Is Death of a Salseman a tragedy?

Essay by gemmaHigh School, 12th grade January 1997

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Willy Loman is often described as a Tragic Hero. To

What Extent is 'Death of a Salesman' a Tragedy?

Critics have hotly debated the question of whether Willy Loman is a tragic hero or whether Death of a Salesman is a tragedy. Dramatic tragedy was invented and defined by the Greeks. Aristotle said a play has to have four elements to qualify as a tragedy: 1) noble or impressive characters; 2) the main character's discovery or recognition of a truth or fault in himself ; 3) poetic language; and 4) the ability to arouse and then soothe the audience's pity and fear.

Some critics consider that whether Death of a Salesman is a tragedy or not is debatable on all four sections, while others think the play meets all these criteria. When Arthur Miller began reading plays in college, Greek tragedies made a profound impression on him. He says that he was drawn to the Greeks 'for their magnificent form, the symmetry.'

'That form has never left me; I suppose it just got burned in.' However Arthur Miller argued that times have changed- 'we no longer live in an era dominated by kings and queens- and so maybe our definition of tragedy should change, too.' Changing ideas on the qualities of a 'modern tragedy' means also changing the qualities of a 'modern tragic hero'. A tragic hero is someone with the dedication to die for a belief, but also someone who has a tragic flaw or limitation that defines him as a character and makes the tragedy happen. Willy is intense and passionate and cares about his dream enough to sacrifice his life to it. He has alternatives, but he chooses to live in a certain way that brings about his downfall that is the difference between Willy...