Death of a Salesman as a Tragedy

According to the traditional views based on Aristotelian cannons, the tragic hero was to be a person of high rank and status. So that his down fall could produce an inevitable emotional effect on the audience. In ancient Greek tragedies, fate or destiny is mainly responsible for the downfall of human beings. But Shakespeare and Marlow attributed human misfortune mainly to the personal draw backs of the tragic heroes themselves and hardly to the hidden forces which we describe as fate or destiny.

Miller generally departs from both these concepts of tragedy as in the tragic hero in the Death of a sales man belongs to the middle class. He does not hold the view that tragic effect can be produced only by the downfall of a highly placed individual in society. It matters not at all whether hero falls from a great height or small one, whether he highly conscious or dimly aware of what is happening, if the intensity is their ‘America grows like a giant in unimaginable proportions’.

Willy symbolically stands for all the low men in American business community not just salesmen –who in a way sell themselves. Willy sells himself and in the process wears himself out and he is finally discarded when he is no longer useful. Willy begins as a salesman 36 years ago, opens up unheard of territories to their trade mark, but in his old age they take his salary away. It is pity that once Willy’s energy is exhausted by the work that society has assigned to him, he is thrown aside and dismissed by the son of his old boss. Willy protests, ‘you cannot eat the orange and throw them peel’. Man is not a piece of fruit no doubt ,Willy loman is a superannuated employee, but he is rejected and ill treated by his employer at the end of his career. Even a change of job with less travelling was denied to him. But still it may not be fully correct to say that Willy is wholly a victim of the prevailing social system. His own responsibility of his tragedy is by no means insignificant or negligible. In the first place he failed to realize his own limitations and short comings Willy has the conviction that success depends on personality, contacts and good cloths and that these will bring everything one wants in life. Obviously Willy is a prey to that magical book of Dale carnegie’s ‘How to win friends and influence people ‘ we know that mistake is that Willy had chosen a wrong profession for himself under the impression that the selling profession is the best in the world.

Secondly the sense of guilt which he carries with him due to his past infidelity to his wife has also serious repercussions in his mental stability. His affair with the woman in the hotel when he was visited by Biff hangs on his conscience. Biff’s discovery of Willy’s infidelity marks the crucial turning point in the relationship between the father and the son .There after Biff no longer believes Willy.

Another point to be noted is Willy’s incurable optimism .He has had higher expectation about the future of his elder son Biff who looks so charming as the Adonise in Greek mythology and who has earned high reputation as a good football champion. Biff has become disillusioned. For Biff ,life came to be an end with his match. He could neither make a mark in business nor could he go back to school to finish his course. Ironically Bernard who never represented University of Virginia, Bernard who pleaded to carry Biff’s helmet or shoulder guards , prospered. Bernard wins glory by pleading before the supreme court ,but he does this without any pushing from his father. According to Willy, they ought to be success at all; for both Charley and Bernard were not well liked. These tragic experiences shatter Willy’s conception of American dreams. No human or super natural agency interfered his life. The sense of frustration and psychological neurosis upsets his mental equilibrium and shatters him to pieces.

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