“Death of a Salesman” via Aristotle’s Perspective

“Death of a Salesman” via Aristotle’s Perspective
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In “Death of a Salesman” main hero Willy Loman appears as an ordinary and common but at the same time truly pitiful, dramatic and tragic character. According to Aristotle tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious. This action evokes emotions of fear and pity. Aristotle’s work being the collection of the foundational basics of the drama and tragedy nevertheless is often interpreted in different ways because of its universal and complex meaning. However in order to create a catharsis of pity and fear tragedy leads its characters from one particular condition to the other through the effectual and behavioral elements of such character. Among tragic hero’s details most important are his hamartia and hubris. Hamartia may be understood as the characters action that due to the cause-effect connection leads eventually to the major changes for the character. In other words hamartia is a character’s mistake which leads to the fatale and ultimate consequences which as hamartia itself reflect character’s hubris through the actions. Hubris in its turn is something terribly wrong, often radically irreal and arrogant, shortsighted inside the soul and spiritual core or nature of character that results in this character’s shameful moral downfall. As actions and activities of a hero show his inner condition so is his true nature exists as a cause of such actions and activities. Catharsis which is culminational catastrophe of the tragedy is something that brings an ultimate and necessary conclusion to the plot.

“The plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy; Character holds the second place.” (Aristotle)

Plot is the sum of interactions between the characters of the tragedy and their development from one condition to other which results in the change of the general status. Being action that is serious tragedy creates pitiful and fearful effect by bringing characters to the critical appearances and conditions and by that creates an exertion of attention and feeling.

“All human happiness or misery takes the form of action;” (Aristotle 2013)

Willie Loman is a tragic hero from all the perspectives and according to the general definition of this concept. His hamartia is his request for the job in the city instead of his recent moving job as a traveling salesman which he no longer feels able to carry. Willie’s hubris is his inability to realize his pitiful, failed and fatal position in the life. His absolute mistake are wrong commitment as well as his failure to get another work and his inefficiency to love his children and wife and be in peace with himself and his place in society. All this unfortunate, eventual and interdependent events and character’s shades describe irreality and illusion of the American Dream which is the true core of the storyline. The nature of Willie’s tragedy can be seen in his horrible and complete inability to show some charisma which he thought he has. This absence of charisma transforms simple working man from the healthy person which he thought he was into the broken lonely man misunderstood by everyone and concurred by life’s misery and misfortune.

“After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.” (Miller 2015)
“Work a lifetime to pay off a house — You finally own it and there’s nobody to live in it.”

Arthur Miller followed main traditions and general concepts of the tragedy written by Aristotle in his “Poetics”. Despite the fact that structure, plot and characters appearance can totally be connected to the Aristotle’s ideas with the help of adroit handling “Death of a Salesman” still allows itself some freedom in the expression of ideas and opinions. This difference shows itself in the updating classical tragic forms to the psychological realities of the 20th century. It is exactly psychological approach to the social and personal nature that makes this modern play somehow different from the classic traditions but at the same time allows to see better lonely place of a common man in the highly tight and competitive environment.

Aristotle (2013) The Poetics. New York: Lulu Press
Miller, A. (2015) Death of a Salesman. Chicago: Bloomsbury Publishing