Page
  1. 1
    1
  2. 2
    2
  3. 3
    3

To what extent is Willy Loman a tragic hero?

Extracts from this essay...

Introduction

To What Extent Is Willy Loman A Tragic Hero? The play, "Death of a Salesman", written by Arthur Miller, is about the 'American Dream' and a man so disillusioned by it that he becomes a modern day 'tragic hero'. Tragic heroes derive from the Greeks, but Shakespeare adapted his own genre for tragedy. Most Shakespearean tragedies all fit the same pattern, which is that the protagonist is of noble birth and have a fatal character flaw which usually leads to their demise. Arthur Miller took Shakespeare's ideas for what a tragic hero should be and made them relevant to this time period. One particular critic thought, "a contemporary audience can no longer accept that a tragic hero is punished by comic force...A tragedy must be brought about by... recognisable social factors." 1This means that the factors of Shakespearean and Aristotelian tragedies are outdated for a modern day audience, audiences cannot accept that the protagonist falls due to a higher power, it must be something they can relate to or understand. Willy Loman is a struggling salesman around the age of sixty.

Middle

At the beginning of the play we learn of Willy's car accidents, Linda asks, "you didn't smash the car, did you", this is significant as later the audience learn that Linda believes Willy is attempting to commit suicide and his constant "accidents" are in fact deliberate. It is also significant as it foreshadows Willy's suicide at the end of the play. Throughout the play Willy's emotional and mental state is constantly deteriorating, this is exceptionally clear to the audience when Willy imagines his dead brother Ben and starts having a conversation with him, "I'm getting awfully tired, Ben". Whenever Willy seems to be struggling to cope with the present situation he reverts back to the past and his sanity depletes as he begins to see his brother Ben. Willy's flashbacks are key to understanding the play. Willy kills himself because he believes that his death will end his family's money troubles and help his son Biff start a business, which in itself could be seen as honourable and heroic, but this aspect is also relatable for the audience because all parents want to give their children a better life.

Conclusion

People don't always learn from other people's mistakes, which is true of Happy, "I'm gonna show you...Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It's the only dream you can have". This is a clear sign that he is still deluding himself and has not learnt anything from his father's tragic death. However, Biff helps create Willy as a tragic hero, because he does learn that Willy's beliefs which he clung to desperately all his life were not actually that important, "He has the wrong dreams". From this we can see that Biff has learned from his father's tragic death, finally understanding what Willy failed to, which is that there are more important things in life than being well liked and than living 'The American Dream'. Biffs realisation of Willy's downfall could be considered as a sense of catharsis, as for Biff everything is clear now. This links in to the aspect of Willy being a tragic hero as with the traditional genre the audience and other characters gain a sense of catharsis. To conclude I would describe Willy as a modern day tragic hero due to the trials and tribulations he endured in order to give his family the dream he was never able to achieve.

The above preview is unformatted text

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • Over 150,000 essays available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Here's what a star student thought of this essay

3 star(s)

Response to the question

This essay engages with the concept of tragedy well, but I don't think direct comparisons with Shakespearian tragedies is the best way to construct an argument. If I were answering this question, I would begin with a strong introduction using ...

Read full review

Response to the question

This essay engages with the concept of tragedy well, but I don't think direct comparisons with Shakespearian tragedies is the best way to construct an argument. If I were answering this question, I would begin with a strong introduction using Miller's essay "Tragedy and the Common Man" to begin the argument that the play is still a tragedy, and then summarise the main characteristics of a tragic hero in this context. The question isn't asking "To what extent is Willy Loman a Shakespearian tragic hero?" so comments such as "Another difference between Miller and Shakespeare's tragedies" adds nothing to the argument. The most sophisticated arguments will be looking at how Miller has adapted tragedy.

