Is Tragedy Possible in the Modern Society Depicted in Death of a Salesman? Anonymous College

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesmancan be measured against Aristotle’s notions of disaster revealed in his Poetics, including a fall brought on by hamartiaand hubris, and an eventual recognition and turnaround of fortune, culminating in the audience experience of catharsis. [1] Despite this withstanding design for disaster, Willy Loman, the main character of the play, is not always a tragic hero in this sense, and does not satisfy all the above criteria. Perhaps then, Miller exists a modern society in which tragedy has no place, and undoubtedly, is not possible. On the other hand, this classical principle of catastrophe is not suitable for modern-day society, and other measures of the Terrible, or a reinterpretation of catastrophe may be what Miller exists. A

basic feature of Aristotelean tragedy is an awful hero of high standing, who slips up, hamartia, triggering a fall from grace. It can be argued that Miller’s drama asserts this improbability of obtaining high status in his plays Death of a Salespersonand All My Children, as neither lead character originates from an especially elevated background.In Death of a Salesperson, Linda explains Willy’s inability to satisfy this requirement: ‘I do not state he’s a terrific man. Willy Loman never ever made a lot of cash. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. However he’s a person (…) Attention, attention should be lastly paid to such an individual’ [2] Whilst this isn’t terrible in the Aristotelean sense, Death of a Salespersoncan be viewed as a more ‘democratic catastrophe’. Willy might be absolutely nothing unique, however he is a human, and therefore the disaster is our mankind and our supreme insignificance. The failure of ‘attention (…) paid to such an individual’ in the play, culminating in Willy’s suicide exposes the yearning for ‘attention’ in the socioeconomic capitalist system in which financial wealth measures the ‘greatness’ of a person. Miller asserts the improbability of reaching a high status, and the precarious, and undoubtedly, eventually unfulfilling and irrelevant, status monetary authority offers; this can be seen in Willy’s suicide at the end of the play, in spite of the family having paid off the mortgage. Nonetheless, the tragedy of the loss of selfhood and therefore inability to satisfy Aristotelean requirements for catastrophe is terrible in itself. Miller reimagines catastrophe in a more complex modern-day kind, shifting between person and culture and examining their influences on each other (mimicing the tensions of democracy), therefore reflecting the perils of commercialism. Feminist critic Linda Kintz has kept in mind that Death of a Salespersondeals ‘a classic view of the plot of the universalized masculine protagonist of the Poetics’, critiquing both the treatment of ladies in the play, and the notion of Aristotelean disaster itself as an inherently flawed and limiting principle. [3] Linda is marginalized from the capitalist power systems, which give worth and status, and therefore cheapening her. Moreover, Linda is identified as a subservient homemaker, as elucidated in Pleased’s reaction to her hanging his cleaning, ‘What a lady! They broke the mould when they made her.’ [4] The mold of Aristotelean disaster has actually been broken, yet both society and Miller still accidentally assert the improbability of a genuinely ‘democratic’ Disaster in modernity through the application of male worth systems. The hamartia

