He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being… Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person. Using two or three critical views as a starting point, write an analytical response to the character of Willy Loman in the play. Towards the end of act one, Linda says that Willy is ‘just’ a common man, but that he still deserves sympathy when something terrible occurs in his life. Simultaneously Arthur Miller speaks through this character to persuade his audience that Willy’s fate is vitally important, in spite of his humble status.
The implication that Miller is making is that if a person doesn’t receive the human dignity they deserve, they can be viewed as fundamentally tragic. Critics have asserted a range of interpretation’s of Willy’s character, from Gassner’s positive assessment that Willy’s “battle for self-respect… [,his] refusal to surrender… [and his] agony… gives him tragic status”, to the more negative views of, say, Driver, who believes “It is in the lack of penetration that Miller fails us… we must settle for no more enlightenment… than pathetic Willy has.
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” Miller clearly wanted the audience to feel sympathetic towards Willy. To achieve this he advances three main criteria for tragedy: That Willy is a common man, that he loses dignity and that society is to blame for his downfall. Firstly, Willy Loman is a common man. We know this because he is an ordinary American, with an unremarkable job. Willy can also be associated with many men, living in America, in the 1940’s, because of his financial constraints. For example when Linda is listing the amount of money that they owe for their possessions.
“Well on the first there’s sixteen dollars on the refrigerator. ” there is symbolism used to show the pressure that Willy feels, this is the sample cases that he carries at the beginning of the play. Another way that Willy is common is the language that he uses for example at the end of act one he says, “Gee, look at the moon moving between the buildings! ” When he says “gee” this is a slang word making him common. One argument against Miller making his main character common, is that common men may be considered dull calling into question whether they have sufficient impact on an audience to be tragic.
As Muller says “the fastidious critics of the quarter lies generally dismissed it as a ‘very dull business’ without illumination or pity,” I believe that Muller makes a valid point about how dull Willy is and how this affects the play. An example of how Willy’s dullness is, when Willy becomes upset about his wife buying a different type of cheese than normal. “Why do you get American when I like Swiss? ” It seems that the type of cheese that Linda buys is an important thing in his life. If cheese seems to be a large factor in somebody’s life, then not much more can be happening, making him not very interesting.
Some may argue, however, that his very dullness strikes a chord with the audience because we too are frustrated by domestic trivialities, such as broken fridges, as well as more serious, but common issues, for example, the laziness of our children. An audience can also relate to Willy’s flaws and sympathise with him. One of his flaws is losing his job. In act two when Willy goes to see Howard and results in getting the sack, Howard says, “Kid I can’t take blood from a stone, I-” I believe that the way Howard calls Willy ‘Kid’ is patronizing and there is a condescending quality to this diminutive noun.
Other aspects of Willy’s experience which produce sympathy are his mental illness, how other people treat him and how he cannot give up. Miller is also successful in making Willy lose dignity, the second main criteria he feels makes someone tragic. One example of this would be when Willy has to go to Charley and beg for money, “Charley, look… I got my insurance to pay. If you could manage it – I need a hundred and ten dollars. ” The language used in this quotation is hesitant and embarrassed. He is losing his dignity because he has to admit defeat and ask for money making him seem pathetic and worthless.
This may make an audience feel sympathetic towards him because he is desperate. Another example of Willy losing his dignity is at the end of the restaurant scene, when Willy is left on his own and Happy is embarrassed to call him his father. “No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy…” This shows that Happy is embarrassed by his father’s behaviour and he is ashamed. This is also a very big lie and it is said without hesitation, showing that Happy is comfortable, lying about his father. I believe that it is pitiful, the fact that Willy’s children are ashamed of him.
Some, however, may argue that Willy doesn’t deserve the dignity that he has because of how he treated his family and his biggest flaw, committing adultery. During his recollection of his time with The Woman, Willy says, “Alright, stay in the bathroom… I think there’s a law in Massachusetts about it,” Willy is presumably referring to the law prohibiting potential adulterous behaviour. Personally, I cannot forgive Willy for this flaw, although others believe that because it was a common thing that happened that it could be forgiven.
Other flaws that Willy has include: the way he treats his family, his mental illness and his ignorance to what is going on around him. Considering all of Willy’s flaws, I believe that Vogel’s point is too generous. Vogel says that the audience has “learnt the meaning of the tragedy of the salesman… ” and that Miller has “awoken catharsis in us. ” In my opinion, I think that Willy’s flaws cannot be forgiven and this creates a feeling of contempt rather than catharsis. Miller tries to persuade us that part of Willy’s tragedy is created by American society and the materialistic views of that era.