Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tragedy and the Common Man

Discuss the ways in which you see Death of a Salesman as a "Tragedy of the Common Man." Provide evidence from Miller's article and the play itself. If you disagree, provide evidence that argues against Willy as a tragic hero. Your post should reference both the play and the article. Post -- as a developed comment-- before class on Thursday. (After class Thursday, but before class Friday, you'll need to post your analytical thesis.)

20 comments:

corilin said...

While reading Tragedy and the Common man, I felt like I was reading a guide that Miller wrote for himself before writing Death of a Salesman. He alludes in the article to many of the themes in DOAS such as Willy's tragic flaw, Biff's world view being instilled in him, and the possibility of hope for the whole Loman family. I argue that defined by Miller's terms, Willy Loman is a modern tragic hero. When thinking of Oedipus, Hamlet, or Macbeth, it is hard to compare to Willy, for he is a senile lower class saleman while they are princes and kings. However Miller states that status and royalty merely cling to the edges of tragedy, rank adding problems no matter how high or low. So while These anchient rulers might struggle with abdication and coronation's, Willy struggles with his commotion and his son's struggling careers. The other point that defines Willy as a tragic hero is what Miller calls his "possibility of victor... he has fought a battle he could not possibly have won." This perfectly explains Willy's literal fight with Harold for his job, and the figurative fight with his sanity and struggle for instant success. While Willy may not be a hero by common definition, Willy Loman is a perfect outline of Arthur Miller's tragic hero.

John K said...

Willy exemplifies the role of the tragic hero. He may not be a prominent figure in New York, but as discussed by Arthur Miller, his place in society does not diminish the reader’s ability to perceive him as a tragic hero. Miller mentions in his article that the hero has a tragic flaw, a resolve to act out against what he or she views as an unjust situation. Willy's flaw arises from his false perceptions of reality and his refusal to modify them. Due to a neglectful upbringing, Willy does not understand the truth behind the concept of the “American Dream.” He believes that being "well-liked" leads to quick success, and when he learns of Bernard’s accomplishments he is dumbfounded. He is unable to adjust his life philosophy and becomes mentally unstable. Even though Linda reassures him that she accepts him the way he is, Willy’s pride drives his dissatisfaction with his common status in life. As readers, we perceive Willy’s sense of helplessness and sympathize with him, especially during the scenes when he is fired and is desperately planting seeds in his backyard. Also, Miller points out that “in truth tragedy implies more optimism in its author than does comedy,” and I agree with this sentiment. The regrettable finale of the play is followed by a requiem that illustrates the growth that accompanied the loss. Happy declares that Willy did not die in vain, and he resolves to live an industrious life and fulfill Willy’s dream. Biff and Linda have come to the realization that Willy had the wrong goals in life and should have pursued a profession he had a passion for. Thus, although Willy experiences a tragic death, the notion of overcoming tragedy is also apparent.

Emma H said...

In Miller's article he states his belief of what a tragedy is, "the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly." This shows in Death of a Salesman because Willy does not see himself clearly. Willy believes he is a well-liked person, but in reality, he is not. He committed rash acts like cheating on his wife, to make it seem to himself that he was powerful. His consequence was the fact that his favorite son, Biff, grew to dislike him. Miller also states that "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." I think this quote from the article represents what Willy did in the end of Death of a Salesman, he killed himself to end his humiliation after he could not support his family and he also wanted to help out his son. At the end of Death of a Salesman, Biff finally calls out his family on the fact that they are surrounded by a bunch of lies. He breaks what Miller calls the "'unchangable' environment" which goes along with Miller's definition of tragedy.

Arjun Puranik said...

