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Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman as Epic Tragedy

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman as Epic Tragedy

Aristotle’s Poetics defines the making of a dramatic or epic tragedy and presents the general principles of the construction of this genre. Surprisingly, over the centuries authors have remained remarkably close to Aristotle’s guidelines. Arthur Miller’s twentieth century tragedy Death of a Salesman is an example of this adherence to Aristotle’s prescription for tragedy. It is significant to test Aristotle’s definition and requirements of tragedy by comparison and contrast, against a contemporary tragedy and to make observations with regard to what influence society and culture may have on the genre. This discussion however, will be confined to the realm of plot and the more notable aspects of the construction of the incidents in tragedy because of the complexity of this element.

Aristotle’s attention throughout much of Poetics is directed towards the requirements and expectations of plot. Plot, ‘the soul of tragedy’, Aristotle says, must be an imitation of a noble and complete action. In Death of a Salesman, Miller does provide a complete action, that is it has what Aristotle identifies as a beginning, a middle, and an end. These divisible sections must, and do in the case of Death of a Salesman, meet the criterion of their respective placement. Whether Miller provides a nobel action, however, is an issue of culture. Willy Loman ultimately takes his own life so that his son Biff may benefit from the insurance money that he will receive. The question then, is according to our culture is his suicide noble? Since Willy’s suicide is perpetrated for Biff’s benefit, one could view this act as sacrifice. Sacrifice is in our culture, a pious and admirable quality, one of…

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…ath of a Salesman’ Twentieth Century Literature. January, 1972. 19-24. Rpt. in World Literary Criticism. Ed. Frank Magill. ‘Arthur Miller’ Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. 2366-2368.

Hayman, Ronald. Arthur Miller. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1972.

Hoeveler, D. J. ‘Ben’s Influence.’ Arthur Miller?s Death of a Salesman: Modern Critical Interpretations. Ed. Harold Blum. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1988. 72-81.

Magill, Frank. ‘Death of a Salesman.’ Master Plots. Englewood Cliffs: Salem, 1976. 1365-1368.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin, 1949.

—. Conversations With Arthur Miller. Jackson: Mississippi UP, 1987.

Parker, Brian. ‘Point of View in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.’ Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robert Corrigan. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1969. 98-107.

Comparing Death of a Salesman and The American Dream

Comparing Death of a Salesman and The American Dream

In Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman and Edward Albee’s The American Dream, Willy Lowman and Mommy possess the trait of superficiality. Their priorities are to look good and be liked, and this contributes to their misguided paths to reach success. This attribute is one of many societal criticisms pointed out by both authors. Arthur Miller criticizes society for perceiving success as being liked and having good looks. He illustrates society’s perception through Willy, who thinks the keys to success are being popular and attractive. Willy transmits this philosophy to his sons by ignoring their education and personal growth and setting an example that popularity is most important. Edward Albee criticizes society for the same thing. He points out the wrong priorities in life such as emphasizing good looks and the wish to be liked at the expense of deeper ethics and morals. Through Mommy’s incident with the hat, which showed she wanted to be liked, and her problems with her own son’s physical and mental faults, which showed she cared too much for good looks, Albee shows how society is misguided in its methods to achieve success.

Miller’s Willy shows many times that his idea of success goes no deeper than the superficial by teaching his sons the wrong path to a successful life. When Biff was in high school, Willy had already started to teach his son the false values in which he believed. When Willy found out Biff had stolen a football and was caught by his coach, who did not get angry, Willy responded by using the incident as an example of the importance of his philosophy.

“That’s because he likes you. If somebody else took that ball there’d be

an uproar.” (…

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…ve path in the form of Bernard, who unlike Biff and Happy, does well in school, is not well liked by others, and is a relatively unattractive man. However, his goals are more within reach because he is prepared to work hard and is less concerned with the opinions of others.

Works Cited and Consulted

Albee, Edward. The American Dream. Toronto: Plume, 1997

Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.

Costello, Donald P. “Arthur Miller’s Circles of Responsibility: A View From a Bridge and Beyond.” Modern Drama. 36 (1993): 443-453.

Hayashi, Tetsumaro. Arthur Miller Criticism. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1969.

Martin, Robert A., ed. Arthur Miller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking, 1965.

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