Willy Loman, Redefining the Tragic Hero in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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Willy Loman, Redefining the Tragic Hero in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman


The events in the life of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman are no doubt tragic, yet whether or not he can be considered a tragic hero in a traditional sense is a topic requiring some discussion. Aristotle set the criteria for qualities a character must possess in order to be considered a tragic hero. In order to reach a conclusion on this matter, all six criteria must be examined to determine whether or not they are present in the character of Willy Loman.

The first criterion for a tragic hero is hamartia, or a tragic flaw in the character's personality that brings about their downfall. Willy Loman definitely does possess
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However he does have a few bad qualities about him in this story. One that is brought up more than once is his adultery in a hotel while on a sales trip. Biff walked in on this escapade, causing him to subsequently lose faith in his father and give up on trying to please him. Failing to see this as his own fault, Willy then labels his son an underachiever. When Biff and Happy were children, Willy favored Biff for his skills with the ladies and laughed off his bad habit of theft. Happy, trying to earn his father's respect, eventually duplicates his brother's actions, sneaking up the corporate ladder by stealing his superiors' women and sleeping with them.

Aristotle believed that a tragic hero must be a character that readers would be inclined to have both pity for and concern for the character's well being. This is definitely a factor in this story. One of the major reasons why readers might pity Loman is that all the time that his mental condition is worsening, his family realizes it. They see through his lies to the reality that he is steadily heading towards craziness, complete with having conversations with himself. Despite this, Linda urges her children to pay him the respect that he deserves. She still genuinely offers him love for the man that he truly is. However, he never seems to truly understand this offer of love and continues trying to deceive his family that he is a good salesman and a…