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Willy Loman as a Modern Tragic Hero

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Jenna C

on 29 May 2014

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Transcript of Willy Loman as a Modern Tragic Hero

Willy Loman as a Modern Tragic Hero
What is a "tragic hero"?
Reversal of Fortune
There are defining moments that a hero experiences that make him either a classic or modern tragic hero. Willy Loman did have a tragic flaw, reversal of fortune, excessive pride as well as his fate being death. However, in the eyes of Arthur Miller, contrary to Aristotle, failing to recognize reversal caused by his own actions as well as striving to achieve your "rightful" position in society classified Willy Loman to be a modern tragic hero.
The tragic hero's moment of recognition that the reversal was caused by his own actions - his tragic flaw.

Willy's failure to have this moment before he died is what keeps him from being characterized as a classic/Aristotelian tragic hero.

Arthur Miller's believes the modern tragic hero does not have this moment of recognition himself, but that the tragic flaw is revealed throughout the story.

Both in the backyard and in the restaurant, Biff makes an effort to force this moment on his father.
By: Jenna Ciccoritti
defined by Aristotle
a literary character who makes a judgment error that inevitably leads to his/her own destruction.
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defined by Arthur Miller
one who attempts to "gain his 'rightful' position in his society" and in doing so, struggles for his dignity.
being the key word!
Tragic Flaw
Willy's tragic flaw is his inability to be satisfied by the reality of his life, and instead chases fantasy.

He's so happy in his fantasy world that he'd do anything to keep it alive and remain ignorant to reality.

If Willy continues living in his fantasy, he cannot move forward with everyone and everything surrounding him, eventually leading to his downfall.
Willy's poor job performance, drastic reduction in sales and his verbal outburst in the office was enough to get fired.

He can no longer provide for his family as a result of his own actions.

Willy is too proud to accept a job from his neighbour, Charley, because accepting his offer would mean admitting to be a failure.

Excessive pride is what caused him to live in denial.

Change is also seen in Willy's life when he sees the change in his neighbourhood.
"From the flashbacks it is clear that Willy's and Linda's lives were once far sunnier. The house they bought in Brooklyn, New York is a prime example of the changes that have occurred since they were young. The house was part of a secure and established working class neighborhood with tree-lined streets and many regular families like themselves. In the present, however, their house is the only one left standing and all of the other lots have been sold to developers who have built high rise apartment buildings in their place...This is one of the primary symbols of Willy's change in fortune."

(Death Of A Salesman - uk.essays.co.uk)
The world kept moving forward and Willy's pride kept him from moving with it as well as from getting back on his feet to provide for his family.
Willy: "I can't work for you, that's all, don't ask me why."
(Miller 98)
His reason for rejecting Charley's job offer is unjustifiable.
Tragic Hero Characteristics
Arthur Miller
1) Tragic Flaw - Hamartia
2) Reversal of Fortune - Peripeteia
3) Recognition of Actions - Anagnorisis
4) Excessive Pride
5) Fate Greater Than Deserved

*Must fall from a great height - born noble
1) Tragic Flaw
2) Reversal of Fortune
3) Pride
4) Death for the Character

*Strives for a high position in society when average - a common man
Ben: “Why boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God, I was rich”
(Miller 48)
This represents the fantasy that Willy strives to achieve for himself, then Biff. Willy believes everyone is entitled to success, The American Dream, instead of working hard for it. He lives his
Willy is being told throughout the play, especially by Biff, that what he believes to be his reality is not but he is not willing to accept that. Willy remains in his fantasy, ignorant to reality, by continuing to believe that his "rightful status" will be achieved.
"The flaw, or crack in the character, is really nothing--and need be nothing, but his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status."

(Tragedy and The Common Man - Arthur Miller)
The common man, in comparison to the aristocrat, strives to achieve his rightful position in society while his tragic flaw goes unrecognized but still eventually leads to his downfall.
"In the sense of having been initiated by the hero himself, the tale always reveals what has been called his tragic flaw."

(Tragedy and The Common Man - Arthur Miller)
Biff: "...I was never a salesman for Bill Oliver...Let's hold on to the facts tonight, Pop. We're not going to get anywhere bullin' around.
I was a shipping clerk."

Willy: "I'm not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind...So don't give me a lecture about facts and aspects. I am not interested."

(Miller 106-107)
Bill tries to make his father see facts as facts but he stubbornly refuses to accept reality.
Willy never had his moment of recognition before his death, even with Biff's several attempts to force it on him.
Discussion Question...
What do you think makes a character a tragic hero?
Discussion Question...
By looking at these characteristics, do you think Willy Loman is a tragic hero in the eyes of Aristotle, Arthur Miller or is he not one at all? Explain.
Discussion Question...
In your opinion, what is Willy Loman's tragic flaw?
Full transcript