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). [...]
[...] Biff says that he was moving around three months” but in reality he had “stole a suit in Kansas City and was in jail” (131). Biff, away from the influences of Willy, actually had a life that was basically in good faith. However, Willy and Happy, two main characters, both lived in bad faith throughout the play, a very large blow to a play which claims to be a modern tragedy. Miller's Death of a Salesman, it matters not tragedy or pathos, is a play for all ages. [...]
[...] The author of this essay feels that this play is neither tragedy nor pathos, but a letter. It tells the viewers to treat all those they know with respect. If one can feel sorrow and pity for an imaginary character that never existed, how can one ignore the struggle of one's neighbor, whom one knows like one's own flesh and blood? How can those who one loves be allowed to slip away like ashes in the wind? How can one let it happen? [...]
[...] There are actually two journeys in Death of a Salesman. One is Willy's and one is Biff's. They both discover who they actually are, but only Biff can handle the truth while Willy ends his life with the façade that he is important and superior still intact. Miller's Death of a Salesman also exposes the hypocrisy and corruption of modern society through the lives of the play's characters. Through the struggles of Willy, Biff and Happy, Miller shows how corrupt society is. [...]
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