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The Fall of Willy Loman: A Modern Tragedy

Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman as a tragic story about a common mans downfall. While he is no king, Willy Lomans tale does take a path that contains parallels to that of Oedipuss. Willy is a pitiful man of noble intentions who experiences an undeserved fate that the audience fears, as it is the fate of a lower man to die as a failure. Millers play loosely follows the same formula for an Aristotelian tragedy as Willy Loman is characterized similarly to that of Oedipus in respect to his moral nobility and fatal mistake, there is a definite fall from grace feared by the audience followed by a realization by the hero, and other Aristotelian elements such as song and spectacular effects of the play. One major component of the Aristotelian tragedy is that the hero is noble and actually causes his own fate by making a fatal mistake, or hamartia. Willy wants happiness and success for his sons and wife, rather than propriety. His intentions are noble, but he just goes about them the wrong way by using false morals. Oedipus wanted to bring the previous kings killer to justice while Willy wanted prosperity for his family; both of those are noble causes. Willy loves and worries for his family so much that he decides to kill himself for the insurance money. This characteristic actually matches Aristotles view that a tragic heros good qualities help cause his downfall. His love for his family causes him to believe he is worth more dead than alive, as Oedipuss search for truth opened his eyes and led to his blinding and exile. Willy is sometimes a despicable character who complains about the misfortunes

that befall him even if they are his doing. Despite that, he is at times a sympathetic character who has no control over some hardships in his life. Just like Oedipus, Willy Loman goes through his life blindly, never realizing the full truth of himself. Willy refuses to admit that he's a failure. His mistake is thinking he can really become an amazing salesman. Another key aspect of the Aristotelian tragedy is the plot, or mythos, involving an undeserved fate that is feared by the audience and realization of the hero. Willy, being a common man, doesnt have as far to fall as a king like Oedipus. His obsession for success and to be well liked causes him to have misconceptions of prosperity for him and his family as well as eventual hallucinations of past events. When the hallucinations start to blend with reality and his far-fetched goals are shattered by his job loss and Biffs confession, he is driven to suicide as the only option for his familys success. Oedipus learns he killed his father, married his mother, then blinds and exiles himself. While the fate of Oedipus is much more harsh and horrifying, we still fear being the kind of failure that Willy is. Oedipus is a good and noble man, and definitely did not deserve the fate that befell him. Willy, on the other hand, seemed as if he might have deserved his fated failure. However, his delusions of grandeur were not of his own creation. Looking up to Dave Singleman made him believe a well-liked salesman was bound to be successful. Bens take what you want any way you can attitude didnt help Willy develop normally either. While Oedipus realizes that he is a father-killer and a mother-lover, Willy just discovers he can never become a successful businessman. He learns this after his boss, Howard, fires him, because if he still believed he could make it in the business

world he wouldnt have killed himself. Like his fate, Willys anagnorisis, or recognition, is not nearly as major as Oedipuss, but still exists. A few other elements of the Aristotelian tragedy are the ones that embellish the mood on stage. In Millers play, the lights become dim during sad scenes and bright during happy scenes. There are also a number of sequences that occur on stage that are purely Willy reliving past events that he is reminded of during the course of the play, such as the day he learned of Biffs failure in math. In Aristotles play, the greatest spectacle is Oedipus finding his dead mother/wife hanging dead before blinding himself near the end of the play. A spectacular effect, or opsis, in a tragedy causes an emotional response from the audience. When the lighting dims or brightens we are supposed to feel sad or happy. If Willys memories are painful to him we are supposed to pity him. The blinding of Oedipus is meant to shock and awe the audience. Classical Greek plays always had a chorus that offered a variety of background and summary information to help the audience follow the performance as well as comment on themes and act as ideal audience for the play. A choir probably would not fit into the modern setting of Willys life, but Miller still manages to fit in the element of song, or melos, into his play. A flute is heard in scenes throughout the play; the flute is ironically Aristotles ideal instrument to use in a tragedy as he claimed it excites the audience. Willys father peddled flutes and we find out the song of the flute is the foundational musical theme of the play because of this. Death of a Salesman has enough similar elements required by Aristotle be seen as an Aristotelian tragedy. The protagonist, Willy, is characterized as a flawed

but essentially good person who causes his own fate, which leads him to be pitied by the audience. The sequence of the play follows the format of a tragic downfall that the audience fears and occurs chronologically with the exception of the flashbacks during the story. Visual spectacles are present in the play and while there is no choric song in Millers play, he fits in the flute as the musical overtone of Willys life. Death of a Salesman is not a prime example of a tragedy like Aristotles play; it could, however, be considered a Greek-style tragedy despite being written centuries after plays such as Oedipus,

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