Analysis of Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman
The Death of a Salesman is a modern tragedy by Arthur Miller, published in 1949. The play focuses on the perception of the American Dream. The play reflects the Post-war era of prosperity that brought renewed hope to Americans in terms of upward mobility and success. However, the ability of every American, irrespective of their background, to achieve some form of prosperity is far-fetched, as depicted in the play. Miller presents this illusion of success through the character of Willy Loman and his struggles to achieve success. The character of Willy exhibits the features of a modern tragic hero whose fantasies and idealized past get the better of him, leading to his ultimate demise. Through Loman’s character, Miller exemplifies the result of a subtle dream and how it affects the protagonist’s view of reality and acceptance of the change. Loman is a tragic hero. After all, he turns a vision into a nightmare because of his subjective flaw and inability to grasp reality, ultimately pushing him to the edge because he cannot live with his failure. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman illustrates Willy Loman as a tragic hero because of his sudden change of fortune from his past, illusion, and mistakes.
Loman’s Idealized Past
Willy Loman lives in an idealized past that makes him overlook the critical changes around him. He gets stuck in the past and fails to realize that his fortunes have reversed, and he is no longer living in a world that cares about him anymore. Although Loman does not necessarily fall from Grace, he concentrates on what he could have done better in his past and forgets to make up for it in his current life. At sixty years, he is still forced to travel around as a salesman with meager payments to take care of his family. His wife, Linda Loman, suggests that he tells their boss that he can no longer work as a traveling salesman. Loman replies, “If old man Wagner was alive, I’d been in charge of New York now!”(Miller, 1996, p. 7). Loman reminisces over his past contribution to his work as he believes that should earn him respect and promotion in the company. However, the fortunes have changed as Old Wagner is no longer the boss but his son, Howard. Wei (2019) points out that although Loman is stuck in an idealized past, he does not learn from it as he continuously shies away from reality. He presents himself to his family as someone on the verge of enormous success. However, he still wonders why he has not reached his potential after all those years of working.
Similarly, Loman’s delusion and pride constantly overshadow his view of reality and what success entails. According to Turku (2013), Loman believes that his idea of success is what an ideal prosperity should feel like. According to his outlook on life, charisma and luck are more crucial to success than working hard. He desires to raise his two sons, Happy and Biff, with his perception of how they should approach life and crave success. When Biff talks about his neighbor, Bernard, who is relatively intelligent in school, Loman refutes Biff’s claims that academic excellence is essential in life. He states, “Bernard can get the best marks in school, but when he gets out of the business world, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises” (Miller, 1996, p. 26). Loman believes that being enigmatic and liked by many guarantees success, especially in business. As a result, he encourages his children not to worry about their performances but focus on being charismatic and well-liked. Loman even compares his life to another salesman, Dave Singleton, whom he believed was successful because many people bid him farewell at his funeral. His delusion of success leads to his failure as a parent to his kids and a husband to his wife.
Loman is a modern tragic hero because of his poor judgment and decision-making flaw. The rupture between his dreams and the realities of his world culminates in a mental breakdown (Erkan, 2012). Although his family struggles financially, he chooses to engage in an affair. He claims to have invested all his hopes in his children, but his decision-making and actions do not indicate this standpoint. Speaking about his affair, Loman tells Biff, “She’s nothing to me, Biff. I was lonely. I was terribly lonely” (Miller 1996, p. 86). Although he claims to care about his family’s future and prosperity, he only relives moments in the past but does not invest in the future. His affair indicates his disloyalty and abandonment of his family by ignoring their needs. Similarly, his shallow view of success contradicts the idea that any individual in America can achieve some form of prosperity. His final decision to commit suicide so his family could gain from the life insurance indicates a personal flaw of self-importance and poor decision-making.
Clearly, in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is a tragic hero whose personal flaws and illusions blind his grasp of reality. Loman lives in an idealized past as he fails to recognize that the world is changing, and he is no longer the young man with potential in the past. Nonetheless, he fails to learn from his past and thus continuously makes mistakes that lead to his downfall. Consequently, his shallow view of success equally overshadows his responsibilities to take care of his family, as he fails to realize how they love him when he is alive. Although the audience sympathizes with Loman, his continuous flaws, illustrated through his pride and poor decision-making, constantly pull him to his downfall and ultimate death.
- Erkan, B. (2012). A modern tragic hero in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. Journal of the Cukurova University Institute of Social Sciences, 21(3).
- Miller, A. (1996). Death of a Salesman: Revised Edition. Penguin.
- Turku, M. (2013). Death of a Salesman, when tragedy meets the modern man. Journal of Literature and Art Studies, 3(4), 224-229.
- Wei, Q. (2019). The analysis of Death of a Salesman from the perspective of modern tragedy. US-China Foreign Language, 17(7), 328-331.