We can see that Miller offers a new perspective on the idea of the tragic hero as Shakespeare saw it. Shakespeare’s heroes left their audiences with lessons to be learned and other characters in the play gained knowledge and understanding. Critics accuse miller of failing to do this in the death of a salesman. Give your opinion referring closely to the play for evidence… “Death of a salesman” follows the later life of Willy Loman who struggled to make a living in the twentieth-century industrialised society in which he found himself.
The pressure to succeed slowly ate away at Willy because it seemed that no matter how hard he tried, circumstances continually seemed to conspire against him and eventually he was overwhelmed. Willy Loman could be seen as a tragic hero for several reasons; however there are some things that set him apart from the tragic heroes of Shakespeare. This essay sets out to analyse the details of Willy’s life and personality which support or contradict the statement that Willy Loman is in fact, “a tragic hero”.
One thing that makes Willy Loman different to any Shakespearian tragic hero is the fact that he is not of noble birth. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the main character is never an ordinary, lowly citizen. They are always in full view of the general public and when they do die as a result of their actions, the moral of the story is clear. Miller disagreed with the view that only noble characters could be tragic heroes because he thought that even the lowest of the low could be outstanding in their own special way. He said ‘It matters not at all whether…
the hero falls from a great height or a small one’. Through “The Death of a Salesman” , Miller tried to demonstrate that even though Willy Loman was an ordinary, run of the mill person, he still had the qualities needed to be a hero. He also felt that it would enlighten people’s views and help them realise that the world owes him nothing and will cast them aside when they need it most. Another thing that tells Willy apart from the Shakespearian tragic hero is the fact that he doesn’t have just one tragic flaw that costs him his life. There are several.
For example Willy was disloyal to his wife, Linda, when he had relations with “the woman”. The audience knows about the affair because of the way will acts around the woman for example often he “(takes her in his arms)”. Another character flaw is Loman’s extremely short fuse. He repeatedly lost his temper throughout. When talking to Charley, his next door neighbour, he shouted furiously “you big ignoramus, if you say that to me again I will rap you one! I don’t care how big you are! ” This short outburst identifies one of the key ways in which Willy fails to ‘make it’ in the world.
Willy has many heroic qualities behind the harsh and intimidating mask he puts up when under pressure. One of his many good qualities is his willingness to provide and cater for his family. For example when he asked Howard for a job closer to home in act two, he says “I gotta earn money, Howard” then later on in the same conversation he explains “I can’t throw myself on my sons. ” These examples of dialogue explain how Willy is persistent and too proud to let himself be pushed aside by Howard, a young and successful business man.
He feels a duty towards his boys. Loman put his boys and Linda before himself at all times and Miller felt that this was as heroic as anything that Romeo had accomplished. In the end, Willy sacrificed his own life on behalf of his family. This was ironic because the only way that Willy could save himself and his children from the “dog eat dog” financial world that surrounded him, was by taking his own life. Willy calculated that he was worth more dead than alive to Linda and the boys and therefore he did what he felt had to be done.
This was an act of heroism because he sacrificed his own life so that those he cared about most could live a better life, even if it was without him. Shakespeare’s heroes are similar to Willy in another way too. In both plays the tragic hero lacks strong direction in their lives. Romeo and Loman lived boring unimportant lives and make a series of fatal mistakes that cost them their lives. This makes the reader or audience question the purpose of life and also question the values of the American capitalist society. For this reason both Romeo and Willy could be categorised as fatal heroes.