, or error, needed in Greek Disaster, is frequently caused by hubris, extreme pride or confidence. Willy’s character teeters on the edge in between self-delusional and self-assured, making assertions such as, ‘I am not a penny a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!’ [5] This self-esteem is undermined by his usage of a financial metaphor, highlighting the fact that he is certainly, ‘a cent a dozen’, utilized and disposed of by the capitalist system, and rendering his insistence baseless. Whilst the process of identifying is typically a moment of self-definition and power, such as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ‘This is I, Hamlet the Dane’, the progressive fragmentation of Willy’s mind and lessening sense of self and grip on truth, triggers these words of attempted self-definition to be worthless. As Miller himself has actually commented: ‘However he was agonised by his awareness of being in a false position, so continuously haunted by the hollowness of all he had actually placed his faith in, so aware, in other words, that he must somehow be completed his spirit or fly apart, that he staked his extremely life on the ultimate assertion.’ [6] Willy’s ‘incorrect position’ is communicated through dream narrative, including his stories of his bro and father, declaring ‘we’ve got rather a little streak of self-reliance in our household’. Willy is thus telling an approving narrative of his life. In some methods, Willy can be seen as doing not have hubris, as a self-delusional and pitiful character. Additionally his loss of sight and folly can also be viewed as a significant character defect. In some methods, Willy is depicted as a modern King Lear, with his blindness to truth causing him to be flung into madness. [7] However, his appeal to his boss, Howard, exposes an insightful critique of commercialism, ‘You can’t consume the orange and toss the peel away- a male is not a piece of fruit!’ This declaration discovers as strangely useless due to the tension between Willy’s assertions and desperate pleading for a job. [8] Similarly, Willy’s egotistical picture of his monetary success and hero-worshipping kids in the very first act reveals his insecurity of failing to achieve the ‘American Dream’. Schlöndorff’s presentation of this scene in bright, garish colors in his 1985 movie production of Death of a Salesmanconveys the built and incorrect nature of this daydream. [9] Perhaps it is this ongoing stress between failed potential and truth, and refusal to face the apparent fact, that is the source of Willy’s hamartiaas he embodies the word’s actual translation of ‘missing the mark.’ This subsequently causes the discretization of his character and his failure. Indeed, Willy is actually fallen, frequently found plunged over, on his knees, and ‘beaten down’. [10] Matthew Roudané comments that ‘Miller provides no fewer than twenty-five scenes in which Willy’s body language and dialogue produce images of the fall, the falling, or the fallen.’ [11] It is in flashback, at the end of the scene when Biff discovers Willy’s affair that we are given the phase direction ‘Willy is left on the flooring on his knees’, a motion that is prophetic of the failure the Willy will later suffer. [12] The

‘ unlikely possibility of tragedy’ is most clear in Death of a Salespersondue to the absence of obvious anagnorisis, and Willy appears to have no moment of real acknowledgment or revelation. Whilst there is the inescapable awareness that his imagine success will not emerge, Willy stays delusional throughout. In the last scene, the phantom of Ben appears, representing Willy’s misunderstandings of his worth and purpose, and culminates in the misdirected sacrifice of his own life. Willy’s had an overtly sentimentalized view of his own death: ‘Can you picture that greatness with twenty thousand dollars in his pocket? (…) It’s really wise, you realise that, do not you, sweetie?’ [13] In actuality, Willy represents the inhuman, hollow, and perverse logic of the American Dream. A failure to offer his items has led to his failure to ‘offer himself’, yet his suicide for life insurance cash is eventually a delusional disregard for what he did have- the love of his household. His perceived ‘magnificence’ of financial wealth is a result of his self-value being positioned in a capitalist structure. If anything, the epiphany of the play comes from Biff, who comments that Willy ‘never knew who he was.’ [14] This insight exposes Willy’s continuous under appreciation of himself, including his erroneous motives for suicide. Therefore, Willy has no anagnorisis, and does not even be successful in the individual’s quest for individual dignity and integrity that can be stated to be characteristic of the modern awful hero. Willy stays up until his death ‘a male sidetracked from human necessities by public misconceptions’, ignoring the true love and care of his family in order to chase after the impression of the American Dream. [15] It

