Way back in the history of time, a philosopher named Aristotle set up guidelines, six in all, for the perfect tragic hero. Vincent Van Gogh was a tragic hero. He had the gift of being able to paint and perceive colors different from others, but he was a drunk, and hated by most of the people around him. In the end he committed suicide. Long after his death people had come to love his work. Willy Lowman from “Death of a Salesman” is a wonderful model of the tragic hero Aristotle painted for us.
Willy Lowman was a man trying to live out the American dream. Linda was his stay at home wife and he had two point five sons, Biff and Happy. He worked as a salesman to support his family, “I’m the New England man, I’m vital in New England” (pg. 163). He worked hard for thirty four years at the Wagner Company. His inspiration was Dave Singleman, a man who could go into a town, pick up a phone, and be able to place many orders without ever leaving his hotel room. When Singleman died, people from all over the country came to his funeral.
Even though Willy was a hard working man, he still had qualities or faults that made him human: “Other men- I don’t know- they do it easier. I don’t know why- I can’t stop myself- I talk too much” (pg 180). Willy had simple and common human faults such as talking too much, speaking of frequent fatigue, and his constant lustful appetite. Willy found himself slowly not having enough money to suffice for his family. Each week he brought in less and less income.
Willy’s ultimate downfall was he refused to come to reality; he was living in an illusion. He continuously flashed back throughout the play to when his sons were in high school, when his brother Ben visited, and when he was having an affair with a woman in another town. Willy wasn’t well-liked by the people he worked with, and he was borrowing money from his neighbor Charley to pay his insurance bill, even though Willy was too proud to take a job from him. Soon Willy would have more value dead.
Willy had gone to negotiate with his boss, Howard Wagner, to try to get a position in New York so he wouldn’t have to travel. He ended up getting fired. He had no income; having to borrow from Charley once more “I’m strapped” he had no money to pay his mortgage or insurance “I don’t know what to do,” Willy had let his pride get the better of him, “I was just fired” (pg 224).
In Willy’s remaining hours of life he comes to realize that he was of more value dead than alive. With his insurance paid his family would receive compensation. His family received enough money to pay off the mortgage on the house he and Linda shared. After Willy committed suicide Linda paid off the mortgage on their house.
The house was paid off, but it seemed that there was nobody to live in it. Willy’s whole life was an illusion. He finally snapped back to reality right before he killed himself. His loved ones had pity for him: “[…] the man didn’t know who he was” (pg 256). He had wasted his whole life, and never achieved the American dream.
Willy Lowman is a wonderful model of Aristotle’s tragic hero. He meets all six of the criteria to be a tragic hero. He is noble, but still has human faults. His human faults create his downfall and his punishment exceeds his crime. In the end he gains self knowledge, but is pitied by his loved ones.