Based on Miller's definition of a tragic hero, a character who seeks only his "personal dignity" and his "'rightful' position in society," Willy and his dream of being well-liked fit nicely. All Willy wants is to be exalted in the eyes of others, that sense of dignity. And Miller says that the tragedy results from "the wound of indignity." This also parallel's Willy's depression and demise result from his eventual realization (although denial) of his falsehood, which begins with the Boston event with Biff. Being questioned and accused by Biff causes Willy to feel his first indignity and is the clearest downturn in Willy's life. Also, Willy's sense of dignity and his active effort to preserve it, which Miller also mentions as key to a tragic hero in the Tragedy piece, prevents him from living well on Charley's job.
Miller argues that none of the characteristics essential to a tragic hero are in only nobility, the usual subjects in tragedies. He says that being high in society is not the aspect of a tragedy that appeals to people, stating that kingly titles are a superficial addition to make the tragic fall more literal. This argument holds up in Death of a Salesman, as Miller evokes a deep sense of tragedy in the especially common Willy Loman.
One aspect of Miller's definition that is difficult to understand is his idea that tragedy is not pessimistic. He supports this claim by saying that the tragic hero's struggle demonstrates "the indestructible will of man to achieve his humanity." But this apparently indestructible will leads to failure and mental destruction for the hero. Willy never learned his lesson; Linda has lived 40 (?) years under subdued repression; Happy is going to follow his father's flawed footsteps; only Biff's gain of realization is somewhat positive.

Amber P. said...

Death of a Salesman is definitley a "Tragedy of the Common man" and Willy is definitley a tragic hero...Here's why :
1. Miller states in "Tragedy and the common man"- 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... Willy laid down his life for his pride(laid down his life for his pride, which was Biff,and he wouldn't sacrifice his own self pride when Charley offered him a job)
2. Miller calls a conflict "the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in this world"- Willy is torn away from his ideal image of being a wealthy salesman living the American Dream, along with the fact that he is torn away from his ideal image for Biff
3. Miller says "The destruction in his attempt posits a wrong or an evil in his environment"- Willy's attempt to get rich quick, and make Biff live the American dream causes Biff to be unhappy, and causes a lot of tension(evil)
4. Miller says "Tragedy Englightens, in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of the man's freedom"- Willy is never happy or free because he has the burden of work, and has the burden of his desire to be rich - points out that money is the evil enemy
5. Miller talks about how tragedys cause people to learn, and in truth tragedy implies more optimism in its author, and that it's final result ought to be the reinforcement of the onlooker's brightest opinions of the human animal- After reading the story i was thankful i wasn't Willy, and was also hopeful for Biff, and happy that Biff learned not to be like Willy, and didn't share the same TRAGIC FLAW that Willy did

Donald Magnani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauren Z said...

I believe based on evidence from "Tragedy of the Common Man" and Death of a Salesman that Willy is a an example of a tragic common man. Miller describes a "tragic flaw" among all tragic characters. More specifically he states that the flaw among the character is his "inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity." Although through most of WIlly's life he works in a career where he is not entirely happy, by the end of his life he decides to take action in asking Howard for a raise. By questioning his life up to this point and his overall productiveness in his career and family, Willy finally realizes that things must be "shaken up" and that his dreams of being more successful like Ben or Charley. must be put to a reality. Even though he does not succeed in changing the circumstances that surrounded him, Willy indirectly taught a lesson to his children. This lesson is that if you are constantly evaluating yourself and your position in society, that happiness will be a hard goal to grasp. Miller mentions this optimistic outcome when he says "in truth tragedy implies more optimism in its author".

Dani O. said...

The article seems to be a very detailed description of Willy and reason as to why he is the way he is. At first I thought it was crazy as to how much it really did relate to Willy but when I realized they were both written by the same author, it all made way more sense. I really liked how he brought up that not only kings are subject to tragedy. I think this is a common misconception that we all have. For example, when people of such high power such as Cesar are brought down, everyone knows about it and its so shocking that it affects everyone. I heard a quote in a TV show the other day that said, "The higher you fly, the farther you fall." I agree with this quote for the observors of the tradegy because they see people with high power come down to nothing and its a public event. The part of the quote that bothers me is that the definition of flying high is unclear. For most just being able to easily provide for their families would make their life worth while, but once they don't accomplish that, their spirits fall so low that they come into this hard-to-escape cycle of unproductivity. Once brought to the table, the tragedy of the common man is almost more tragic than that of the powerful man. Because of the fact that it usually isn't recognizable to the others, and the common man's tragedy falls under the radar. Willy had no problem with a mediocre job, so long as he was well-liked, but because of his circumstances, few even showed up to his funeral.
Another quote in this article I found interesting was the point brought up about the character's flaws really aren't anything that bad, it's just the characters reaction and "unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he concieves to be a challenge to his dignity." This followed exactly along Willy's story line, especially when Charley offered him a job after he lost his. Willy wanted to fix his own problem. No one would have looked down upon him had he taken the job from Charley and he would have been more productive and successful there. Instead he didn't want to come to the terms that he had been fired and instead thought that taking unearned money from his friend would give him more dignity that actually working for his money.

