“The real tragedy of Willy Loman is that he has no choice but to invest his admirably uncompromising energies into a worthless end”- Terry Eagleton
What is the tragedy of the common man, as depicted in ‘Death of a Salesman’?
Arthur Miller believed that tragedy was created as a “consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly”, and anybody, regardless of status, may have sucha compulsion. It is this compulsion, or drive, within Willy Loman to self-evaluate and surpass others in the social hierarchy of 1950s American society that creates the tragedy of ‘Death of a Salesman’. Perhaps at one time, it may have been necessary for the tragic hero to be, as Aristotle described, of noble birth as this allowed the audience to witness a fall of monumental proportions whichwould leave the audience with an ‘impression of waste’. (Bradley) However, such an impression is still able to be left by a common man despite a lack of his initial high status as his fall requires the audience to acknowledge a waste not of titles and grandeur, but of potential. The audience recognises a potential for the ‘perfectibility’ of man and it is the fact that Loman never achieves the dreamsfor which he passionately strives that evokes the necessary audience sympathy for the play to be considered a tragedy. Miller presents the tragedy of the common, modern, man lying in what Willy perceives are his aims of economic success, but are actually a desperation for acknowledgement and love. Politically, the tragedy of the common man, according to Miller, is that capitalism will prevent truesatisfaction because the working class, represented by Willy Loman, becomes trapped into the desire for affluence that they may have misunderstood. Economically, perhaps Miller believes that the tragedy of the common man is that despite the American dream aiming to provide equal opportunities for all to invest and become ‘successful’, the working and middle classes suffer. Perhaps Loman neverconsidered the competition in the markets, and naively followed a fruitless dream which he may not have desired and eventually led to his death. The tragedy of the common man, as depicted in ‘Death of a Salesman’ is the tragedy of desires.
Whenever Loman does try to imitate the actions of a ‘successful man’, such as surreptitiously being adulterous, his failure in these actions suggests a lack ofunderstanding regarding his aim of prosperity that may be the ‘tragedy of the common man’. Willy confesses: “Biff. I was lonely, I was terribly lonely” after Biff “turns quickly and weeping fully goes out” due to learning about Loman’s extra-marital affair. This suggests that Loman may have gone in search of women and enjoyment as a successful man who works in a business might do, but the tragedyis that Willy’s aims of fulfilling a lack of human connection and love that he may not comprehend are different to the fundamental aim of amusement of these ‘successful’ men. The tragedy is heightened for the audience due to Loman confessing and acknowledging his shortcomings in front of his son, as the pain Loman is expressing is amplified by the privacy of the family communication. Biff’s‘weeping’ is ostensibly due to the pity he feels for his mother, but may equally be due to a recognition of immorality in his father. The tragedy is that Biff, despite eventually calling his father “a prince, a fine, troubled prince”, always recognises, even when defending Loman, that his father is “troubled”. Loman, despite even committing suicide in order for Biff to “lick the civilised world” with“twenty thousand” never achieves the feeling of importance and respect from his sons that he desires.
Such a tragic lack of other people acknowledging Willy as an important persona can further be noted in Loman’s attempt to argue a pay-rise. Before Willy’s attempt to explain how he desires a higher salary, Howard, his employer, continues to speak about a wire-recorder as “the most terrific...
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