Is Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman a tragic hero?
There has been an ongoing discussion about whether Willy Loman is a tragic hero or just a pathetic figure. What do you think?
12 Answers | Add Yours
I believe that Willy Loman can be considered a tragic hero, and was intended by his author to be a tragic hero, only in the sense that he is not an individual but a type. Willy Loman represents the millions of hard-working American men who end up on the ash heap when they get too old to be of value to their employers. Willy Loman by himself is too insignificant a character to be considered a tragic hero, but if we think of him as being multiplied by the millions who preceded him and the millions who will follow him, then his fate becomes tragic by the sheer weight of numbers. It seems obvious that Arthur Miller intended Willy to symbolize workers under capitalism. They start off full of hopes, dreams, and enthusiasm when they are young, but most of them end up like Willy--worn out, disillusioned, defeated, discarded, despised by their own children, still struggling to pay off their debts, still wondering what went wrong with their plans. If Willy Loman is regarded as a type rather than as an individual, then his tragic flaw is his belief in the American dream. Like millions of other men, he was not able to achieve his dreams of success, and so he projected his dreams onto his son Biff. But Biff was beginning to see the reality and the deception involved in the system. If Biff's disillusionment were to become universal, then a change would take place in the system. The difference between Death of a Salesman and classic tragedies such as those performed by the ancient Greeks seems to be that the heroes of the old tragedies were strong, dynamic individuals while the hero of Death of a Salesman is a symbol of millions of little people.
Dictionary.com defines a Tragic Hero as: a literary character who makes an error of judgment or has a fatal flaw that, combined with fate and external forces, brings on a tragedy
Based on this definition, we can come to the conclusion that Willy is in fact a tragic hero.
1. We know Willy made an error of judgement by pursuing the idea that reputation is more relevant than knowledge or education in an ever evolving, improving business world that has a high demand for work to get done efficiently. This could also be considered his fatal flaw if not his depression (living in the past).
2. We know that his downfall was provoked by an external force; success through reputation no longer held true for a salesman due to the culture of business changing over the years, and Howard fires Willy.
3. Lastly we know that the story ends with Willy committing suicide, which most people would call a tragedy, because this is a fatal event. Although admittedly if you want to be technical it depends on the definition used for "tragedy".
There are many unknown answers for "Death of a Salesman," but we can at least go on what is most likely. If you ask me, I believe it is more likely that Willy is a tragic hero, than simply a sad, pathetic man. Regardless of what is wrong and right, this man pursued what he believed was right till the very end, to me this is part of what a man is, if not a hero.
I do not see Willy as a tragic hero at all. I do not view him as pathetic either. He is a man who has visions of grandeur and who desperately wanted to be much more of a success than he was. He also longed to be truly liked and greatly respected. He envisioned himself as being more popular and liked than he was. He longed for the acceptance and love he never got from his occupation, so he created this false vision of himself. I felt sorry for Willy, actually. He struggled with so much and did not have the tools to deal with those struggles, so the only way out was to kill himself, which is never a good option.
I felt sorry for Willy as well (though most of my students were relieved when he killed himself.) We talked about whether he was a tragic hero, and we agreed that he was. Though he wasn't born into any form of royalty, he was ultimately responsible for his own fate and had a tragic flaw--both of which were an inability to see success more than being well liked and only defining success in those terms. He was blind to everything else in his life. And, obviously, he meets with a tragic death, which, happening offstage, mirrors Oedipus'.
I would have to say no. A tragic hero is tragic because he has all the elements of greatness. He could be something great and grand and memorable, but through his own failings, all that greatness is turned to horror. Here, Willy doesn't ever have the elements of greatness. He's a sad small man who wants to do great things, but he never has. Aristotle says that a tragedy or tragic hero should have a peripeteia... a turning point. Willy never goes from success to failure because he never knows how to succeed at all. Certainly he has a hamartia (fatal flaw) in his ignorance and arrogance, but he never has an anagnorisis (a moment of realization where his knows his fatal flaw has caused his life to unravel). Up until the very end, Willy believes the world has treated him unfairly and that he is just the pawn who has no control over his destiny.
I wouldn't call Willy tragic... just sad and small.
Is Willy Loman a tragic hero. I think yes. The main characteristics of a tragic hero are as follows:
1. Usually of noble birth
-No, Willy is not of noble birth. However, he is a father and husband, and evidently the head of the family. Therefore giving him some power over people close to him.
2. Hamartia – a.k.a. the tragic flaw that eventually leads to his downfall.
-Does Willy have a tragic flaw. Yes! He is unable to face reality and realize that he and Biff are unsuccessful. And yes, this does eventually lead to his downfall, his suicide.
3. Peripeteia – a reversal of fortune brought about by the hero’s tragic flaw
-Willy's reversal of fortune was clearly brought on by himself when he goes into get a job in town and ends up fired because he is so crazy. He also denies another very promising job. These are all due to his inablity to face reality.
4. His actions result in an increase of self- awareness and self-knowledge
-Near the end of act II Willy faces reality and understands that Biff is unsuccessful. He also realizes that he is not as well-liked as he always thought.
