There are two Willy Lomans in The Death of a Salesman. There is the present broken, exhausted man in his sixties, soon to end his life. And there is the more confident, vigorous Willy of some fifteen years before, who appears in the flashbacks. One actor portrays both, readily shifting from one representation to the other. To some extent, of course, the personality remains constant. The younger Willy, although given to boastful blustering, does admit misgivings to Linda and loneliness to Biff. And the shattered older man, in turn, occasionally reverts to his former manner of jaunty optimism. Yet the changes are great and significant. The earlier Willy could never have been the idol of his teen-aged sons had he behaved in the perverse, distracted fashion of his older self.
Willy’s agitation during his last days stems from a twofold sense of failure. He has not been able to launch successfully in the world his beloved son Biff, and he no longer can meet the demands of his own selling job. Although not altogether ignoring Linda and Happy, he is primarily concerned about the once magnificent young football star who at thirty-four drifts from one temporary ranch job to the next. Willy cannot “walk away” from Biff’sproblem, as Bernard suggests, nor can he accept Linda’s view that “life is a casting off.” Being over sixty, Willy is doubtless tiring physically. The sample cases are heavy. The seven-hundred-mile drives are arduous. And many business contacts, developed over the years, are vanishing as the men of his era die or retire. Yet the worry over Biff has obviously accelerated his collapse.
Actually, Willy’s attitude toward Biff is complex. On the one hand, t…
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…ledge. But Happy is still determined to “beat this racket”and come out “number one man.” On the day of the big game, Charley ruefully asks Willy when he is going to grow up. In some ways Willy never does. His boyish enthusiasm is, of course, part of his appeal. But his persistent refusal to face facts squarely drives him at last to a violent death. Ironically, his suicide, to him the ultimate in magnificent gestures, merely leaves Linda woefully bereft and Biff more than ever sure that “he had the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.”
Eisinger, Chester E. “Focus on Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’: The Wrong Dreams,” in American Dreams, American Nightmares, (1970 rpt In clc. Detroit: Gale Research. 1976 vol. 6:331
Gordon, Lois “Death of a Salesman”: An Appreciation, in the Forties: 1969) rpt in clc. Detroit: Gale Research. 1983 vol. 26:323
Willy Loman as a Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman
Willy Loman as Tragic Hero in Death of a Salesman
Willy Loman, the troubled father and husband in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, can be classified as a tragic hero, as defined by Aristotle in his work, Poetics.
In Aristotle’s Poetics, a tragic hero was defined as one who falls from grace into a state of extreme despair. Willy, as we are introduced to him, becomes increasingly miserable as he progresses from a dedicated, loving father, though not without flaws, into a suicidal, delusional man. The definition of a tragic hero, as stated in “Poetics,” also describes a person who is influential and is of significance to others. Though, in actuality, Willy Loman may not possess these characteristics, he perceives himself as having them as he cares for himself, his children and his wife. A final distinction noted by Aristotle was that a tragic hero is not a bad person deserving of his impending misfortune, but instead, has made a series of mistakes leading to his downfall. We can see that Willy does not purposely create this harmful situation for himself, he is only ignorant that certain actions of his are wrong, which contribute to his self-ruin. Willy Loman therefore personifies the attributes of a tragic hero as proposed by Aristotle.
Willy, with a house, a car, a job, two sons whom he adores, and a supportive, caring wife, seems to have everything that any man could ever want. He manages, however, to alienate himself from these things that he loves near the end of the play as he slips into a self-induced state of altered reality. Willy, being “…lonely…terribly lonely” (Miller, page #) has an affair with a woman during his marriage to Linda. Even though Linda is not aware of this, or makes no mention of …
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…id not keep his sales skills sharpened, but he never purposely hurt the people in his life.
Through the actions of Willy Loman, and the reactions of those around him, we can see that his character follows the model of a tragic hero presented by Aristotle in his works, “Poetics.” Willy passes through life in a path that begins with prosperity, as evidenced by his possessions and successful family, and ends with misery, when he loses his job and commits suicide. Willy has indeed made mistakes in his life, and we can recognize that they are mistakes and were never intended to harm anyone, but instead to satisfy his own needs. These characteristics then, by Aristotle’s determination, make him not a “wicked man” (Aristotle, 1303), and not a virtuous man, but “a man whose place is between these extremes”; (Aristotle, 1303) by definition, the tragic hero.