Death of a Salesman: Not an American Tragedy
In broad terms, a “tragedy” is a work in which the main character, who is highly renowned and prosperous, is brought to ruin as a consequence of a predominating weakness or tragic flaw. According to Aristotle, the fall of the protagonist creates pity and fear in the audience, thus evoking catharsis. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman does not, in full, fit Aristotle’s definition of tragedy; therefore the play should not be classified as a tragedy.
Willy Lowman is not a tragic hero because he does not meet the requirements of a successful and noble person; thus making Death of a Salesman not a tragedy. Tragedy, as defined by Aristotle, has five essential components, one being that the tragic hero “is essentially noble in character” (Aristotle’s Poetics). The main character clearly does not meet the requirements of a noble and prosperous person. Willy makes very little money and isn’t well liked.
Willy complains to Linda how he makes little money: LINDA: Well, it makes seventy dollars and some pennies. You owe around a hundred and twenty dollars. WILLY: A hundred and twenty dollars! My God, if business don’t pick up I don’t know what I’m gonna do! (Miller 23; 1)
Willy also complains that he is not well liked:
WILLY: I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me.
LINDA: Why? Why would they laugh at you?
WILLY: I don’t know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I’m not noticed. (Miller 23; 1) Willy makes very little money and he is also ridiculed and made fun of, which makes him a person who is not noble. Willy is not a prosperous and renowned person that Aristotle demands the tragic hero to be; therefore he is not a tragic hero and Death of a Salesman should not be considered a tragedy.
Another aspect that contributes to Willy Lowman not being a tragic hero and Death of a Salesman not being a tragedy is Willy’s failure to achieve peripeteia. An additional aspect of Aristotle’s essential components of a tragedy is “a reversal of fortune (peripereia)” (Aristotle’s Poetics). Willy
makes very little money, being paid on commission, and he also owes a lot of money. He cannot make ends meet and he lives in a crummy apartment building where everything keeps falling apart. Willy does not have a reversal of fortune because there is nowhere he can be knocked down to. He is already on the lowest rung of society’s ladder and the only way he can travel is up, which does not happen. Willy does not fit the criteria of a tragic hero because he does not experience a reversal of fortune. The play’s failure of having a tragic hero, ultimately leads it to not meeting the requirements of a tragedy, as defined by Aristotle.
Willy Lowman also fails to recognize his errors and evoke catharsis, the purgation of pity and fear from the audience; thus leading to the failure of Death of a Salesman at becoming a tragedy. Aristotle states that the tragic hero must, “recognize his error in character, judgment, or lack of knowledge, and evoke catharsis” (Aristotle’s Poetics). Willy through the whole play states: The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interests, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want. (Miller 21; 1)
Willy’s philosophy is wrong and because he follows it, he lives a poor life, and cannot succeed economically in the world. Willy’s fault is that he thinks success comes with being liked and well-known. He does not believe that hard work and studying will come out on top at the end over good looks and impressions. Although his actions and philosophy is wrong, he does not change it, even after countless futile attempts from many people such as his employer, Howard, and his brother, Ben, to get him to change. Willy does not have this essential component of tragedy, recognizing his error, so he does not conjure catharsis. Willy Lowman’s failure to have essential components of a tragic hero, results in Miller’s play failing to be a tragedy.
While Willy does have and portrays some aspects of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy, it does not validate Miller’s play as a tragedy, for the fact that all the criteria must be met. Willy does have a tragic flaw, which Aristotle states in his Poetics that all tragic heroes need to have. Willy’s tragic flaw, stubbornness, holds him back from changing his ways and becoming successful in his society. The play also has a catastrophic end, Willy’s suicide, which is an essential element of a tragedy. While the play does have a catastrophic end and a main character with a tragic flaw, the main character still fails to be of noble standing in the first place and experience a peripeteia and recognize his error. Overall, Death of a Salesman does not fulfill all the requirements of a tragedy, so by default it is not a tragedy.
Death of a Salesman does not fulfill all of the elements needed by a play to be a tragedy. As defined by Aristotle, for a play to be a tragedy a main character of high status must be brought to ruin, usually as a consequence of a predominating weakness or tragic flaw, and recognize his error and evoke catharsis. Miller’s play fails to accomplish all of the necessary requirements of a tragedy; therefore it should not be classified as a tragedy.
Cite this Death of a Salesman Argumentative
Death of a Salesman Argumentative. (2017, Mar 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/death-of-a-salesman-argumentative/