Arthur Miller was born in New York in 1915. He was a very successful playwright and one of his most successful plays was Death of a Salesman. The play was inspired by Miller’s opinion, to believe in yourself and this play portrays his views on what everyday- Americans believed in, ‘the American Dream’. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller depicts the feelings and illusions felt by a family man who tried to live up to ‘the American Dream’. ‘The American Dream’ was to work hard and you would succeed; also, the way other Americans saw you was highly important.
This was usually based on your appearance and the way you associated yourself with others. From the beginning of the play, we immediately feel part of Willy Loman’s Life. Willy Loman is a salesman who also is a keen family man and the way others see him is highly important to him. The way in which Willy sees the US Society makes him feel he needs to make a conventional living. This is shown in a number of ways mainly through his long speeches, which baffle the reader as he is fluent in language and is able to talk to everyone easily.
This skill that Willy has allows him to interact with others and this helps them gain their attentions, Willy also gains respect from this. As Willy is able to talk to people fluently and confidently the audience feel he could do more for himself but he is unaware of this and is only interested in maintaining his pride and the way others see him. The way Arthur Miller has chosen to reflect Willy Loman to the audience of this play shows us the classic conventions of a tragic hero. A classical tragic hero’s conventions are a hero whose status means that his downfall will be significant, affecting many people.
We also expect to see the hero’s suffering reveal essential truths about humanity and whose greatness of character and talent are tragically wasted through circumstance. A Tragic Hero should also have a fatal weakness, which leads to destruction and should find some degree of release and resignation when facing death. In the play we see Willy not being able to come to terms with reality. He lives in his dreams and derives all his pleasures from the past, which he distorts to convince himself that all is well.
When he is having a conversation with Linda he hears a cry of a woman’s laughter in his head (Act 1 Pg 24) – this tells us he is not of sound mind. Pride is central to Willy’s character as he is proud to be (or pretending to be) a successful salesman. Even though his life is a massive self-deception he still tries to retain his hopes. Even as he contemplates suicide, he is hopeful that the insurance money payable on his death will give Biff, his son, the start to life he needs. As we read the play we are able to see Willy’s admirable qualities.
He is a proud man and this helps him to gain respect from other people. As a father, he wants his son to look up to him, which makes him expect quite a lot from his family – “I see great things for you kids, I think your troubles are over. But remember, start big and you’ll end big… ” (Act 1 Pg 46). Willy Loman promises his family great things but we, the audience, just know these are idle promises made by a very inspired family man because of his occupation, which gives him an assumed high status.
This shows the audience that no matter what you say and do, the way you act towards others gains you the respect. The amount of humanity within Willy’s personality is debatable. He shows compassion towards his sons, Biff in particular, but is a bully towards his wife, as he never listens to her opinions. For example, when she asks him to have a word with Biff on how to treat women Willy just yells ‘Shut up! ‘ (Act 1 Pg 26) and when she tells him to speak to Biff about his attitude towards his subjects at school Willy shouts at her “… (exploding at her) There’s nothing the matter with him!
From this evidence we are able to see that Willy is the more dominant partner within the marriage. Throughout the play we see two sides to Willy’s personality. This meets one of the conventions of a classical tragic hero i. e. Willy’s greatness of character and talent are tragically wasted through circumstance. We admire Willy’s greatness of character as he is calm and he just wants the best for his family. We see the amount of influence Willy Loman has among people. Both his sons Biff and Happy idolise their Father.
This is because Willy shows some humane aspect in the things he does. Willy is prepared to go to Biff’s teacher and demand he gives him enough marks to pass. His father in particular influences Biff and we see that when the pair first appear in the play “… Gee, I’d love to go with you sometime, Dad” (Act 1 Pg 19). This quote shows us how much Biff is infatuated with his father and how much of a great influence he had on his sons. The audience are not able to understand how the two sons are fixated upon the supposed success of their father.
We are able to assume that this influence is based upon the exaggerated stories Willy tells them and the audience also sees the influence of Willy when he is talking to his sons and other characters. Willy does have an extraordinary impact on his sons in particular and this is an important attribute to have for a classical tragic hero. Because of Willy’s status his downfall will be significant and affect many people because of the way he thinks he has consolidated himself into the society around him and again this helps the character of Willy Loman to conform to a classical tragic hero.
Due to Willy’s status in the society around him he would have a lot of value to the people that knew him. Initially, this would be the case but at the end of the play at Willy’s funeral his wife Linda asks, “Why didn’t anyone come? ” (Requiem Pg 106) and she cannot see why nobody came because to her he portrayed himself to be a man who had admirable qualities and a tremendous influence over his family; “But where are all the people he knew? … ” (Requiem Pg 106). This is saddening as we, the audience, see Linda learning why there was not a significant amount of people there.
