Thousands of people who are truly committed to the American Dream often find themselves shattered against the tragic realities of life. Such stories are not uncommon, since the American Dream has nothing to do with personal attractiveness and chance but implies that hard work is the direct prerequisite for continued success. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a heartbreaking story of a quest for self-realization and personal happiness.
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The feelings of pain and sorrow lead readers into believing that Willy Loman is a tragic hero who fails to withstand the pressures of life. In reality, Willy Loman is too pathetic to be tragic. He fails to achieve the level of self-analysis needed to become a tragic hero. The difference between tragedy and pathos in Miller’s play is too obvious to ignore. In a nutshell, the life of Willy Loman is just a pathetic picture of a loser, who cannot reconcile with the changeable realities of life.
At times of Aristotle, tragedy exemplified and reflected a complex process of a noble’s hero downfall, mostly through the will of gods. A tragic hero would encounter numerous barriers in his (her) way to self-realization and success. A tragic hero would have to recognize that most, if not all, his problems and failures were due to a tragic mistake or his character. More often than not, a tragic mistake would lead the hero to the ultimate point of self-disruption.
However, before it happened, the hero would necessarily have to undergo a profound change in his self. Pathos, in turn, was used as an instrument of emotional persuasion – an effective way of generating sympathy and sorrow in the audience. While tragedy must necessarily include pathos, pathos alone can never create tragedy (Morris 207).So, what is there in Arthur Miller’s book that makes people believe it is a tragedy?
Willy Loman is believed to be a tragic hero, since he fails to achieve his purpose and encounters numerous barriers in his way to self-realization and happiness. He is deeply committed to the philosophy of the American Dream, which throws him into a spiritual and moral abyss. He cannot adjust to the new conditions of doing business in America.
He is convinced that his employers and clients do not see his talents: “If old man Wagner was alive I’d been in a charge of New York now! That man was a prince, he was a masterful man. But that boy of his, that Howard, he don’t appreciate” (Miller 14). Willy Loman’s character is a serious impediment to his professional progress. He constantly feels that his fate does not favor his achievements. He experiences the lack of recognition at work, while his family is being shattered against the new realities of life in America.
Nevertheless, Willy Loman can hardly be a tragic hero. He fails to realize the tragedy of his own mistakes. His failures are entirely the result of his professional and moral blindness. He feels it is high time he changed but consciously refuses to accomplish this difficult mission. He tells Linda that more people are ruining his country (Miller 17).
He believes that American population is getting out of control (Miller 17). He realizes that professional and business competition is maddening (Miller 17). Simultaneously, he lives the life of an old man, whose heart and mind was left in the past: “Nineteen twenty-eight… when I had that red Chevvy…” (Miller 19).
Willy Loman fails to achieve the degree of self-analysis needed to make him a true tragic hero. His suicide cannot answer his questions, nor can it help him to resolve his dilemmas. When Willy Loman commits a suicide, he breaks the image of a tragic hero and turns into a pathetic loser, who fails to attain peace and reconciliation with the reality of his life.
The difference between tragedy and pathos in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is too obvious to ignore. Willy Loman is pathetic, because he is unable to pursue self-development and inner growth. Unlike tragedy, which reveals human strength and endurance, pathos is the sign of Willy Loman’s weakness.
He blames his fate and the surrounding reality for his mistakes. He is surprised at the fact that things get broken and need to be repaired (Miller 36). He does not want to pay for the carburetor, because, in his opinion, the manufacture of Chevrolet should be prohibited (Miller 36).
He does not want to realize that life has changed. The American Dream is nothing, if a man cannot work hard to achieve his professional goals. His suicide proves this point. That Willy Loman kills himself means that he does not develop. He is a hero who encounters barriers to his happiness but does not undergo a spiritual or mental change. Unlike a tragic hero, Willy Loman does not want to improve his life.
Suicide is an easy way to avoid responsibility for his failures. Willy Loman does not develop awareness or revelation of his own fate. He fails to see that he is nothing but a dollar per hour, a hard-worker landing in a can of ash (Miller 132). Undoubtedly, Willy Loman is not a tragic hero but a pathetic loser who generates sympathy and compassion but fails to reconcile with the reality of life.
At times of Aristotle, tragedy depicted a complex process of a noble hero’s downfall, which happened either through the will of gods or as a result of some tragic character flaw. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is often considered an excellent example of modern tragedy, with Willy Loman playing the role of a tragic hero.
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However, the life of Willy Loman is just a pathetic picture of a loser, who cannot reconcile with the changeable realities of life. He lacks the degree of self-evolution and consciousness needed to be a tragic hero. Willy Loman blames the environment for his failures. He fails to look beyond the obvious. Unlike a tragic hero, Willy Loman does not develop but chooses to commit a suicide.
He does not undergo any spiritual or mental change. His pathos is too apparent to ignore, and suicide is just an easy way to avoid responsibility for his failures. Willy Loman cannot be a tragic hero, since he fails to recognize the tragedy of his own life. As a result, pathos is just a sign of human weakness in the face of circumstances.
Miller, A. Death of a Salesman. NY: Penguin, 1996. Print.
Morris, D.B. Illness and Culture in the Postmodern Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. Print.