Evan Shang

Critical Review on Death of a Salesman


Many critics believe that Willy is just a mere pitiful fool who does not have the requirements that are fit for a tragic hero. Believing that Willy is pitiful is something most people do when encountering him for the first time. But if we get into our “felt experience” (Martin), we can see that he is more than just a pitiful fool. We receive a deeper understanding of Willy and how he actually is a tragic hero despite others saying he is nothing more than a pitiful man blinded by delusions. Willy gives us a sense of his idealism and his will to succeed in all odds makes us feel more for him than just pity. His ability to act freely, courageously, and with extreme optimism declares him more than a pathetic and insensitive man.

As Miller said in “Tragedy and the Common Man”, tragedy has more to do with optimism than pessimism. According to Miller’s definition of tragedy and the tragic hero, a possibility of victory must be present in the hero’s mind and the character must be able to gain self-awareness. Critics argue that there was no possible victory for Willy, his rightful place in society was as a crafts man (since he was good at using his hands), Willy doesn’t not gain any self-awareness in the end, and concluding that Miller has failed to produce a tragedy. It is true, that in our eyes will doesn’t fulfill all the requirements but once we get into our “felt experience” and view the world from Willy’s eyes we can see that he truly is a tragic hero.

Willy holds his beliefs firmly in the American Dream that a “well-liked” and personally attractive man in business will inevitably obtain the materialistic values associated with the American Dream. His dreams of being well-liked are further propagated by the path left by his late brother, Ben. This dream is ironically pushed into Willy’s mind by his wife Linda. Even though, we know that Willy can’t possibly succeed in this business world, but in Willy’s mind he feels that he has a chance at becoming a good salesman (the possible chance of victory). This chance of victory is implanted accidently in his mind by all the compliments Linda gives him despite her knowing the truth about his career, giving him a sense of possible victory. Although Willy’s true place in society is as a crafts man, but Willy doesn’t realize that, thus not gaining that self-awareness in the end. If we view this point of another perspective, as Willy dies, he believes that during his funeral a herd of people he met before will come and grief for his death. Therefore in the end, Willy believes that he has gained status as a great salesman.

Although this play was written over 60 years ago and still is considered almost ancient, tragedies exists in our modern lives. It portrays exactly how a tragic hero is in the modern era extremely well with the case of Willy Loman.