Death of a Salesman as a Modern Tragedy Essay

2708 Words Feb 10th, 2012 11 Pages
Death of a Salesman as a modern tragedy

Death of a Salesman as a modern tragedy
Death of a Salesman is typically classified as a modern tragedy. This implies that it follows the example of the classic Greek tragedies, Roman tragedies and Shakespearian and Jacobean tragedy. There are, however, subtle but vital differences between these forms. Aristotle’s classic view of tragedy saw the form as one which only properly deals with the fate of gods, kings and heroes. In the twentieth century, such a restricted definition would consign tragedy to the waste bin of literary history. Consequently, in Death of a Salesman, Miller challenges this view and presents us with an entirely new one.

Our increasingly secular world no longer believes
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In short, Miller believes that modern drama can explore just as profoundly the themes and issues that Marlowe or Shakespeare could but with the added punch of doing so through the lives of ordinary people.

Willy’s personal path to tragedy: tracing the roots of a modern tragedy
Willy’s suicide provides the unhappy ending so essential in classical tragedy. Its roots, however, lie deep in the past. It has been argued that Willy’s nomadic childhood has left him feeling ‘kind of temporary’ about himself. Never having known a secure home, he is obsessed with providing one for Linda and his sons, and increasingly aware of his own failings as a husband and father. A deep-seated need for affection and reassurance leads him to seek the companionship of other women when he is away on business. He is also known to inflate his achievements in order to gain approval from Linda, his sons, and older brother and father-substitute, Ben. This, in turn, leads to the self-deception that is his fatal flaw. The stories he tells, the lies and half-truths, become more reassuring to him than reality. Reality is so harsh and painful that he escapes into illusion. (Unfortunately, his example prompts his sons to do the same).

Willy’s habit of exaggerating and inventing is addictive: once he starts, he soon finds that he cannot stop himself. When life becomes unbearable, Willy conjures Ben and memories of the golden times when his sons were young and innocent and

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