Death of a Salesman is a modern domestic tragedy, where the struggles of one man are a reflection of the struggles of a whole nation. Willy Loman, the tragic hero of this play is portrayed as a worn out man who is holding on to old dreams. The quote “attention must be paid” is a rather accurate way in which other characters, such as Biff, Happy and Harold should treat him, yet also how the audience should respond to him, as he deserves more than he is getting. However, they may not respond to him sympathetically as this was the time when people were overcoming the depression, so everybody would have similar problems.
Miller uses the character Linda to help an audience sympathise with him, as it allows them to see him, here at least, as a very honest character even when trying to tell Linda that he lost control of driving: “all of a sudden, I’m going off the road”. This, with him leaving the rubber tube meant for his suicide lying around could be seen as honest, yet also inconsiderate towards Linda. An audience may be compassionate towards Willy as he seems to be an honest man trying to understand his own situation, yet also as a tragic hero as he obtains no real help from the people around him who love him. They could, however, see him as being inconsiderate to her feelings, as she may feel unloved from his longing to leave his life and, in turn, her. Willy’s honesty could be overlooked by an audience as Linda makes excuses for him, as they could be misinterpreted as Willy himself not addressing his issues: “maybe it was the steering again”, in reference to Willy almost driving off the road. He can be quite dismissive towards Linda, telling her “don’t interrupt”. This blunt operative and cutting her off mid-sentence because he does not seem to feel her opinion is relevant. However, Willy does show affection and possibly love towards his wife as he is “[encouraged]” by the suggestions Linda gives him regarding his job and states he “definitely will” do as she has said. This word choice shows that he does respect her ideas and knows that she knows what is best for him, however people can be encouraged by anyone, and it is not a particularly loving feeling towards her. An audience may see the struggles Willy has with his wife as one of the many struggles he has to go through to be classified as a tragic hero, and therefore may respond rather sympathetically to him as one.
Miller emphasises the fact that Willy does not always appreciate Linda by showing him having an affair. This simple defiance keeps Willy “[pleased]” with his life, as it shows that he is making some succes due to the fact that the woman tells him “I picked you”, and so she must see some success in him to have done this. This shows he may not appreciate his wife because she cannot give him that contented feeling. However, the happy marriage Linda and Willy seem to portray does not change in the memories or in the present, making the audience less likely to sympathise with him, as he shows no reason to be unfaithful. They also would be shocked that a man would have an affair in this time period, as men were normally faithful to their wives. However, the woman seems to be a portrayal of what is missing from Willy’s life, as he wants her to “come up again” to see her, suggesting that she is one of his few successes. An audience may not agree with this, but pity him for needing that reassurance in his life. Not telling Linda, and keeping Biff from telling her about his affair suggests that he does not want his marriage to end, theorizing that he does love her to the extent that she is “the best there is”.
Miller uses contrasting characters to make the audience respond sympathetically to Willy. He contrasts with the character of Ben, who has achieved his dreams, and constantly reminds Willy of his…