The tragic hero is a literary icon that has survived more than two thousand years. There are many characteristics that define a tragic hero, he must be of noble blood, he has a tragic flaw, you feel both pity and awe, and the their actions inextricably end in their death. In Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, we have Willie Loman, but can he be considered a hero?
The singular difference in the modern idea of the tragic hero is whether he needs to be of high estate. Willie Loman can by no means be considered of noble blood. It can easily be argued that he is nothing more than the epitome of the common man, but I would say that the character is not so hollow, he is just a regular guy, not everyone can shoot lasers from their eyes but this does not make them bland. Willie is middle class common, quite nearly typical in every way. He struggles to give his kids a better lot in life than he had, always dreaming about what could have been and eventually is robbed of his pension and damned into the position he finds himself, the only escape is madness or suicide, typical. However, it is evident to most that tragedy can befall any man, loser or renowned.
Willie Loman is prideful; it is the tragic flaw that set him on his path. It blinded him into choosing a career in sales, something of which he has no earthly clue how to do well. It is Willie’s pride that keeps him from admitting to Biff what he did all those years ago in the hotel, preventing him from fixing that fissure. His pride keeps him from admitting that maybe his kids are not now, nor ever will be the great Titans as he sees them to be. His pride impedes an honest assessment of reality, if not for his pride he could of chosen a better path for himself and his kids. The emptiness that consumes his waking life might have been replaced with an inner joy of doing what he does well everyday.
You can easily feel pity for Willie Loman, but I am not so sure that it is justified. You have to take into account that Willie’s life is in the state that it is in by his own hands. I cannot feel pity for the man that incapable of figuring out that stove is burning him every time he touches flaring red circles for a span of forty years. The most pitiful thing about him is that he has gone mad and is trying, yet takes several attempts, to kill himself, but even then he seems to have chosen this path. In the final dramatic confrontation Biff confronts his Dad with the wire. Willie does not deny it, he sits their mute he is aware of its significance and chooses instead to focus on the words of his son. “Isn’t that remarkable,” he says.
All the events of the story will lead up to the Hero’s death. Willie dies, not really a fact that is up for debate. There was no other way for it to end, Willie’s pride would not allow for it. Willy Loman, John Proctor, Eddie Carbone etc. all achieve tragic dignity because they refuse to compromise. I find the madness that engulfs Willie to be nothing more than a copout, he has knocked uncompromising out of the ballpark never to be seen again. He cannot face the world as he sees it and chooses to abandon it. “The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his sensitivity, or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force.” When we first meet Willie Loman, he has already lost the battle. He lost it forty years ago, the day he chose to become a salesman.
Willie Loman is not a hero in any classical sense of the term; his common beginnings ensure that, but is Willie Loman a hero in the modern sense? Yes, his pitiful yet awe inspiring, to some, existence condemns him to the honor. However, from my personal belief on the meaning of what it is to be a hero, I find him sorely lacking. Willie’s flaw is his pride, but pride does not a crazy person make. Willie has a few moments where you can see that he has some sort of idea of what is happening to him, “A man is not a piece of fruit,” he says. He is a pathetic shell of a man that breaks by his own choosing there is not a moment where I feel awe for him. He is a coward. He chooses death in the end, not because it is the right thing to do, or to make amends for the lie that is his life but because his pride will not allow him to fix his life.