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The Jagged Edges of a Shattered American Dream in Death of a Salesman

The American dream is an ideal for all Americans to get the best out

of life. It stands for an easy and comfortable life, which makes you

independent and your own boss. Historically, the American dream meant

a promise of freedom and opportunity, offering the chance of riches

even to those who start with nothing. This is something that Arthur

Miller conveys in his play Death of a Salesman. Before the Depression,

an optimistic America offered the alluring promise of success and

riches. Willy Loman, Millers main character suffers from his

disenchantment with the American dream, for it fails him and his son.

In some ways, Willy and his older son Biff seem trapped in a

transitional period of American history. Willy, now sixty-three,

carried out a large part of his career during the Depression and World

War II. The promise of success that entranced him in the optimistic

1920’s was broken by the harsh economic realities of the 1930’s. The

unprecedented prosperity of the 1950’s remained far in the future.

Death of a Salesman tells the story of a man confronting failure in

the success-driven society of America and shows the tragic route that

eventually leads to his suicide. Loman is a symbolic icon of the

failing America; he represents those that have striven for success

but, in struggling to do so, have instead achieved failure in its most

bitter form. Arthur Miller’s tragic drama is a probing portrait of the

typical American mind portraying an extreme craving for success and

superior status in a world otherwise unproductive. To some extent,

therefore, Death of Salesman evokes the decline of a man into lunacy

and the subsequent effect this…

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… worthwhile, I believe that he even thought that his own seeds, his

children, did not grow into the men that he wanted them to be, so

therefore his life is a waste of space in his “garden”

Miller’s intention in writing about the death of a salesman, a

seemingly ordinary occurrence in twentieth-century society, was to

express the playwright’s own vision of American Society and the nature

of individuality. Death of a Salesman is the failing America and the

‘jagged edges of a shattered dream’ but it also demonstrates Miller’s

belief that ‘the “common man is as apt a subject for tragedy as kings


[1] Homework-online/Death of a salesman.

[2] Craig. M. Garrison.


[4] Craig M Garrison

[5] Craig M Garrison

[6] Tragedy and the Common Man

Willy Loman as Tragic Hero of Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman as Tragic Hero of Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman, the title character of the play, Death of Salesman, exhibits all the characteristics of a modern tragic hero. This essay will support this thesis by drawing on examples from Medea by Euripedes, Poetics by Aristotle, Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, while comments by Moss, Gordon, and Nourse reinforce the thesis.

Death of Salesman, by Arthur Miller, fits the characteristics of classic tragedy. ?…. this is, first of all, a play about a man’s death. And tragedy has from the beginning dealt with this awesome experience, regarding it as significant and moving.? (Nourse). The first defining point of a tragedy is the hero. The traits for a tragic hero, as defined by Aristotle in Poetics, are social rank, hamartia, ability to arouse pity, peripeteia, hubris, and anagnorisis. Will Loman’s classification as a tragic hero has been debated because he lacks the high social rank and nobility to be considered so. Arthur Miller chose to argue this, however, by stating that Willy Loman was ?a very brave spirit who cannot settle for but must pursue his dream of himself to the end,? (Moss, 27) reasserting the character of a modern hero as noble, not in position …

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… Twayne Publishers, 1967.

Nourse, Joan T. Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘All My Sons.’ New York, 1965.

Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Elements of Literature. Ed. Edwina McMahon et al. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1997.

Sophocles. “Oedipus Rex.” Elements of Literature. Ed. Robert Scholes, Nancy Comley, Carl H. Klaus, and David Staines. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990. 714-757.

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.

Clinton W. Trowbridge, “Arthur Miller: Between Pathos and Tragedy,” Arthur Miller, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1987)

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