Dan Szmurlo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Szmurlo said...

Willy fits the role of a tragic hero. But, his desire is not just to become well-liked and achieve the American Dream, but more importantly, to make Biff achieve the American Dream.
Willy believes Biff has the potential to establish himself and lead a life like his. This is his flaw - his perception that one will succeed if one is well-liked, and the idea that Biff can succeed in life because he his well-liked. His faith in Biff leads to him killing himself to give Biff money, or "his willingness to throw all he has into the contest, the battle to secure his rightful place in his world" as Miller puts it. We find out that his faith is useless, since Biff can't lead an honest life. Willy "fought a battle he could not possibly have won," and is a tragic hero.
The only thing that argues against Willy being a tragic hero is the ending. Miller writes " In them, and in them alone, lies the belief - optimistic, if you will - in the perfectibility of man." I believe that the ending is not a happy ending. Willy never learned that Biff couldn't lead the life that Willy wanted him to. Willy killed himself to give Biff the money, but he never realized the truth. He never let go and let Biff lead his own life.

amandak. said...

"Tragedy and the Common Man" gives support to the statement that Death of a Salesman is a tragedy and Willy Loman is the perfect example of a tragic hero. Many seemingly bizarre traits that Willy has are explained in the article. "I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be..." Even before he actually carries out his suicide, Willy attempts several times, but has no reason for it. When Willy finally does commit suicide, it is for his son to collect the inheritance. Willy is definitely ready to lay down his lifefor his son, but also for himself. He wants to be well-liked more than anything and by killing himself to benefit someone else, he is seen as heroic as he believes that he is making up for not getting along with his son. The article also explains this action when Miller says He wants "to gain his 'rightful' position in his society." Willy is obsessed with his goal of becoming well-liked and admired. "Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly." Willy's outlook on life and his values are all based on who he wants to be, as a person, which is ultimately to die the same way as another salesman he knew. Willy's efforts do nothing for him because he ends up with no friends and very poor connections to his own family.

Ashvin said...

Willy is as Miller would most likely say, the epitome of a tragic hero. He is constantly questioning himself where he went wrong in raising Biff. And this corrolates with the meaning of a tragedy, which is a consequence of a man's compulsion to evaluate himself justly. Another partition of him being a tragic hero is his failed intention of understanding his personality. For example, whenever he is reminiscing or when he was with that woman in Boston, Willy shows that he is not satisfied with himself and wants to make things better. His insurance payments, his problem with why Biff has not really succeeded in his post-high school life are problems which affect his personality. Another cause for him being a tragic hero can be the fact that he eventually does not "win the battle". This happens when he is not able to have a postive relationship with his son Biff, when he is not able to understand Biff's feelings, and when he is fired from his job and is unwilling to take the job offer from Charley. Rejecting the job offer is a big loss because now Willy is without an occupation and he is betting that his sons will have a big deal for a sporting goods company, which Willy will find out did not go to well. So by not taking the job, Willy lets down Charley because Charley considers him as a friend and finds it useless to just give him fifty dollars a week. Another loss happens when Willy dies in the end because he couldn't handle the fact that he was really harsh on Biff and that he could never realize how Biff felt toward his Willy himself. Hence from all the reasons mentioned, making Willy Loman the epitome of a tragic hero.

Ricky O. said...

I think it is obvious that Miller had the ideas he expresses in "Tragedy and the Common Man" on his mind as he wrote "Death of a Salesman." What sticks out to me first is the way Miller defines a tragic hero. He describes a hero's “tragic flaw” as “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.” I think Willy exemplifies this idea. Perhaps one scene that shows this is the one where Willy asks Charley for money. However, when Charley offers him a job, he says, "What's the matter with you? I've got a job," even though this is not true. Clearly Willy knows he is operating at a level below himself, even if he doesn't want to admit it.
One other part of "Tragedy and the Common Man" that stuck out to me was Miller's assertion that “tragedy implies more optimism in its author than does comedy.” At first I had trouble wrapping my mind around this idea so I tried to look for optimistic ideals expressed in DOAS. I now think Miller is suggesting happiness can be found in following passion, not money. This is most probably shown through the voyages to Alaska, Africa, and the West. On the other hand, I still maintain that Miller's slight disdain for the American Dream is anything but optimistic.

