What is Arthur Miller's view of the "common man tragedy" in Death of a Salesman?

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Willy Loman faces the kind of struggles that are more or less universal for ordinary people. He is aging, and American culture has traditionally not been kind to people as they enter their later years. This is particularly true when it comes to employment; age discrimination is real, and Willy Loman in some ways falls victim to it. Times have changed in his profession, but he is mired in the old ways of doing things. The scene with his younger boss's tape recorder is meant to emphasize the point that technology is changing the world and Willy is out of touch with those changes. Men traditionally define themselves by their career success, and Willy is forced into the uncomfortable position of realizing that he is well past his window for success.

Another way that adult men define themselves is through the success of their families. Willy cannot be proud of himself as a husband. He has been unfaithful to his loyal wife who sacrificed having nice things because of his unstable income. He clearly feels shame over his failure. Moreover, Willy cannot consider himself a successful founder of a family because his two sons show little promise personally or professionally. And finally, Willy cannot enter his retirement years with a feeling of accomplishment and financial security. He is a man filled with regret and despair, and Miller suggests that the country harbors more Willy Lomans than Charlies and Bernards, the successful characters that Willy admires.

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Arthur Miller was committed to the idea that the contemporary theater should be meaningful to the audience, rather than a dim reflection of bygone concerns and antiquated formulas and structures. In the World War II era and after, kings were few and far between, and they especially were alien to American sensibilities. Yet the grandeur of heroic deeds and motivations, combined with fatal flaws, seemed to Miller entirely relevant to the United States in which he himself had come of age.

Inverting the classic Aristotelian formulation that posited the tragic hero should be a king or lofty figure, Miller posited heroism in intent and motivation. The heart and soul of a hero could, for him, be found in anyone.

Willy Loman epitomizes what Miller wrote about as the "common man tragedy." Loman never stops trying to move beyond his apparently fore-ordained lot in life. Despite his many errors and the non-supportive attitude of his sons (reminiscent of King Lear's daughters), Loman strives to help his family—ultimately, through sacrificing his own life.

Miller's plea to place the common man at the tragedy's center is poignantly expressed in Linda's insistent imperative, "Attention must be paid to this man."

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This is a great question. Let me start off with a quote from Miller:

"I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were. On the face of it this ought to be obvious in the light of modern psychiatry, which bases its analysis upon classic formulations, such as the Oedipus and Orestes complexes, for instance, which were enacted by royal beings, but which apply to everyone in similar emotional situations."

Miller sought to make this statement a reality by his play, Death of a Salesman. He choose as his protagonist, Willy Loman, a traveling salesman. He had delusions of grandeur; but there were also glimpses of his failure as a person on many levels. He was a failure as a salesman, husband, and father. He cannot face these realities. So, he tries to keep up his illusion of success, but this wears out. He also tries at times to live vicarious through his sons, Biff and Happy, but this fails as well.

In the end, Willy sees no solution. So, he kills himself by crashing his car. Part of the reason for this was so that Biff would get the insurance money to start a business. The other reason was due to the fact that he could not face reality anymore.

Miller's point in writing a tragedy for the common man is simple. If common people can appreciate tragedy, then they can become tragic as well. He successfully shows this in Death of a Salesman.

 

 

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