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Death of a Salesman: Tragic but Not a Tragedy

Death of a Salesman: Tragic but Not a Tragedy

Though a more modern version of tragedy in its’ classical sense, Death of a Salesman in many ways is very much like an ancient Greek play. In his ‘Poetics’ Aristotle tries to set out the common ideas throughout tragedy, attempting to demystify the necessary elements for such plays. One of his main ideas was that of the ‘Three Unities’ – that of Space, that of Time and that of Action. He stated that all the action of a tragedy must occur in the place, which was often the front of a palace, which allowed the poet to have many characters coming and going, and allowed random meetings to occur easily, rather than having to ‘explain’ the reason why any meeting should occur. It was, however, possible for the poet to bring in events occurring in other places through the use of messengers, who could talk about the events without the audience seeing them.

All the action would have to unfold in one day, and must be played out in ‘real time’ – the time would pass as fast for the characters in the play as for the actors and the audience watching. This prevented the use of act and scene breaks, as time could not jump forward, it had to pass normally. Again references to the past often came in the form of speech from characters whom often had not been seen for a very long time, such as the shepherd in Oedipus Rex who explains how he had come by Oedipus as a baby whilst attending his flock.

The entire play had to revolve around a single plot, and subplots, such as you see in many of Shakespeare’s comedies, were not allowed. Aristotle reasoned that if there were other plots interfering with and infringing upon the main plot we could not concentrate entirely on Antigony’s plight, …

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…ccept his refusal to act rationally. An audience can accept that ‘true’ tragic heroes are often irrational, and driven by very different feelings from those of normal human beings, but in the end, Willy Loman does not evoke tragic emotion because he is, simply, a dime a dozen.

Works Cited and Consulted

Aristotle. Poetics. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 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

Florio, Thomas A., ed. “Miller’s Tales.” The New Yorker. 70 (1994): 35-36.

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

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

Dangers Behavior Exposed in Death of a Salesman

Dangers Behavior Exposed in Death of a Salesman

Everyone has personal problems that they must face. In the play, Death of a Salesman, the author, Arthur Miller, explores the ways in which some people deal with these problems. Miller reveals Willy Lowman’s tendency to ignore problems as long as possible. Willy never really does anything to help his situation; he just uses flashbacks to escape into the past. Through his flashbacks he returns to happier times when problems were scarce. He uses this escape mechanism as if it were a harmless drug that allowed him to cope with living. As the play progresses, the reader learns that even a harmless drug can be dangerous because of the potential for addiction.

The first time Willy is seen lapsing off into the past is when he encounters Biff after arriving home. The conversation between Willy and Linda reflects Willy’s disappointment in Biff and what he has become – a bum. After failing to deal adequately with his feelings, he escapes back into a time when things were better for his family. It is not uncommon for someone experiencing a low point in life to reminisce about better times. This enables him to rouse himself so that he can deal with the problems he encounters in the present. Willy Lowman takes it one step further. His refusal to accept reality is so strong that, in his mind, he is transported back in time to relive the happier days of his life. It was a time when Willy and Linda were younger, no one argued, the financial situation was less of a burden, and Biff and Happy enthusiastically welcomed their father back home from long road trips. After a flashback, Willy’s need for the “drug” is satiated and he is reassured that everything will turn out okay, and th…

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…and disillusioned sons.

Works Cited

Field, B.S. “Death 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.

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, 1969.

—. 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.

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