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It should be noted that Death of a Salesman is a book in which every character is unhappy in his or her way. It is indeed realistic in the way that each person experiences all kinds of losses throughout life and has to bear with the idea that his or her wishes might, in fact, never come true (Ackerman 51). However, one of the characters, whom I consider the most tragic, is the main hero – Willy Loman. It can be stated that he has the most tragic destiny due to numerous reasons, including his unfulfilled dreams and expectations, complicated family situation, poor career and, in general, the life he had never expected he would have.
General description of tragedy
It should be noted that as almost any tragic hero, Willy could never reach self-realization (Drakakis and Conn Liebler 101). Despite the fact that he was fully aware of his wishes and strivings, he had neither enough luck nor courage to achieve the career goals he set for himself and which the domain of American Dream brought to him. He reckoned that he would easily achieve anything he wanted with the help of his appearance while putting little effort into it, and he taught his sons the same, which led them to nothing but misery. Once he said, “America is full of beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people” (Miller 21). In the same manner, he taught his children to take life easy. Later, he told his wife that he could not succeed in sales because he was too talkative; however, he was able to understand the underlying reason only after it was too late to change anything. Thus, the illusions that the main character had resulted in poor life choices.
Tragedy in family life
Importantly, the core of the tragedy is that an adult person was living in-between the reality and his delusions (Young 248). He saw dreams in which he had a happy family, great career, and a loving wife. Moreover, he always perceived his brother Ben to be a great example of the achievement of the American Dream, and wished that his sons had a life similar to his. Nevertheless, Biff, who was always successful in everything he did, lost his vigor, and, when reached the age of 40, was changing his jobs constantly, did not have any promising prospects, and started resembling his father in a sad way. Therefore, the unreal life representations of the main hero were supported by the unattainable dreams about his sons becoming rich and successful. Thus, the tragedy of the story is connected to several generations when sons were to repeat the destiny of their father, and he was only able to realize that when it was late.
However, the reason for Biff’s failure was his father as well. Being a school student, his father always told him how successful the boy would be, and the young person with a fragile psyche believed in it. He did not have any reason to continue his education since the American Dream was supposed to do the job, and then, everything he believed in crashed when he saw his father with another woman (MacGregor Burns 332). It can be assumed that Willy being a delusional person himself influenced his son who was initially a talented person and made his double-ganger from an initially promising person. Therefore, it can be stated that the personal tragedy of Willy is also connected to his wrongful influence on Biff.
Meanwhile the second son – Happy – was a different copy of his father. Being a person who wanted to achieve everything through a beautiful smile, he gradually turned into a lying nonstarter who continued building castles in the air rather than going through thick and thorn to achieve his goals. Therefore, Willy made a mistake leading his children by his own example since he exposed his sons to repeating the same life that he used to lead.
It should be emphasized that the tragedy of the protagonist is ambiguous. It simultaneously accumulated various problems. The fate of the sufferer is the absolute evidence of sensibility to the American Dream. As Willy said “when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am” (Miller 113).The strong belief in the inevitability of success in a society of equal opportunities firs ruined the life of Willy, and later – of his son.
In addition to the tragedy of the main character reflected in complex family relationships and an uncomplicated career, the hero had a permanent inner conflict. This problem could be revealed in the idea of a little man who was humiliated, insulted, and crushed by life (Young 246). Nonetheless, despite the hardships and illusory representations of himself, he remained a loving, hoping, and suffering person wishing the best to his family, but not knowledgeable of the ways to help.
Notably, this idea is the ideological orientation throughout this play, which is best expressed by the protagonist. Thus, the essence of the tragedy is a dream of a little man to become great. The American Dream could not give him the opportunity to open up; it overshadowed his infantilism and belief in miracles and, that is to say, the illusion in which Willy was living. Such infantilism spawned moodiness and levity, as is the case when he refused to eat cheese or forbade his son to study mathematics. It was close to the end of his life when he stated, “Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground” (Miller 104). Thus, the internal conflict inherent to Willy throughout the play did not allow him to make informed decisions. Moreover, as it is known from the text, gradually, the lifestyle and thinking of the hero led to a serious illness. Needless to say, he found a solution to his problems in killing himself so that his children and wife would get the insurance money.
Willy’s problem lied in the fact that he chose the wrong way, which led him to a situation in which he was incapable of making any proper career success, building a strong family or trusting relationship with his children. As a result of his misconceptions, he was unhappy and influenced the children in a way that they were at a loss as well. Initially, a man who was not too smart, not too prudent, but naive and gentle, was supposed to become a seducer and a seller of illusions. However, he was lured resting in his illusions, while trying to escape from reality. Thus, it can be stated that Willy Loman is the most tragic character in the play. Despite the fact that his children were unsuccessful and unhappy, it is always a tragedy for a parent, in the first place, to realize that the children were brought up with wrongful perceptions and the parent was the only one to blame. In addition, Willy could not tell the dream from the reality and killed himself to help his family, being incapable of changing anything. It was a weak, infantile person who suffered from his weaknesses and the realization of helplessness when, in fact, anything could have been changed as long as he was alive.
Ackerman, Alan. A Student Handbook to the Plays of Arthur Miller. A&C Black, 2013.
Drakakis, John, and Naomi Conn Liebler. Tragedy. Routledge, 2014.
MacGregor Burns, James. The Crosswinds of Freedom. Open Road Media, 2012.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.
Young, Julian. The Philosophy of Tragedy. Cambridge University Press, 2013.