Discuss 'Death of a Salesman' as a Tragedy ?


Any discussion on tragedy with Aristotle's definition of it. According to Aristotle, tragedy brings about the catharsis of pity and fear by exciting such emotions. A tragedy provides emotional relief and the audience experience a feeling of pleasure at the end of it. This is the aesthetic function of tragedy according to Aristotle.

However, the theory of tragedy ad propounded by Aristotle is not widely accepted in modern times. Various opinions regarding the nature and function of tragedy have been forwarded. Not only does tragedy arouse the feelings of pity and fear, but it also raise several other emotions. Through its depiction of human endurance and perseverance in the face of calamities, tragedy creates in us a sense of a pleasure. In certain case, tragedy arouses a feeling of the existence of a moral order in the universe. It is the exhibition of noble human nature that raises a kind of hope in us. Moreover, the eloquence and the beauty of words in a tragedy give us a keen aesthetic pleasure.

Arthur Miller's concept of tragedy is completely different. He does not believe that the tragic hero should be a man of high status Infact, Miller feels that Death of a Salesman is "a Slippery play to categorize" . He regarded it always as heroic. The playwright explains that he did not venture to write a tragedy but to show the truth as he saw it. Willy Loman is simply a middle class salesman and is almost commonplace. Miller asks why this play should be judged on the basis of the Greek tragedy cannot be applied to Death of a Salesman. Things have changed a great deal since then. A man's stature as a hero shouldn't be wholly dependent on his social position. If the "intensity" is there, it hardly matters whether the hero falls from a great height or a small one. Miller says that the lasting appeal of tragedy lies in "our need to face the fact of death in order to strengthen ourselves for life".

The  responsibility for Willy's tragedy lies on the society where he lives. He dies as a victim of the great American Dream, which promises material success to a man by means of personal attractiveness, personal charm and personal contacts. Willy's delusion was that he would become a great salesman like Dave Singleman and reach the height of success. Moreover, he has been dreaming big for his son, Biff. Willy foresaw a magnificent future for Biff himself become disillusioned. The social laws presented here seem to proclaim that a person who has failed in society or in his profession has no right to live. This law  of success has a powerful grip on people. Even though Willy's own mistakes  and foolish dreams lead to his downfall, yet he is a victim of the law of success like majority of his countrymen. Of course, there are exceptions like Willy's neighbor, Charley, who does not believe in the myth of the American Dream and has yet amassed a fortune. But Willy , like many of his  fellow Americans, has been blinded by the great American Dream and the law of success, which is responsible for the tragedy.

Study Question ;

1. Would you regard Death of a Salesman as a tragedy?

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