Death of a Salesman

Is Tragedy Possible in the Modern Society Depicted in Death of a Salesman? College

Arthur Miller’sDeath of a Salesmancan be measured against Aristotle’s notions of tragedy expressed in hisPoetics, involving a fall caused byhamartiaandhubris, and an eventual recognition and reversal of fortune, culminating in the audience experience ofcatharsis. [1] Despite this enduring model for tragedy, Willy Loman, the central character of the play, is not necessarily a tragic hero in this sense, and does not fulfill all the above criteria. Arguably then, Miller is presenting a modern society in which tragedy has no place, and indeed, is not possible. On the other hand, this classical concept of tragedy is not appropriate for modern society, and other measures of the Tragic, or a reinterpretation of tragedy may be what Miller is presenting.

A fundamental feature of Aristotelean tragedy is a tragic hero of high standing, who makes a mistake,hamartia, causing a fall from grace. It can be argued that Miller’s drama asserts this improbability of attaining high status in his playsDeath of a SalesmanandAll My Sons, as neither protagonist comes from a particularly elevated background.InDeath of a Salesman, Linda makes clear Willy’s inability to meet this requirement: ‘I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of...

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