation of the American Dream. One example of Ben’s representation of the American Dream is when Willy is playing a game of cards with Charley, Ben says “I must make a train, William. There are several properties I’m looking at in Alaska. ” This shows Ben’s success by the fact that he is looking to buy property whereas the audience know that Willy has to pay debts. This is also showing a contrast between the two characters. Another point made in Aristotle’s theory is that the character must have a flaw or be flawed.
Once again this is true of Millers character, Willy. In my opinion, Willy’s biggest flaw is how he is unfaithful to his wife, and how Biff, his son, finds out. “You – you gave her mama’s stockings. ” I don’t think flaws like this make an audience feel pity for the character, they could feel angry for the way he disrespected Linda, and maybe feel sympathetic for Biff who had to keep what he found out a secret. An audience would realise that he is keeping this secret when Linda talks about Willy’s attempted suicide, when Biff says, “What woman?
” An audience would be able to comprehend what Biff is talking about from seeing previous flashbacks, of Willy’s. Willy also has other flaws, for example, his mental illness plays a big part throughout the play, and an audience could feel pity for him because it is not necessarily his fault that he is suffering from mind loss. Personally, I don’t feel sympathetic to Willy because he is flawed. I feel that Willy has made unforgivable mistakes, such as making Happy crave attention by ignoring him, when Willy has a flashback remembering old times with his sons, Happy says,”I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop? ”
But Willy doesn’t respond to him. Also he practically tells Biff that it is acceptable to steal during another flashback with Ben, “Go right over to where they’re building the apartment house and get some sand. ” Although Willy is mentally ill, he is still conscious of what he is doing, therefore able to correct his mistakes. An additional point within Aristotle’s theory was that the character creates catharsis within an audience member. Catharsis is a relief of strong suppressed emotions, in this case through a piece of drama.
Vogal agreed with this point when he said, Miller has “awoken catharsis in us. ” I believe that this all depends on how sympathetic the audience feels towards Willy. Somebody who feels upset about how Willy had spent his life would feel this way at the end of the play. But, if somebody didn’t feel sympathetic about what happened to Willy throughout the play, would not feel catharsis, and could feel as if it was his own fault that all these bad things have happened to him. An arguable point made is whether Willy has a moment of self recognition, which is another point that Aristotle made.
Some people may argue that Willy does have a point of self recognition because he kills himself, thinking that the family would come into money therefore making himself realise that he had failed to support his family. Another argument would be that Willy knew because of the way Ben spoke to him. For Ben, the American Dream made him successful. But, even though he was a strong believer, the American Dream didn’t do anything for Willy. Other people may say that Willy didn’t have a moment of self recognition because when times were hard, for example when he came back home from his business trip.
He still had to do it all over again to try and gain success. People could also say that Willy didn’t kill himself to help his family, but because of his mental illness. In my opinion Willy does have a moment of self recognition, because he thinks that killing himself and getting the insurance money is the best thing for his family. I also think that it is his mental illness that stops him from realising that they won’t get any money because he is committing suicide. In conclusion, I think that Willy is partially successful in being a tragic hero and evoking sympathy from an audience.
I agree that what has happened to him is very upsetting, such as his death and him losing his job. However, I feel that in some cases he deserves to be punished for his terrible errors. Such as the way he treats his family. Willy is quite naive, with believing that practically wasting his money will make him successful. However, I do agree with Miller when he says (About Aristotle’s theory being out of date. ) Because a modern audience may suffer the same common tragedy as Willy does on this play.