Should the idea of a "proper place" according to Miller be avoided altogether?Miller has said that tragedy springs from the individual's quest for a proper place in the world and from his or her...
Miller has said that tragedy springs from the individual's quest for a proper place in the world and from his or her readiness "to lay down...life, if need be, to secure [a] sense of personal dignity."
I don't see how you can avoid this very strong statement that Miller makes in his essay "Tragedy and the Common Man." He shows that tragedy is born as a result of man's inability to accept the society in which he finds himself. This refusal to compromise one's idea of him or herself is what, according to Miller, comprises the tragic hero. A tragic hero wants more than is offered, and is willing to sacrifice everything--including his life--to achieve his proper place in the universe.
When we apply this criteria to Willy Loman, though, we see the Willy does not completely fit this definition. He dies somewhat ingloriously, and his funeral is not well attended. All the friends that he believed, or wanted to believe, that he acquired through business did not show. He fails to achieve his rightful place.
Yet, Willy never gives up in the American Dream--the dream as he has defined it. He wants to live life like Dave Singleman:
'Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people. Do you know? when he died--and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his green velvet slippers in the smoker of the new York . . .--when he died, hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral.
And yet the reality is that Willy is working on straight commission, and is eventually let go from his job. Willy protests that
You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away--a man is not a piece of fruit.
Willy struggles to maintain his dignity, his proper place in the world, despite the harsh realities of the business world. But he does not give up. He turns his dreams toward his son Biff, hoping that Biff will succeed where he hasn't, hoping at least to have the respect of his son. So he gives up everything--his life--so that Biff can have twenty thousand dollars of insurance money to start a business. Willy's refusal to accept the reality of status and that of his son's make his decisions tragic.
It is hard to determine whether in fact there is a proper place for every single person. We see sometimes people who nest quite well, others that need to be in limbo, and others who are too dysfunctional to care. Those are the results of choices that people make on how they want to live their lives. Not everyone wants to get married, have kids, get a four bedroom house, or go to college. Some people live quite happily jobless and careless about life.
Now, there is indeed a tragedy in KNOWING what one's proper place is and not being there. It is altogether different because, at this point, the tragedy is that there are too many obstacles altogether, and although the individual knows where his "home", he or she simply cannot get to that place for whatever reason. This inevitability is what forms the tragedy in Miller's words.
Should the idea of a proper place be avoided to prevent tragedy? Never. Everyone needs a heaquarter, just not the same as everyone expects, nor the same as others. Everyone needs a place to plant and grow, or simply to keep themselves safe and protected. That may be a proper place for some individuals: Just a place where one simply gets left alone without seeking for too much more.
It seems that tragedy grows out of a certain kind of strength, if the tragic figure is driven to achieve dignity and in this pursuit find a "proper place". Given this notion and others from "Tragedy and the Common Man", we can see tragedy as an illuminating drama, communicating truths of society and even delineating the nature of virtue. The proper place ought not to be avoided then, but pursued because it is the object of a high pursuit.
Well, as noted above I think this idea of a "proper place" becomes vital to understanding what Miller is trying to say in a number of his plays, and not just concerning the suicide of Willy Loman. It is clear that the only way Willy Loman can salvage something from his failure of a life is to kill himself, which raises very interesting questions about the value of a man's life in a capitalist society such as the United States.