The term tragedy could be literally transmitted to “goat song, which in turn refers to the ritual of Dionysus. We, however, would not focus on the roots of tragedy as defined here; rather we would focus on Aristotle’s concept of tragedy. It was basically from the story of Dionysus, as well as from other sources on which Aristotle’s concept of tragedy was deeply embedded.
One of the major features of Aristotle’s description of tragedy is “an imitation of noble and complete action, having the proper magnitude” which basically means that a tragic character is noble person or someone who is great or emits an aura of certain “magnitude” (Aristotle 1978). The conception of the tragic hero that we gather from Aristotle’s Poetics is that he is a highly esteemed and prosperous man who falls into misfortune because of some serious hamartia i. e. tragic flaw.
Although the meaning of hamartia is far from certain, its most frequent applications is in the sense of false moral judgment, or even purely intellectual errors. Among Greeks no sharp distinction between the two existed. It is generally believed that according to Aristotle the hamartia off Oedipus consists in some moral faults and it has been tried to identify various moral faults in Oedipus. Distinguished Professor Butcher has identified four possible range of meaning of Aristotle‘s Hamartia i. e. tragic flaw.
The foremost of these connotations is an error due to unavoidable ignorance of circumstances whereas an error caused by unawareness of conditions that might have been identified and for that reason to some extent morally blameworthy is another manifestation of the sense in which the term hamartia was used by Aristotle. The third sense is “A fault or error where the act is conscious and intentional, but not deliberate. Such acts are committed in anger or passion.”
Where as fourth is “A fault of character distinct, on the one hand, from an isolated error, and, on the other, from the vice which has its seat in the depraved will…a flaw of character that is not tainted with a vicious purpose. ”(Butcher, 1961, p. 310) Miller’s concept of tragedy was new and different from Aristotelian tragic conception as Miller was indeed sensitive to contemporanaeity and meant his play to be a tragedy. I think his theory of tragedy is more relevant in the contemporary world than the Aristotelian tragedy.
At about the time of play’s opening, Miller himself, when interviewed, stressed the tragic intention: “The tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing his sense of personal dignity. ” (Miller, 1949) This is a manifestation of Miler’s concept of tragedy which was new and different from classical concept of tragedy. He rejects the Greek tragedy and calls it archaic that “fits only for the very highly placed, the kings or the kingly”.
He considers that common man is an apt subject for tragedy, for exaltation of tragic action is a property of all man and tragic feeling is not aroused by stature of hero. He furthers his theory and is of the view that the feeling of terror and fear can be aroused by man’s fight against the environment too. “Death of A Salesman” is a tragedy of our time and of our society. Willy’s reveries are parallel to those of any twenty first century American national. But fault lies with his direction i. e. completely opposite to the common social current and hence he meets his catastrophic fortune.
The most dominating theme of the story is that of "American Dream" or rather "Perverted American Dream”. It is very symbolic story of "Roaring Age" of later 1940s America, particularly the story of shattering of American Dream in that era of economic prosperity and material abundance. It exposes how the American people adulterated American Dream and how energy to be burnt in noble purpose gets started to be burnt in show off and individual pleasure, fame and success.
The people become selfish, indulge themselves in vulgar means of wealth, disloyalty is at its peak and the most important of all; they forget the American dream was originally about discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness. Kernodle has evaluated the play in this way; “Arthur Miller has tried to write a tragedy about little, ordinary man of our day” (47). But it was not a try, it was evolution of anew form of tragedy backed by a new theory of tragedy.
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is a tragedy according to the classical and modern conception of tragedy. Death of a Salesman treats the inner frailties, shortcomings of an indivisible, sympathetically. Miller is very rightly concerned with the dilemmas that are as timeless in drama as they are in life. It is a modern and personal tragedy where protagonist is an ordinary little man who is compelled to locate his smallness rather than a larger than life character undone by his greatness.
Although Willy happens to be a salesman tested and found wanting by his own very special crisis, all of us sitting out front are bound to be shaken, long before the evening is over, by finding something of ourselves in him. In spite of Willy Loman’s frantic search through his own past, he did not attain the self-realization customary for all tragic heroes. The end which his suicide offered him simply illustrates a limited finding of truth.