5. The audience must feel pity and fear for this character.
-Even though I did not like Willy as a person, after all he cheated on his wife and would not let his son live his life, i felt bad for him. He was a crazy old man that was doomed from the very beginning.
I think these characteristics of a tragic hero could all define Willy, which defines Willy as a tragic hero.
After reading the previous postings on the prompt: Is Willy Loman a tragic hero? There seemed to be one key factor which decided if Willy was or was not a tragic hero, this was if the person believed that there were external factors and fate controlling the out come of Willy's life or if it was up to Willy to change his destiny but was unable to due to a tragic flaw.
In my opinion I feel that both of these factors need to be taken into consideration, yes Willy does have a tragic flaw, he is living in a reality world believeing that himself and his sons have greater success then what they are really living in.
Kara stated that Willy was doomed from the very beginning, does this in fact imply that his fate was already chosen for him and no matter what he did, (for example take the job offer from Charlie) he would be unable to change his circumstance? Yes Willy was not royalty and he didn't have the best of life, but the American Dream is about opportunity that no other countries have, Willy could have changed his life. As his son said he had the right idea just all the wrong dreams.
Many feel pity towards Willy Noman, why? Willy cheated on his wife, was caught by his son, who never fully recovered from the shock yet still loved him dearly, and Willy was never willing to step up and take account for his faults. Instead he chose to live in an unreal world leading the life he wish he had. It is Bif who we should have pity for not his insane father.
There may not be a tragic hero in this book but there is a tragedy, it is that a man living in the land of opportunity gives up that chance to chase dreams that only exists in a fantasy world while his wife and children are left to care for themselves.
***Post #7 is also mine.. it over exceed the word count so I had to do two postings...
As much as I want to feel love for Willy and pity his case, I cannot deny the fact that I have no sympathy for him as a husband or father. One can look at the characteristics of a tragic hero and pick out a couple that do identify with him, but the majority show he comes up short of that lable.
-No noble birth, and he wanted to be noble more than anything, but his desire for that status is what ultimately made him miss out on it.
-I will admit, Willy does have a tragic flaw of not being able to detach himself from his son, Biff. But I believe his obsession with his son's success was fueled by his motives to be known as the dad who raised and brought him up as a child, and its hard to find any sympathy in such selfishness.
-Willy's fortune was never reversed, it seemed as if he was destined for a ending such that he experienced. From the start of the book, to the end, there was no reason to predict otherwise that his demise would be exactly what it was, his death.
-The most important factor that sways me to the anti tragic hero side, is that there was no point in the story that I felt pity for Willy Loman. He brought all of his troubles upon himself, and tried to scrape together some honor to his name with his death.
These selfish moves on his part make me ultimately say nay to the idea of him as a tragic hero.
I believe Willy Loman is a tragic hero.
Willy's greatest character flaw is his faulty view of his over-inflated success. He spends too much time pretending to be much more then he really is and ignoring the reality of his life. This inability to cope with the real world eventually leads to his death. Willy was the source of his own depression and ultimate end, a very important trait of a tragic hero. It was his individual actions that lead to his downfall, and his own fault that his life got so twisted.
Aristotle said that "A man doesn't become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall". Willy does know what led him to his sad state. When Bernard questions him about what happened in Boston, and why Biff came back so different, Willy immediately clams up and gets very defensive. I think this is because he knows that he was the reason Biff changed and lost interest in everything. He knows that it is his fault his family is torn apart. Of course he chooses to live in a fantasy world and push this fact aside, but he does realize that it was his flaw that lead to his downfall.
It is also said that others often suffer when a tragic hero messes up. In this case, Willy's family has suffered a great deal. Linda, Biff, and Happy all witness his insane behavior due to his great character fault, and it drags and destroyes their family.
I think it can be proved that Willy Loman is indeed a tragic hero.
Willy Loman cannot be a tragic hero, not even a modern one at that. Aristotle set a guild line of specific characteristics those of which have to be applied to a character in order for them to be a true tragic hero. Noble birth is the one that is most easily counted out because in this modern age their is no noble birth, but noble actions has taken birth rights. If Willy ever portrayed noble actions, he might have been looked at as a hero, but since he was cheating on his wife who adored him, I cannot say he had strong noble actions.
Willy has all the characteristics of tragedy, with his unfortunate mental condition and leading to his own death. But never once did he realize that his past actions were what lead up to the events before his death were his own fault. Willy cannot be called a hero even though his tragedy fills the average requirement of both sides of a tragic hero.
I think Willy is not a tragic hero as well he is not the one who causes sadness and failure to himself.
it's soecity that turnes him down, the American usually don't look to the lower classes as human , or in another expression they see them nothing . becaue of that Willy tried hardly to gain power and success but he fails to do so. The thing that make me more sympathy with Willy is his way to deney the truth, by showing his family and friends that he is successful and he will do something interesting and useful. But infact he is has a tragic flaw.
Join to answer this question
Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.Join eNotes