Death of a Salesman

Sympathy for Willy Loman 11th Grade

Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ is a domestic tragedy that centres around the dysfunctional Loman family, most notably Willy Loman, a failed salesman so captivated by the American Dream and his desire to be a good father that it ultimately leads to his suicide. However, Miller’s tragic character is quite different from the idea of tragedy that Aristotle put forward. Aristotle claimed that tragic figures had to be noble and high achieving, which Willy is most certainly not. Despite this definition of a tragic hero, Miller himself says: ‘the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy as a great man’1, an echo of Linda’s words towards the middle of the play.

The decision to make Willy an everyday man instead of somebody of a higher status, as Aristotle suggested, means many people, particularly those who can draw on aspects of Willy’s life, can easily relate to Willy and therefore it is much easier to feel sympathy for him. Furthermore, Miller identifies the villain not as a person, but the society the tragic hero is a part of. To say that Willy is a ‘congenital madman’, however, is untrue. Miller never introduces the audience to any relations of Willy’s during the course of the play with the exception of Ben, and even then...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 723 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4158 literature essays, 1401 sample college application essays, 171 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in