Death Of A Hero Essay, Research Paper
Death of a Hero
February 20, 2001
Is there anything that can evoke more emotion from an audience than a hero’s downfall? The most effective plays in history, from ” Oedipus “, the most famous of all tragedies, to plays like ” Romeo and Juliet “, tragedies are always the plays with the greatest emotional impact on an audience.
There are many critics who believe that tragedies can no longer be effectively written in today’s world. These critics believe that ” the tragic mode is archaic, fit only for the very highly placed, the kings or the kingly “and therefore cannot realistically exist in the modern world (Tragedy 1). Tragedy is possible in the modern world. In fact, modern tragedy has the potential to affect an audience even more than archaic tragedies, but only if the tragic hero is an average man, whose downfall can be linked to man’s quest to belong in society.
To examine modern tragedy, there is no better author to look at than Arthur Miller. His play, ” Death of a Salesman” is indeed one of the finest modern tragedies to date, and his paper, ” Tragedy and the Common Man,” gives excellent insight on the aforementioned play, and has become the definition on modern tragedy. By examining these two works, one can determine if indeed, modern tragedy to Millers definition exists in Millers play.
One of the major arguments against modern tragedy is that all previous tragic characters were ” the kings or kingly, and where this admission is not made in so many words, it is often implied”( Tragedy 1). Willy Loman is ” past sixty years of age, dressed quietly. Even as he crosses the stage to the doorway of his house, his exhaustion is apparent… A word-sigh escapes his lips-it might be ‘ Oh, boy, oh, boy’”( Death 12). Willy Loman is in no way a regal, kingly figure, as classical tragedy dictates. According to Miller, ” common man is as apt a subject for tragedy …as kings were… In the light of modern psychiatry, which bases its analysis upon classic formulations… which apply to everyone in similar emotional situations”( Tragedy 1). According to Miller, an Oedipus complex, although originally portrayed by a King, could as easily be transferred to any character to be a tragic hero in today’s world.
Willy, in the play, as well as any character, is described by his virtues. The following quote is almost like a description of Willys virtues;
I think 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… to gain his ‘rightful’ place in
society( Tragedy 1).
The entire play is the story of Willys quest to gain his niche in society. Willy believes he deserves to be wealthy, well liked, and respected. Willy decides the only way he can ‘preserve his dignity’ and gain his ’societal niche’ is by committing suicide; ” It’s twenty thousand dollars… guaranteed… Ben, the funeral will be massive!”( Death 126). A powerful feeling is felt in the audience when they see Willys only option is suicide. The society which he worked so hard to be a part of let him down, and this is why modern tragedy is so good at stirring an audiences feelings, because the downfall of the hero is so real a possibility. It is not some king with a fatal flaw, it is the guy next door.
Willy believed he could have his dream. He thought he could get a job with Howard in the city, be well liked. He thought Biff and Happy were going to work together in the city. ” The possibility of victory must be there in tragedy. Where pathos rules, where pathos rules, where pathos is finally derived, a character has fought a battle he could not possibly have won.”
Willy could never have won this battle, both internal and external, which drove him to suicide. He could not change the world, he could not change himself, but his belief that he could is what made him a tragic character.
In the play, Linda Loman said the following quote, which is an exact description of the audiences feelings towards Willy;
I don’t say he was a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His
name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived.
But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him… But you
don’t have to be very smart to know what his trouble is. The man is
exhausted… A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man. He
works for a company thirty-six years this March… and now in his old age,
they take his salary away( Death 56).
A tragic hero can be any man, ‘great’ or ’small’. In the case of tragedy to the common, everyday man, which is easily related to, the audience feels the pity commonly associated with tragedy. Only the modern tragedy can evoke pity to the modern audience so powerfully, of a normal guy trying to make it in the world.