Death of a Salesman: Willy Loman: The Tragic Hero

Essay by AcroxtremeHigh School, 11th gradeA+, October 2004

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In Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman, a father named Willy Loman eventually commits suicide over losing his dreams and aspirations of him and his elder son, Biff, becoming successful. In the course of a single day he comes to realize that the American Dream, which he has pursued for 40 years, has failed him. Willy's relentless, but naive pursuit of success has not only affected his self-worth but has dominated the lives of his wife Linda and his sons Biff and Happy. In the course of the play he realizes that his true wealth lies in being loved and known by his family, and in one final attempt to secure his personal dignity and provide a future for his sons through his life insurance, he commits suicide.

Willy Loman is, for Miller, the antithesis of the classic tragic hero. As his name implies, he is a `low man', an ordinary man, whose dreams and expectations have been shattered by the false values of the society he has put his faith in.

Unlike the heroes of classical tragedy, he is not a man of stature or noble purpose, yet he commands our respect and pity because he pursues his dream with a passionate intensity that makes him unique and gives him a heroic quality. While Willy is flawed in many ways, it is not simply this, but the social forces beyond his control that lead to his downfall.

In Death of a Salesman, Miller is not so much calling into question the pursuit of the American Dream, but the dream itself. For Willy, his adventurous brother, Ben, and his salesman hero, Dave Singleman, are images of success, but the character of Ben is awesome and the achievements of Dave are idealized and exaggerated. "And I almost decided to go,