Kristine Werling said...

I believe that Miller lays out Death of a Salesman as an example of a “Tragedy of the Common Man.” Furthermore, Miller establishes Willy as the tragic hero that he outlines in his article. For example, in his article, Miller describes that tragic feeling that the reader gets when they are in the presence of a character that is ready to lay down his life to secure his sense of personal dignity. This is a perfect parallel with Willy’s character, because throughout the play Willy is threatening to take his own life so that he can leave something tangible behind for his sons. Willy wants to preserve his dignity and show that his life really was worthwhile. Also, in Miller’s article he describes the flaw or crack in character that exists in a tragic hero. I believe this relates to Willy once again because he has this skewed view of the American dream and he is trying so hard to make a lasting impression in the lives of others and generally be liked by everyone. But when Willy falls short of this he takes a hard blow to his ego. For example, when Willy is fired he realizes that he has gotten no further in life than the day that he started work. In addition, Miller explains how within the tragedy everything that the hero has known is laid before him and put into question. This is similar to Willy as the tragic hero, because at this point in his life he realizes that he hasn’t had the successes that he had hoped for, and all his goals and values are now put into question as a result. Willy becomes overwhelmed and is unable to accept his current situation. Overall, I believe that Willy is a tragic hero that faces a blow to his dignity from many people around him, and as a result lies down his life to preserve it, showing that tragedy can stem from even the most common salesman.

Jane Danstrom said...

It seems to me as if “Tragedy and the Common Man” could have been the subtitle of “Death of a Salesmen.” So many elements of the article, like the questioning of society, loss of dignity and degradation, the suppression of creativity, and “tragic flaws”, are more than prevalent in DOAS. Though Willy does fall into some of the tragic categories, I believe that Biff is the tragic hero of this story. One of the most significant ideas of the Tragedy article is that the tragic hero attempts to right the wrongs he finds in his environment, leading to his eventual destruction. Willy accepts the social flaws of the American Dream, as well as his job as a salesman, with ultimate docility. On the contrary, Biff sees the wrongs in his father’s dreams and world, and attempts to change his attitudes. Biff is the only member of the Loman family to accept that he is not special or unique, but just another common man. His jobs as a farmhand and cowboy clearly show his abandonment of the social norms, which he questions unlike any other character in the play.

Ye-Na Hong said...

After reading Tragedy and the Common Man, I thought that the character of Willy Loman fit perfectly with that of the tragic hero described in the article, which shares many common points with the play. First of all, Miller says in the article, "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. from Orestes to Hamlet, Mediea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his "rightful" position in his society." This suits well with Willy Loman, who's firm belief is that in order to succeed, you have to be well-liked. Nevertheless, Willy Loman is never truly liked by anyone in the play although he is very eager to be well-liked and also make his sons be well-liked by society. To support his family, Willy has to borrow money from his friend rather than earning it himself; however, he chooses not to accept the job his friend offers him because of his false pride. Secondly, the article describes the tragic flaw in this way: "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, Only the passive, only those who accept their lot without active retaliation, are "flawless." Most of us are in that category. Willy, who works in the same firm for his whole career life, gets rejected when he ask the boss if he could work in New York. During this process, Willy desperately begs the boss, essentially degrading himself and letting someone look down upon him. Willy Loman is a character who draws both sympathy and anger from the readers as he shows his false dignity throughout the novel and expects his family to get rick quick without effort; however, his desperation to become successful and live his dream also draws sympathy from the reader, as he must work under the same firm for many years unhappy with his job, shouldering the huge burden of being a responsible father.

Kaitlin Fanning said...

Tragedy and the Common Man made me feel like I was reading a guide to Willy's life. Tragedy and the Comman Man discussed Willy's "tragic flaw" and how this flaw isnt really anything big, but the main character's deliberant unwillingness to be passive when they believe they are facing a challenge of their dignity. Another part of Tragedy and the Common Man that I related to Willy was when Arthur Miller stated that "tragedy is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly." I believe this relates to Willy because Willy's total misjudgement for himself truly puts him in tight situations that he can't really escape from. After reading Tragedy and the Common Man I could really see where Arthur Miller got his basis for Willy. Tragedy and the Common Man gives you some understandment of why Willy is so messed up, depressed, and confused about who he truly is.

Haley Schwartz said...

