In Death of a Salesman, is Willy a tragic figure?
To answer this question we are looking at whether or not Willy is to blame for his present situation or if he has he been the victim of circumtances he could not contol.
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Willy Lowman did the best he could with the circumstances presented to him during the time he lived within in the play. I would have to say that Willy is a tragic figure. He was a man that could have not worked and drank leaving his family without support through the years.
Instead, Willy went to work in a field that he thought would enable him to progress to achieving the American Dream. His desire to have a family with a home of his own and a car were not expectations greater than he could have hoped to achieve. Willy's efforts to make ends meet changed with the times and the role of salesmen.
Willy's tragedy is that he was unable to change with the times and pursue alternate career paths that may have kept him on the right track. He forewent his education for a job that provided promises of a future. Willy was also locked into a world of delusion in which he could not leave. Mentally he deteriorated even further.
This subject can be argued in both directions.
If we argue that Willy is a victim of circumstances, we can point to his adherence to his society's vision of success. Willy is dedicated to a very specific definition of success and, falling short of that vision, he is unable to recognize his moderate accomplishments.
It is his sense of failure, ultimately, that leads to his suicide. If Willy were able to recognize his accomplishments (paying off a house, raising a family, etc.), he would, perhaps, be capable of celebrating a life lived instead of lamenting and despairing over a life of failure.
Willy, clearly, is not in control of defining the American Dream that he so avidly believes in. His society provides this vision of success. If this dream can be said to be responsible for Willy's demise, we can see Willy as a tragic figure, subject to a destruction not of his own creation.
In the other direction, we can argue that Willy has had many opportunities to turn away from this vision of success. Biff stands as a very sharp example of how this can be done. Biff comes to recognize his own, personal reality. He admits to the truth of who he is. If Biff has the power and strength to do this, Willy's failure to do so must be seen as an aspect of his personal weakness.
Seen in this way, Willy's failure is a failure of moral strength.
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