can be stated, nevertheless, that catharsisexists in Death of a Salesperson. The last lines of the play, in the Requiem, are Linda’s ‘We’re totally free … we’re complimentary …’ [16] This ‘freedom’ perfectly reveals the purging of feelings felt at the end of the play, and even the characters themselves feel the relief of the pressure of Willy’s ideals, failures and expectations. Parallel to this is the pity and worry stimulated by Willy’s suicide. Willy’s battle to find himself is universalized, as Miller comments: ‘I believe Willy Loman is seeking for a type of ecstasy in life which the maker civilisation deprives people of. He is trying to find his selfhood, for his immortal soul’ [17] The compassion for Willy’s suffering, integrated with the audience’s severe worry of the possibility of experiencing this themselves, leave a gathered sensation of both pathos and a determination to prevent the same fate as the characters. The meta-theatrics of Willy’s bad performance as a character in the function of a salesperson that both society and he has built, advises the audience to not live in bad faith. This aligns with Yeats assertion that ‘disaster should always be a drowning and breaking of the dykes that separate male from male’. [18] Hence, the catharsishas a unifying impact, which is required in a contemporary, individualistic society, and technological ‘device civilisation’ which has an isolating impact. All the very same, as Leech mentions, Willy is not awful in the Aristotelian sense, as ‘he is the victim of the American dream rather than of the human condition’. [19] Whilst the styles of household cohesion and death are universal, the specific reasons for Willy’s disaster, and the audience’s sensations of catharsis, rely on an understanding of a specific, geographically located, socio-cultural and financial scenario. Therefore, through catharsis, Miller asserts the capability and require for catastrophe in contemporary society, but a tragedy that is not Aristotelian in genre, rather a re-imagined modern design of catastrophe. Eventually, Death of a Salesmandoes not render disaster implausible. Instead, Miller encompasses both ancient and contemporary ideas of tragedy and of awful heroism. Whilst ‘the play embodies, for lots of, the peripeteia, hamartia, and hubristhat Aristotle discovered necessary for all terrific catastrophes’, this can also be contested. Miller undoubtedly, does not discover these ‘essential’: Willy Loman is a ‘low man’ and his anagnorisisand peripeteiaare deceptions, not authentic realizations of his errors or of larger facts. Death of a Salespersonis a descent into artificial buildings and performance, continued even after Willy’s death with Linda preserving this fallacy in her questioning of why no one attended his funeral service. Thus, the characters stayed unmoved, and it is the audience who experience the ‘afterwash of the awful’, a ‘false awareness (…) being burglarized by genuine consciousness’. [20] This impact of Death of a Salespersonreflects the influence and main aim of Tragedy in both its ancient and modern contexts, to evoke action in the audience and consumer. Bibliography MainSources Aristotle,’Poetics’


Classical Literary Criticism, T Dorsch


ed., trans.,(London: Penguin, 1965)Miller, Arthur, Death of a Salesman, (London: Penguin Modern Classics , 1961 ), p. 40, 52, 61-62, 65, 107, 111, 112, 121. Shakespeare, King Lear, R.A.Foakes

, ed., (London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 1997). Secondary Sources Bigsby, C.

W. E., Modern American Drama, 1945-2000, (Cambridge University Press, 21 Dec 2000), Online resource: Google Books, last accessed 15 Feb 2015, p. 86. Death of a Salesman, dir.

Volker Schlöndorff, perf. Dustin Hoffman, (CBS, 1985). Film. Kintz, Linda, “The Sociosymbolic Work of Family in Death of a Salesman “in Matthew C. Roudane (ed.)

Approaches to Mentor Miller’s Death of a Salesman(New York City: The Modern Language Association of America, 1995), p. 106.

Leech, Clifford, Catastrophe, (Routledge: 1969), p. 38.

Miller, Arthur, Conversations with Arthur Miller, Matthew Roudane, ed., Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1 Jan 1987, Online resource: Google Books, last accessed 15 Feb 2015, p. 38.

Miller, Arthur, Introduction to Collected Plays, (New York and London: 1958), pp. 31-6.

Roudané, Matthew, ‘Death of a Salespersonand the Poetics of Arthur Miller’ in The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, ed. Christopher Bigsby, Cambridge University Press, London: 22 Apr 2010, Online resource: Google Books, last accessed 15 Feb 2015.

Yeats, ‘The Terrible Theatre (1910 )’, in Essays and Expeditions(London: Macmillan 1961), pp.238-45.

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