According to Miller's definition, Willy is a tragic hero. As miller states in Tregedy and the Common Man "the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a charachter who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing- his sense of personal dignity.... the underlying stuggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his 'rightful' position in society." Willy is trying to find his "rightful position in society" and eventually does lay down his life to secure his personal dignity, which he sees as being successful and well-liked. Willy's tragic flaw is that he had blind faith in his interpretation of the american dream. Miller also pointed out great mythological tragedies in Tragedy and the common man, and how he refrences similar characters in Salesman makes a nod at these tragedies as well. Willy is also a tragic hero because he is, as Miller puts it, "incapeable of grappling with a much superior force." He struggles with the impossible and possible both in his career (being well-liked and making money) and with his family (raising well liked and sucessful sons in his image) Miller is not afraid to question everything,be it family roles or the american dream, and in tragedy of the common man, we see that that he views that as neccessary for a tragedy. Miller captures the tragic but also the optimisim in the "perfectability of man" as he analyzes the "heart and spirit of the average man."

mercedes =) said...

Death of a Salesman exemplified Arthur Miller's definition of a tragedy. Willy is the tragic hero in this story. He fits the description of such as described by Miller. As Miller said, "the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his "rightful" position in his society". This is the case for Willy. In my opinion Willy has been trying to find his place in the society throughout the whole story. Willy becomes too preoccupied with the thought that he must be well liked by all. Comments such as "he's liked but not well liked," or his frustrations with his sons exemplifies his paranoia. Willy gets too wrapped up with the success and the money and the acceptance by society that ultimately leads to his suicide. When Miller states that "there are among us today, as there always have been, those who act against the scheme of things taht degrades them," I thought about Willy's performance in front of Bernard to retire from his job and get a new one. At this point, Willy is desperate and it was the one time I actually felt sympathy towards the character. Another piece of evidence that Willy fits the description is the fact that Willy did not accept the reality. He did not accept Biff and his present lifestyle and during the whole story he puts all his effort into his dream that Biff would turn into a businessman with money. Miller hits the fact that "tragedy enlightens-and it must, in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of man's freedom. In Willy's situation I believe the enemy is Willy's interpretation of the "American Dream". The "get rich fast," idea looms Willy's thoughts and corrupts him. In Death of a Salesman Miller hits on those points that results in the constant issues in the Loman family.

JenniferLee said...

I agree with the "Tragedy of the Common Man," and can see the play we read as this. There are several parts I feel the essay refers to the "Death of a Salesman."
1. When Miller in his essay explains that the unchangeable environment leads to terror and fear, and terror and fear leads to tragedy: In the play, the unchangeable environment is society and his family. Terror and fear is that of his fear to admit his failures, and tragedy is his death at the end.
2. When the author states that tragedies shake readers because of the main fear of being torn away from the indentity/image we desire to have: This is a lot like Willy in that Willy too was scared of being seen as a failure and not a salesman worthy of a death like Dave Singleman. It seems that Willy wanted to be an amazing businessman who knew everyone and was well liked by everyone. He wanted to be a success. However, as he was unable to do so and become truly what he desired to be, the tragedy is seen.
3. When Arthur Miller says that tragedy enlightens and has to point "the heroic finger at the enemy of man's freedom": This was like the play in that at the end, the tragedy doesn't seem all too bad because through it, the family learns a lot. Even though Willy died, and it's a sad thing, the tragedy seems to show what the underlying problem was, and it seems to also hint at a new beginning.
4. Similar to the above point, when Miller states that "Tradegy must preach revolution": It is possible to see the connection to the play with this in that at the end, although tragic, there is a revolution in that the family is now free and capable of starting a new life.
5. When the author says that the "possibility of victory must be there in tragedy," and that it is a tragedy because that impossible victory was not achieved, and also that in tragedies, the belief of the "perfectibily of man" can be seen. This is similar to the play in that there was a possibility in Willy's victory. If he had made the right decisions with his sons and focused on the right things, he could've done well. Also, if his sons did get a very good job, his success would've been possible. However, because the effects of his past are now taking place, he cannot do anything to stop it. Since he cannot do anything to be successful if he is dead, the victory is then impossible. Miller states that there is an optimism of tragedies-more than comedies-because it shows the "heart and spirit of the average man." This can be seen in Willy's hard attempts and struggles as he tried to make the right decision with his boys and the way he asks those who are successful if he is making the right choices with his boys.