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Death of a Salesman: Tragedy or not?

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Nathan S.
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  1. Willy and Biff Loman go on an archetypal 'voyage of discovery'.
  2. Biff Loman succeeds where his father failed.
  3. Miller's Death of a Salesman.
  4. Sartre says that one who kills himself lies to himself.
  5. Miller's Death of a Salesman, it matters not tragedy or pathos.

The great authors of old, such as Aristotle, Sophocles and Homer, all wrote incredible tragedies that immortalize the classical notion of a tragic hero. But what of today? Are there no tragedies that occur in the society of today? Where is Oedipus Rex in the world of the twentieth century? In ?Tragedy and the Common Man?, Arthur Miller writes that ?the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were? (1). The modern man can also be a tragic hero, no matter how unfit for this honor he seems to be. The modern man can be a hero; he merely has a different set of regulations than Oedipus did. This statement was written in response to Miller's incredibly provocative play Death of a Salesman, which was first produced in 1949. Some critics of the play claim that it is merely pathos, not a modern tragedy, while others claim that it is a tragedy in the highest sense of the genre, a conflict caused by the play's opposing qualities, as espoused by the characters. The play is neither a modern tragedy nor pathos because it exhibits qualities of both.

[...] But when Howard fires Willy, his entire façade of being a successful salesman falls apart. When Willy is told to ?drop off the samples? he is being told to return his soul. His pride prevents him from accepting Charley's job offer. Willy suddenly realizes that his life has been a joke and that he is not a happy, content, or fulfilled person. When he meets his two sons in the restaurant, he begins to hallucinate and imagine that he is back when his sons were in high school. [...]


[...] Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman uses the lives of characters Willy, Biff and Happy to expose the corruption and hypocrisy that is inherent in American society. Despite the aforementioned traits, Death of a Salesman may merely be pathos because of the following: all three main characters live in a perpetual state of bad faith and delusion. Willy constantly talks to himself and characters in his imagination, many of whom no longer exist. It is so bad that Happy tells Biff don't know what to do about (27). [...]


[...] Nienhuis sums this up by stating, a consequence of living in a capitalistic society that emphasizes materialistic values, Willy Loman has a defective sense of self? (1559). Willy's values are defective. He values twenty thousand dollars over his life. Then Biff and Happy, his two sons, come home. When this occurs, all of Willy's old memories begin to appear and Willy examines his life and discovers how he has ended up as he has. Willy's mind is originally in a state of inflammation. [...]

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