Death Of a Salesman

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In Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” the most frequently asked question is whether Willy Loman deserves to be called a tragic hero. In literature, heroism is defined pretty loosely. Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, defined tragedy in his work Poetics. His idea of tragedy portrays men as better than they are. Only those of high or noble birth could be tragic heroes, and they usually have a ‘fatal flaw’ or weakness (“Harmatia” in Greek) that causes them to make a mistake and then suffer for it. Then his nobility would be destroyed and he would suffer a terrible fate, usually leading to death. In relation to Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” Willy has some of these qualities but does not match them all. For example, he is not of high or noble birth – quite the opposite. On the other hand, he does have a fatal flaw/weakness that caused him to suffer. He envisions success in the way that it was seen before his time, in the past, before the American Dream began to change, and therefore is always causing himself to fail in the modern world. Also, in his old age his mind has begun to deteriorate, through no fault of his own, and as a result is mocked by his colleagues and not taken seriously, as well as causing strife within his family. However, Henrik Ibsen, a nineteenth century playwright, updated the idea of tragedy in literature in his play Ghosts. In this play, characters inherit a fatal disease – there’s nothing they can do to prevent getting ill, nor be cured. He saw tragedy as when ordinary people get caught up in circumstances they do not deserve, and suffer for it. Willy fits into this updated version of a tragic hero much better. He puts over 30 years of hard work into a sales company and then in his old age gets his salary revoked, and after he talks with his new boss Howard, fired. Howard was the son of Willy’s old boss, and Willy had helped
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