Essay about Death of a Salesman

Submitted By ck253
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Modern Tragedy Lit Argument Arthur Miller’s modern play, Death of a Salesman, examines the life of salesman Willy Loman and his family. The story of Willy Loman is considered to be one of the great modern tragedies. The play directly correlates with Aristotle’s Poetics, in how a play is or is not a tragedy. “According to Aristotle, a play must have four elements to be a tragedy. It needs a character of nobility, this character must recognize the fatal flaw in the climax of the play, high language and the ability to evoke pity and fear from the audience and then soothe it” (Sleight). Throughout Death of a Salesman, recognition of the flaw in the American Dream is what truly makes this play a tragedy. Following the rules and guidelines laid out by Aristotle, it is said that actions preformed by the character will either achieve or fail (at) happiness (Poetics 11). From beginning to end, Willy constantly has flash blacks or daydreams that take him away from reality. “He is always preoccupied with his own dreams and desires, so much so that he denies and ignores anything contrary to his beliefs” (Sleight). Later, Willy’s weak character and instability are revealed, which is ultimately what gets him fired. He also believes that the measure of a man’s success is reflected in how much wealth he has amounted and that this wealth is gained by being popular. It goes back to the false sense of the American Dream. “He is convinced that popularity is enough to lead to success and this eventually leads to his fall” (Sleight). This is why Willy has trouble keeping a job; he bases his whole life, and his family’s life off of blind faith in others. He would constantly tell his sons “…the man who makes an appearance…creates personal interest…gets ahead”. These false pieces of advice drive Biff to fail, because he grows up learning without the correct work ethics. Aristotle said that a tragedy must include changes from prosperity to affliction caused by hamartia (Poetics 13). It is the perception in which Willy views the American Dream that leads to his downfall. At Willy’s funeral his son, Biff, states that “he had the wrong dreams” (Death of a Salesman 1904), Willy had always dreamed that he must be rich and well liked to become prosperous. The Tragedy and the Common Man, also written by Arthur Miller, states that “the possibility of victory must be there in tragedy.” Willy Loman works loyaly for most of his life striving for the success that is the “American Dream.” Throughout the play Willy is constantly working and is convinced that he can make himself a success but he is put up against “a much superior force” (Tragedy and the Common Man 1908). This is where an element of tragedy can be seen and identified. However many debate whether Millers play can be labeled as a tragedy. As Aristotle had dictated, a tragedy was usually about “kings or the kingly” (Tragedy and the Common Man 1906). Willy Loman as his last name is dictated is “low man” and in other words a common man and could not be considered the hero of a tragedy. “Miller answered these critics in his essay Tragedy and the Common Man, where he proposed that tragedy is not the sole property of the noble class and now that the perception that tragedy is somehow above the common man is false.” (Sleight). Aristotle says that man enjoys great esteem and prosperity much like Oedipus and Thyestes (Poetics 13) and one of Willy’s tragic flaws is that he places so much value on how others see him and if he is well liked. Miller says “Tragedy…is the consequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly” (Tragedy and the Common Man 1906). The notion of being liked was so important to Willy that he had instilled this thought into his children’s minds and ruined their chances of success because all they wanted was for people to like them too. This has caused Willy to be afraid of “being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world” (Tragedy and the