While he attains a proficient comprehension of himself and the underlying nature of the sales vocation, he did not succeed in realizing his personal fiasco and duplicity of his soul and family in the course of the scrupulously deceit in his life. He could not even comprehend the real personal, spiritual knowledge of himself as a “lowman”. He is too obsessed by his own “wilfulness” to realize the inclined truth that his forlorn mind has formed. Nevertheless, several critics, centering on Willy’s establishment in a quandary of lies, hallucinations, and self deceptions, paid no notice to the important achievement of his limited self-realization.
Willy’s inability to acknowledge the tormented love given to him by his family is vital to the height of agonized day, and the story proffers this powerlessness as the real tragedy. In spite of his failures, Willy Loman makes the most extreme sacrifice in his endeavour to leave an inheritance to ensure that his son would be able to achieve the American dream in spite of the fact that his death actually achieved nothing in regards to inheritance. This is primarily the reason why the claim that Willy Loman of “Death of a Salesman” is a tragic hero is arguable.
There may be those who would argue that Willy Loman could not be regarded as great or noble even if he has a high moral reputation (which evidently he also lacked especially when he was portrayed as someone who committed adultery). However, one should take note of the fact that “noble” here does not necessarily mean that someone be of a noble blood or the like, rather it simply means that someone be larger than life and that is something Willy Loman positively is, larger than life.
All throughout the play, Willy had constantly been motioning, picturing things to be in such a state of splendor and relating it as such, an individual with huge plans and impressive dreams, really a grand character. Even if a person decides to scrutinize the play from another position but with the same definition, the outlook of the united individuals of the play no one is an actually a seeming person, rather a collection of enlarged appropriations, larger than life.
On the other hand, the next section of the criterion is not so effortlessly agreed into in that the Death of the Salesman, have no beauty, no eminent intensity or gravity, no dark humor, and no poetics at all. However, upon looking closely, one would notice that even though Miller did not incorporate any poetics of the Greek tragedies, he did filled the Death of a Salesman with imagery, although his imageries are less ingenious as compared to the old Greek tragedies, they are still imageries and thus meets up, I believe, Aristotle’s criterion of the compound use of language (Mc Manus 1999).
Willy Loman, the protagonist of the story, is constantly presenting the audience with profound image based accounts of his past and mixing his language with inconsistencies. One example of this was when he remarked that Biff is lazy and then later on told his wife that Biff is not lay at all. The language is also full of insight into the conclusion of the story. Willy is always seen making predictions of his ends, which could be seen on most of his remarks like he is “tired to death”, always disposed to just end his existence.
Another point for a tragedy is that the tragic character should not have control over his own fate, in most, if not all, Greek tragedies, the heroes lives are not of his to control, rather his destiny is determined based on the whims or liking of the gods and goddesses. This particular notion of what a tragedy ought to be like is also ever present in the Death of a Salesman, and even though it appears that Willy has control of his own body and deeds, one could not say that he really is of control because he himself could not control or stop himself in spite of knowing that the consequence of what he is going to do would not be good.
This particular assertion is largely evident in two ways, the 1st and most apparent of the two is that he could see or know what is unavoidable “these arch supports are killing me”, the 2nd is that his deficiency in controlling himself is also apparent on his daytime phantasms. If he could not even control his own mind, the way his thought is heading, and he often could not distinguish what is real from what is not, then how could one really say that Willy is of control?
His lack of control is also very much evident by the way he usually slips into old languages at wrong moments, thus speeding up his course Basically, Willy Loman’s being a tragic figure is rather debatable in that there are those who claims that he does not fit the description while there are those who claims otherwise. There would have been no problem in this paper if the only thing one has to prove is Willy’s being a tragic figure; however, proving that Willy is a tragic figure in Aristotle’s definition of the concept is another thing.
There are those who state that Willy does not fit Aristotle’s description of a tragic figure and thus it falls in this paper to prove otherwise. I have already tackled some of these issues earlier in this paper particularly the claims regarding nobility, magnitude and lack of control of his own fate and life. The next criterion needed to be met is does Willy have a tragic flaw or not. It is reasonable to claim that Willy is in reality one of the most flawed character one has ever read about.
He excessively supports a malicious capitalist system, most of the time he could be found doing something which only leads to his own tragedy, and he often admire other people excessively. Added to that and one of his most serious flaw is his habit of inconsistency or contradicting himself. His deed, his speech, all leads or shows how often he contradicts himself. Above mentioned arguments and supported evidence clearly manifest that the death of a Salesman is a tragedy based on the Aristotelian sense as well as from the modern perspective of tragedy.