Oedipus, Macbeth, Lear, Hamlet, Othello "or Willy Loman. Must classic tragedy embrace just the Aristotelian "fall of princes," or may it also include the modern common man? Playwright Arthur Miller believes that the common man can be a center of dramatic interest, and he demonstrated this belief in Death of a Salesman, a tragedy about a very common common-man: a salesman from Brooklyn. Utilizing modern scenery while incorporating the characteristics of an Aristotelian tragedy, Death of a Salesman combines realism and surrealism in the story of a small man swallowed up in a world of sham and shoddy values. Willy Loman is bewildered, well-intentioned, and unsuccessful: "Suddenly I realize I'm going sixty miles an hour, and I don't remember the last five minutes- (Miller 1322). Through a process of zigzagging that spans the past, present and future, Miller presents his tragic hero, Willy Loman, in the midst of a crisis, delusional as result of his failure to succeed in life. He blindly believes he is popular, respected and good looking, but at age 63, he is none of these. His sons are upset by his peculiar behavior and his hallucinatory conversations with figures from a happier past, and they worry about the effect on their compassionate mother, who loves her husband and recognizes that his actions stem from the brutal difference between fact and fancy. Willy Loman is indeed a pathetic and tragic hero of Death of a Salesman, for his problems stem from his own delusions, not unlike Oedipus. His arrogance and bogus respect crumble, just as Oedipus, giving Death of a Salesman the mark of a modern Aristotelian tragedy. "It is curious, although edifying, that the plays we revere, century after century, are the tragedies. In them, and in them alone, lies the belief - optimistic, if you will, in the perfectibility of man" (Barnet, et al 483).
However, if Death of a Salesman is truly a tragedy, one must ask what is behind the honors.