Willy Loman was a salesman and through reading the play we see that he was very fluent in communicating with others. However, we are able to see that the people to whom he spoke to showed respect to him out of courtesy but did not particularly take an interest in what he really had to say. Throughout his life Willy’s suffering reveals essential truths about humanity and this play helps demonstrate how people should portray themselves to others and to themselves – “I always felt that if a man was impressive, and well liked, that nothing else mattered” (Act 2 Pg 72), this quote shows Willy’s belief regarding the way society saw him.
Through Willy’s life experiences and encounters we are able to see the way Willy thinks about life. From this we are unsure whether Arthur Miller is trying to portray Willy as a classical Tragic Hero or a Modern Hero – which is someone who performs actions and says things to please others. Willy as the audience begins to notice, exaggerates about his experiences and manipulates things so that his family think highly of him and likes to believe he has an influence over them.
The way in which Willy ‘puts a show on’ towards people he feels close to signifies how importantly he feels about the way others see him. The audience learn from Willy to always be honest with yourself otherwise it will have dire results. We are able to see the effect it has on life just because of Willy’s excusable dishonesty. Through his suffering we are able to see the truths about humanity as people portray themselves differently to make them feel and look better about themselves.
We see Willy as a prime example of this and this is when we realise why certain people do or don’t take him seriously. Willy Loman has a talent for being able to interact with others effectively and he is able to make others listen through the way he always talks positively. Within this play the talent of the character of Willy Loman is tragically wasted through circumstance because at school he used to study craftwork but chose to be a salesman instead. This shows how his talent has been tragically wasted.
However, his communication skills have probably improved through his current profession and the talent he has could have been put to some other use to provide a better standard of life for his family. Willy is able to talk to everyone easily and this is the main reason behind his success so far, but as he gets older he begins to suffer a mental illness and he begins to speak gibberish and the audience start to hear the words of a confused man – ‘… Simonising Simonising that little red car” (Act 2 Pg78). This is another way his flair for communicating is jeopardised, as he is no longer of sound mind.
Willy Loman has two main tragic flaws. The first of which is that he is in the wrong line of work, as his job doesn’t fully justify his real desire and provide him with skills to enhance the amount of fortune for his family. The second is the way he acts, most obviously the way he behaves and portrays himself differently to other characters, but in particular his attitude to Biff. We see Willy act ‘nicely’ to Biff throughout the play but in one scene Willy appears aggressive towards Biff when Biff catches his father having an affair, “… I gave you an order! Biff, come back here or I’ll beat you!
Come back here! I’ll whip you! ” (Act 2 Pg 92). This scene and quote demonstrates another side to Willy – the aggressiveness of Willy compared to his usual self, which is not always orthodox but rather eccentric. We see another attribute that will conform to the conventions of a classical tragic hero, which is that Willy’s downfall will be significant affecting many people. Willy feels more calm and relaxed when he thinks about committing suicide so that the family gain insurance from his death and he believes that by doing this he will be helping his family, after all, Willy was a family man.
Willy finds a degree of release and resignation when facing death as he feels it is the only solution and will result in the best outcome – this is significant for the audience as we see Willy in a more compassionate light and we see that he is doing this for the good of his family, although the traumatic effects it will have on his family is not considered at this point because of the gesture that Willy is willing to commit.
Willy now knows that after he pays off his life insurance his life is worth more than what he has earned “After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments and the years, you end up worth more, more dead than alive” (Act 2 Pg 73) – This quote shows how depressed Willy is about his life and is severely for committing an act of suicide to help support his family financially. This is an example of catharsis and Willy tries to outlet his emotions by acting and saying what he does
In the play, Death of a Salesman, the main character, Willy Loman has all the required attributes to conform to the conventions of a classical tragic hero. This is seen and shown through his actions which when portrayed to the audience show an extraordinary side to Willy. Willy’s status is an important factor within this play and because of his status in the eyes of his family; we find that his downfall is significant as we see the effects of this when it affects the people close to him.
His downfall is significant as his respectful son begins to lose admiration of Willy and other people feel sorry for him because of the way he acts and do not take him seriously. Through Willy’s experiences essential truths are revealed through his suffering such as the way people behave and act to make them feel more superior about the image about themselves that they are portraying towards others. We are able to see from Death of a Salesman that the character Willy Loman had the attributes to conform to the tragic conventions of a typical Classical Tragic Hero.
This is because within this play there was a death of a central character, which had admirable qualities and had as huge influence among others. Willy’s downfall was significant as he managed to leave an enormous impression and portrayal to all of the people who he met and we are able to see that from his suffering he was able to tell is of essential truths about humanity and how people depict and generalise one another.
From this play, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, we learn that the way someone is seen by another is very important to that person in particular this is because it helps motivate self-esteem. The play also shows what the ‘American Dream’ is about, this is the way people see you through your actions or sayings. The message from this play is to behave in your normal manner and not to be intimidated by the way others perceive you.