Essay on Common Man Tragedy in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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The idea of dramatic tragedy is a classical one, discussed in Aristotle's Poetics. Before it can be established as to whether Miller really has written a tragedy or not, the very concept of tragedy must be investigated. Aristotle asserted, 'Tragedy is a representation, an imitation, of an action.1? He went on to outline the common features tragic drama must have. Tragedy has six elements, which, in order of importance, are: plot, character, thought, music, language, and spectacle. The plot requires peripeteia, anagnorisis, and cathartic effect. It must take place in one day, in one setting, with a unity of plot (i.e. all tragic, no comic subplot). The character must be ?good? (there is some debate as to the vague nature of this word), …show more content…
By his peripeteia, Aristotle means the tragic effect of human effort producing exactly the opposite result to its intention, the irony of human blindness4. The character of Willy Loman is appropriate to this meaning; his intention was to make his fortune, and thus, by his own values, become a success. He devoted his life to the belief that popularity and loyalty were the keys to achieve this end. Miller has relayed this to the reader via the use of ?flashbacks? from Willy?s already ?failed? life. The reader is therefore able to see how Willy?s faith was misplaced. He didn?t realise that his beliefs were outmoded concepts, and that materialism reigned, despite the fact that he himself was a victim of that materialistic world (the refrigerator, the awe at the tape recorder, Biff?s sneakers, even his own success ethic). Willy clung to the idea of Ben [his brother] as the personification of success, but he didn?t hear what Ben was telling him about success5. Willy believed it to be a matter of personality: Willy: ?It?s not what you do, Ben. It?s who you know and the smile on your face! It?s contacts, Ben, contacts! The whole wealth of Alaska passes over the lunch table at the Commodore Hotel, and that?s the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds on the basis of being liked!

While Willy is being fired, he tells a story about David Singleman,