Common Man as Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman Essay

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Common Man as Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman


What is tragedy? While the literal definition may have changed over the centuries, one man believed he knew the true meaning of a tragic performance. Aristotle belonged to the culture that first invented tragic drama – the ancient Greeks. Through this, he gave himself credibility enough to illustrate the universally necessary elements of tragic drama. In The Poetics, Aristotle gives a clear definition of a tragedy, writing that it is “an imitation, through action rather than narration, of a serious, complete, and ample action, by means of language rendered pleasant at different places in the constituent parts by each of the aids [used to make language more delightful], in which
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The fall of a king or a man of great power served as the basis for Aristotle’s perfect tragedy. As centuries have passed, however, the world has evolved into a place with very few kings, but does this mean the modern experience is devoid of tragedy?

With his 1949 play Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller proved such was not the case. The story of traveling salesman Willy Loman, his feeble relationship with his eldest son, and his professional failure demonstrated that tragedy could be translated into the modern world. Although Death of a Salesman holds true to many aspects of the Aristotelian ideal with its linear plot and ultimate resolution, Arthur Miller did successfully challenge the definition of one of the philosopher’s tragic elements – that of the Tragic Hero.

The character of Willy Loman is true to his allegorical name. He is a “low man.” He is far from being a king or a nobleman, or a modern equivalent, such as a successful politician, a wealthy CEO, or a much-admired celebrity. He lives in a small, unassuming home, works at a tedious and under-appreciated job, and has difficulty listening, understanding, and relating to his sons. By Aristotle’s definition, he is the kind of person whose story, if it were recognized to exist at…