The meaning of an awful character is something that has been considered set in since the times of ancient Greece. Aristotle’s Poetics defined what makes up a funny and catastrophe, which meaning has been widely accepted ever since. Nevertheless, Arthur Miller thinks that Aristotle’s definition of an awful hero is flawed. Through the character Willie Loman, Miller redefines what makes an awful hero in his play Death of a Salesman.
Typically, disasters have been specified by their trends of dealing with the highborn, such as members of royalty or of other honorable birth. These terrible heroes are generally required to fight against a fate forced upon them by the Gods or some other supernatural force, and eventually fail this battle due to some sort of tragic flaw. Eventually this leads to the doom or at the very least the loss of status for the awful hero. This is seen through numerous traditional disasters such as Oedipus the King and Hamlet. Arthur Miller defies this trend through making use of Willie Loman as a tragic hero. Willie’s status as the American everyman is a plain contrast to the strong honorable status that defined many of the tragedies from prior to it, but his life and the occasions surrounding it keep him highly defined as a terrible hero.
Willie Loman’s position as a common man is a defining factor that stands him apart from the terrible heroes prior to him. Generally, terrible heroes were needed to have a position of prosperity that could be lost unfortunately, restricting them to functions such as kings, nobility, and rich aristocrats. Nevertheless, Miller believed that the traits of losing to a tragic defect were something that prevailed to everybody, not simply those who were flourishing to start with, stating “when the concern of disaster in art is not at problem, we never are reluctant to attribute to the well-placed and the honored the very exact same psychological procedures as the lowly” (Miller, Tragedy and the Commoner). Because anyone could experience the very same awful defects and anybody might suffer from them, the limitation of terrible heroes to only those of high standing was a flaw in the design of catastrophes to begin with.
Willie’s position as a tragic hero is kept intact by his desire to achieve a higher position in life and the flaws that eventually keep him from success. Miller mentions “I believe the awful feeling is evoked in us when we are in the existence of a character who is all set to put down his life, if need be, to secure something– his sense of individual dignity” (Miller, Common Man). Willie’s goal in life is to become somebody who is extensively recognized and well-liked by people all throughout New England due to his success in his job, traveling from city to city as a salesman. As his task totals up to absolutely nothing, however needs him going to places that no one else in his immediate life would see frequently, Willie goes around talking up his status in different locations, artificially improving his pride in an attempt to seem like more than he actually is. His sense of pride ultimately ruins his successes, producing a supportive feeling from both the readers and other characters, such as when his spouse Linda mentions “I do not state he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a great deal of money. His name was never ever in the paper … However he’s a person, and a terrible thing is taking place to him. So attention should be paid. He’s not to be permitted to fall into his tomb like an old dog. Attention, attention needs to be lastly paid to such an individual” (Miller, Death of a Salesman, I.) This sympathetic feeling towards the falling of a guy is among the most important traits of a tragic hero, and makes Willie Loman a perfect example of a terrible hero as a commoner. Willie ultimately accepts his faults quickly prior to his death, where he recognizes that at the point he is at, the only way to establish a real standing legacy to his household is through the life insurance they will get when he dies. “Amusing, y’ know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the consultations, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive” (Miller, Death, II.).
One element that stands Death of a Salesman apart from other catastrophes is change in concentrate on pessimism to form the awful story. Miller himself specifies “Even the dictionary says absolutely nothing more about the word than that it indicates a story with an unfortunate or unhappy ending. This impression is so securely repaired that I nearly hesitate to declare that in truth disaster indicates more optimism in its author than does comedy, which its final result should be the support of the observer’s brightest viewpoints of the human animal” (Miller, Commoner). Death of a Salesman manages to develop an awful story through the use of optimism. Rather of being focused around themes such as the inevitability of fate or the fall of the powerful, Death of a Salesman focuses around the American dream. It’s all about the possible to achieve prosperity, instead of losing prosperity that was already achieved. The optimism of attaining the American dream fueled Willie Loman’s life and gave him hope for the future, despite the fact that his total successes were few and far between. He promised to his family for an intense future, such as when he informed his sons “And they know me, kids, they understand me up and down New England. The finest individuals. And when I bring you fellas up, there’ll be open sesame for all of us, ’cause something, boys: I have friends” (Miller, Death, I.). These statements, while made on a basis of incorrect pride, give both Loman’s children and himself a sense of wish for the future, keeping a positive method to the possibilities that eventually do not come.
Willie Loman is not someone who could suit the conventional function of an awful hero. He had no prosperity to start with, and had no impressive functions to set him apart and prepare him for a terrific loss. However, his function as the American everyman offered a brand-new method to what might be considered an awful hero, as his story specified the terrible occurrences that can happen to ordinary individuals. Anybody can suffer from catastrophe, which fact was lastly displayed in literature through the story of Willie Loman.
Miller, Arthur. “Death of a Salesman”. Eds. Natsuo Shumuta, and Teiji Kitagawa. Educational Dimensions, 1973.
Miller, Arthur. “Catastrophe and the Common Man”. 1949.