Willy Loman, the Tragic Hero A mighty warrior, slain during a battle while defending his familys honor comes to mind when we consider what makes a hero; not the image of a traveling salesman committing suicide to acquire personal satisfaction. In Millers play Death of A Salesman, Willy Lomans desire for success became his central drive with such intensity that it created a smoke screen blocking reality in his mind. The only way in which Willy can live up to his presentation of himself to the world would be to lay down his life so that his family could obtain insurance money. Willys sacrificed life for insurance money constituted him as a hero to his family and constituted tragedy because he can never achieve the success that he desires. Willy Loman tried desperately to convince everyone around him that he was successful, dignified, and well liked by his customers. The desire for success could be magnified in the sales field due to the enormous amount of competition that exists in this career.
Due to the fact that Willy can consider lying down his life to acquire personal satisfaction and fulfillment, he fits the profile of a hero. In Literature and the Writing Process, Millers idea of a Modern Tragic Hero indicated there must be... a clash between the character and the environment, especially social environment (692). Willy definitely has a serious conflict with his environment. He must visit his friend Charlie to request cash to make ends meet, and yet, when Charlie offers Willy a job, he refuses stating Ive got a job (Miller 74). Willy really needs a new position in which he will not have to travel but he is so jealous of Charlie he can not accept the position that is offered. This is an example of the conflict that Willy suffers within himself and the environment around him.
Consider the era in which Miller wrote this play, men generally took great pride in providing for their families an Willy had a difficult time living up to that task. The sorrow a devoted head of household must feel when inadequate funds are available for basic needs could be an overwhelming burden. A second example of conflict Willy has with his environment revolves around his two sons. In Willys mind he believed that his son Bif can become successful without taking into account that Bif was not disciplined or guided through his educational years to obtain a grand level of success. Bernard informs his Uncle Willy that Bif will be failing if he does not pull his grades up. Willy ignores Bernard and believes, that simply because Bif has scholarships, it will be impossible for Bif to fail.
Willy informs his sons that they will do better than Bernard in the business world even though Bernard has the higher grades. Willy states Be liked and you will never want (Miller 21). Bif is so popular that Willy believes he will be more successful than Bernard can ever hope. Willy simply ignores reality and makes the determinations of future outcomes and ignores factual information.
Although some would find it hard to understand how Willy Loman could be a tragic hero, looking at the definition and comparing it to this play makes it clear. Willys environment provides daily evidence that he is not successful. He has failed at his career, failed to assist his sons with their early education, and even failed his wife by having an affair. Willy determines in his mind that he must commit suicide.
All of the years and effort he has put forth amounts to nothing and he believes... you end up worth more dead than alive (Miller 76). The conflict for Willy ends the day his life ends.
McMahan, Elizabeth, Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. Literature and the Writing Process. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1999.
Miller, Authur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penquin Books Ltd., 1998.