The play and novel Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller describes the difficult and tragic truths that the main character, Willy Loman, and his family have to face. The play shows several characteristics that identify it as a tragedy. Three reasons are that Willy and others make choices that inevitably lead to his death, Willy’s family is drawn into the tragedy, and the characters have characteristics that are common is a tragedy such as stubbornness.
The characters in Death of a Salesman make choices that lead to his inevitable tragedy. Willy Loman is suffering from remorse of all the bad things that have happened in his life. He chose to repress these thoughts by thinking of how good it was in the past, a time of peace when his family was perfect. As time progresses Willy makes some tragic errors that will lead to the loss of his son’s respect and eventually Willy’s life. His first wrong choice was when he chose to cheat on his wife while out of town on business. Biff, Willy’s eldest son, is deeply affected by this. Willy’s life is now spiraling downwards. He loses his job and he is forced to borrow money from Charley, his friend. Another wrong choice occurs at this point when Willy refuses to take a job offered by Charley. Willy refuses this offer and Charley blames this on jealousy. Nearing the end of the play, Willy buys seeds so he can plant a garden outside his house. This choice can be symbolic of growth and rebirth of his family. The final and crucial choice Willy Loman makes is his decision to kill himself. Once Willy realizes that Biff loves him enough to
cry for him, Willy believes it’s the right choice to kill himself to provide the family with the insurance money.
Innocent bystanders are often hurt by the choices of the protagonist. Biff finds out about the affair between his father and the woman. From that point on, Biff regards his father as a fake and a liar. He gave up on school, football, and the rest of his life. Biff became a lost soul searches for where he belongs. He roamed around the West before returning to his parents’ house. Tension between Biff and his father remain unresolved until the very end of the play. At that point, Willy realizes that Biff loves him and decides to kill himself to give his family the insurance money. Willy’s wife, Linda, is constantly supporting Willy’s disillusion. Even though she sees suicide signs, she continues to support him because she doesn’t want Willy to lose his pride. Willy’s other son, Happy, is constantly seeking his father’s attention. Happy doesn’t want the family to be torn apart. He tries to fix the tension between Biff and Willy.
Personality characteristics play a part in making this play a tragedy. Willy can be described as a stubborn, jealous person. Combine this with his mental instability and it creates the suicidal Willy that is clearly seen. Willy is too stubborn to take Charley’s job offering. His doesn’t want to lose his pride as a man. To Willy, accepting the job offer would be like receiving federal aid during the Great Depression. Men of all families during the Great Depression waited until they couldn’t possibly survive any more to take the federal aid. To them, it was a symbol of weakness, and it showed that they failed as the man of the family. In Willy’s case, this job offering is much like that. Willy’s jealous is another troublesome characteristic. Willy is constantly having flashbacks of his late
brother, Ben, who accidently struck it rich in Africa. Willy judges all success based on his brother’s. This is a mistake because Ben became rich by accident, and he didn’t have to put any work into it. To be successful, you have to work for it. Willy wants his sons to be just as successful as Ben.
Death of a Salesman is a great, American tragedy. Willy Loman makes several wrong decisions that inevitably lead to his death. These decisions also cause bystanders to be drawn into the tragedy. Willy’s family suffers because of his decisions. Characteristics including stubbornness and jealously are seen in Willy. These characteristics lead to even more problems and his death. Willy Loman believed he died in honor by sacrificing his life for money for his family. Although his family may disagree, he believed he did the right thing.