Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances, and has been revived on Broadway four times, winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival. It is considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
The plot centers around Willy Loman, an aging and failing salesman, who is in denial about his impending retirement. His sons Biff and Happy are also struggling to find their place in the world. The family’s problems are exacerbated by Willy’s mental state, which deteriorates as the play goes on. Death of a Salesman is often considered to be a tragic play, as it explores the struggles and failure of the Loman family and their inability to cope with changing times.
While Death of a Salesman has been widely celebrated for its depiction of the human experience, many critics have also argued that it is also a tragedy in the classical sense. The term ‘tragedy’ was first used by Aristotle to describe plays like Death of a Salesman, which depict the downfall of a main character due to some kind of error or flaw.
In this case, Willy’s misguided ambition, his unwillingness to face reality, and his dependence on others ultimately lead him down a destructive path. Thus Death of a Salesman can be seen as a true tragedy, not just in the modern sense of the word, but in the classical sense as well.
Critics have long argued about whether Death of a Salesman meets the criteria for being considered a tragedy. Many believe that Willy Loman, the main character of Death of a Salesman, is not an impressive or noble character and therefore does not meet one of Aristotle’s key requirements for tragic heroes. Other critics argue that Death of a Salesman is in fact true to Aristotle’s definition because Willy, as he discovers his own faults and comes to realize his life is over, satisfies all four elements necessary for a play to be considered tragic.
At its core, Death of a Salesman explores the inability of many people in modern society to achieve their dreams, particularly through their careers. This theme resonates with Aristotle’s notion that tragic heroes typically have a flaw or mistake that eventually leads to their downfall. Willy struggles with his own self-doubt and inadequacy, which ultimately lead to his tragic demise.
While it may be difficult for some critics to accept Death of a Salesman as a true tragedy by Aristotle’s definition, the play certainly resonates with many modern audiences and is considered by many to be one of Arthur Miller’s greatest works. Whether Death of a Salesman meets all four criteria laid out by Aristotle may remain controversial among critics, but this debate only serves to further highlight the enduring power and relevance of this classic play.
Greek tragedy had a huge impact on Arthur Miller when he was studying theatre at college. He notes that he was attracted to the Greeks because of their “magnificent form, symmetry.” “That shape has remained with me; I suppose it has just been burned in. ” According to Arthur Miller, times have changed—we no longer live in an age ruled by kings and queens—and therefore our conception of tragedy should as well. The qualities of a “contemporary tragedy” must also be redefined in line with changing beliefs about what constitutes a “modern tragic hero.”
Death of a Salesman, Miller’s most famous play, has been called the “ultimate tragedy” and its protagonist Willy Loman has been hailed as the quintessential tragic hero. There is broad agreement among critics that Death of a Salesman fits the definition of a tragedy. Death of a Salesman is often described as one of the greatest plays in American literature, and it has received widespread critical acclaim for its storytelling, dramatic structure, social commentary, and thematic exploration.
However, many also argue that Death of a Salesman does not fully meet all the classical requirements to be considered an absolute “tragedy” by today’s standards. While Death of a Salesman explores themes of betrayal, abandonment, and disillusionment, critics argue that the play does not have the same sense of catharsis or resolution that is often seen in traditional tragedies.
In order to determine whether Death of a Salesman can be classified as a tragedy, it is important to consider the various elements of Arthur Miller’s play and how they compare to the characteristics of a classic Greek tragedy.
One key element of a Greek tragedy is that the protagonist must be a “tragic hero”. A tragic hero is typically defined as a good person who makes one fatal flaw that leads to their downfall. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is one example of a classic Greek tragedy where the protagonist Oedipus is a good person but his one fatal flaw is that he killed his father and married his mother without knowing it. As a result of this, Oedipus’s kingdom falls apart and he is exiled.
Similarly, Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman can be considered a “tragic hero”. Willy is a good person who wants the best for his family. However, his fatal flaw is that he is too trusting and optimistic. He consistently believes that he will be able to achieve success through hard work and determination even though the evidence shows otherwise. This leads to him making poor decisions that ultimately destroy his relationships and ruin his life.
Like Greek tragedies, Death of a Salesman also explores significant philosophical themes such as the human condition, free will, and the meaning of life. Death of a Salesman is often described as one of the most important plays in American literature because it explores these universal themes in a profound way.
A tragic hero is someone who has the dedication to die for a cause, but also possesses a fatal flaw or limitation that defines him as a figure and causes the tragedy. Willy is intense and devoted, and he gives his life for his ambition. He has alternatives, but he chooses to live in such a manner that brings about his downfall—the distinction between Willy and his neighbor Charley, who pursues alternative methods of success.
Critics have argued that Death of a Salesman does not fit the traditional definition of tragedy, since Willy does not meet the requirements for being a tragic hero. He does not die for a noble purpose or embody any particular moral values, and he is more pathetic than tragic.
Despite his flaws and failings, however, Willy’s story still resonates with audiences because it explores universal themes like mortality, disillusionment, and the American dream. Whether Death of a Salesman can be considered a true tragedy might be open to interpretation, but there is no doubt that it captures many of the essential elements of this literary form.
Miller responded to these critics with a piece entitled “Tragedy and the Common Man.” He claimed that Death of a Salesman has a similar emotional effect on the audience to that of a Greek tragedy. It also demonstrates the protagonist’s inexorable movement toward death as he or she becomes more self-aware, with no side stories and an obvious beginning, middle, and end, as well as narrative unity over time.
However, Death of a Salesman also departs from the traditional form of tragedy in several ways. For example, it is not set among royalty or other high-ranking people, but rather among “common” folk. Additionally, Willy Loman is not destroyed by some flaw in his character, but rather by external forces such as society and capitalism. Death of a Salesman ultimately blurs the lines between tragedy and non-tragedy, making it a unique and complex play.
While Death of a Salesman may not fit perfectly into the mold of a traditional tragedy, Arthur Miller’s use of elements from the genre help to create a powerful and moving story. The play highlights the ways in which Willy Loman’s life is shaped by the forces of society and capitalism, ultimately leading to his tragic end. However, Death of a Salesman also raises important questions about the nature of tragedy itself, leaving us with new perspectives on this classic literary genre.