Level of analysis

The analysis here is basic, and there is little focus on literary construction. Comments such as "Music is also heard throughout the play, it is used to represent Willy's inability to focus on reality" show potential, but there is no real evidence of how it is used and what effect it has on the audience. Whenever you are analysing tragedy, I would always recommend referring all your points back to how the audience respond, as this allows a discussion on the reception and intent of the play. This essay has the tendency to retell, rather than analyse, and this is mostly due to the poor structure of the argument. If the essay had chosen to analyse a few main characteristics of a tragic hero, they wouldn't have to narrate with comments such as "He never comes to terms with reality". Looking at dramatic techniques such as soliloquies would be relevant here.

Quality of writing

This essay has a poor structure, as mentioned above. The introduction offers nothing - examiners will hate to see introductions which simply explain the author of the play and a short plot summary. Instead, introductions should engage with the question and set up a cogent argument. Similarly, the conclusion is poor - it may seem to draw upon evidence, but this is not clear, and the use of the first person should be avoided. Using the first person makes any views seem personal, whereas arguments should be built upon the foundations of evidence and analysis. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are fine.


Did you find this review helpful? Join our team of reviewers and help other students learn

Reviewed by groat 29/06/2012

Read less
Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Over 180,000 student essays
  • Every subject and level covered
  • Thousands of essays marked by teachers

Related AS and A Level Arthur Miller

  1. Peer reviewed

    Death of a Salesman: Is Willy Loman a tragic hero or a tragic victim?

    5 star(s)

    Therefore, it is not possible to dismiss him as a tragic hero on this basis. A further accepted feature of the tragic hero is the possession of hubris and hamartia; a tragic flaw and the mistakes caused by it. Hubris traditionally means a form of arrogance or pride and this

  2. "The Crucible yields a number of scenes which are prime examples of Arthur Millers ...

    character thus in the second chosen scene we instantly like Proctor and from this scene alone we know that Proctor is a proud and honourable man. His speech from the beginning to "see it now" is very powerful and marks the painful guilt he feels for his crime of lechery

  1. "A view from the bridge".

    In other words, Alfieri roles as a character and a narrator allow him to see the whole story of Catherine and Rodolpho for himself because he is overlooking Brooklyn from the bridge as the narrator. Thus giving the audience an unbiased view of the play.

  2. Chris' Character - Father-Son Relationship - All My Sons is considered Miller's most famous ...

    I - there was no meaning in it here; the whole thing to them [the American society] was a kind of a-bus accident...Because no body was changed at all...

  1. In the light of critical opinions discuss Millers exploration of the American Dream in ...

    and: "Ben, he'll worship me for it!"'?. He spots the potential in Biff and then begins to live his failed dreams through Biff. He puts a lot of pressure on Biff to succeed. This damages their relationship and may also have resulted in Biffs kleptomaniac tendencies (possibly a sign of rebellion).

  2. Quotes from All My Sons

    You have it and I do. But not him" p160 Shows that Kate has known about Keller's deceit all along. Highlights the theme of deceit "(She finds herself reaching out for the glass of water and aspirin)" p109 From a Freudian view point her emotional turmoil is manifesting itself as physical illness "Be smart now, Joe.

  1. Death of a Salesman. 'Explore the relationship between Willy and his sons'

    Miller labours the issue of modernity killing humanity, to the point that Willy has tried unsuccessfully in the past to commit suicide by using modern appliances, eventually driving off and to kill himself in the car. Willy has come to a point that he feels he is worth more dead

  2. Peer reviewed

    How does the Requiem reflect the elements of tragedy explored within Death of a ...

    3 star(s)

    Brucher puts it, Willy's "unexpected, marvellingly innocent question": "How can they whip cheese?" Such a simple statement exemplifies his static approach to modern life; he wants everything to return to the "great days" and is unwilling to change anything, least of all his expectations and aspirations.

  • Over 180,000 essays
    written by students
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to write
    your own great essays

Marked by a teacher

This essay has been marked by one of our great teachers. You can read the full teachers notes when you download the essay.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review on the essay page.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review under the essay preview on this page.