In what ways can we apply the ideas of the article 'Tragedy and the Common Man’ by Arthur Miller to the play 'Death of a Salesman'?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that there a couple of applications from Miller's idea of tragedy to Willy's predicament in the drama.  The most elemental would be Miller's construction of tragedy as an idea that tragedy may depict ordinary people in domestic surroundings.  As opposed to the Classical conception of tragedy which elevates the concept to royalty and those of the highest order, Miller democratizes it, making it something that can be applied to ordinary people set against the most cruel of matrices.  In this light, Willy's predicament is highly tragic.  There is nothing extraordinary about Willy.  This is where he is the most tragic.  The stars and configurations do not align themselves against him because he is royal or because he has offended the will of the Gods, but rather because he is a typical individual, motivated by his own passions and beliefs.  This has resulted in a tragic condition of epic proportions.  Along these lines, Miller's depiction of tragedy is one that is subjective, highly personal.  There is nothing external about it.  When Miller originally conceived of the play, he wanted to create a drama where the audience can examine the results of unfulfilled dreams in the mind of the individual.  In this light, tragedy is not something that lies outside of an individual, but rather is located in the seat of the individual and is one that resides in their own passions and dreams.  In this light, Miller's democratization and internalization of tragedy is something that makes Willy highly tragic.

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