Audiences often respond to the central protagonist in a similar way to that of other characters. This is quite possibly the case in Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman. This means that there are certain controlling factors over how an audience would perceive Willy Loman. This is obviously not the only element contributing to the audience’s view of Willy as a tragic hero of the amount of sympathy placed on him. Death of a salesman is representative of a capitalist system in which Willy is a mere cog. This puts Willy in negative and unsympathetic light as this system is referred to negatively through out the play. The most substantial factors that will effect audience perception will be the views of other characters on Willy.
When analysing Willy’s tragic significance and the sympathy towards him through the views of other characters it is important to note that character views are like the audience subjective and are not the final line in Willy’s characterisation. If Willy is in fact a tragic hero in a tragedy, the tragic elements must be identified by the audience. This is also done though Willy’s interaction and conversation with other characters that amplify and show the tragic elements. For example the central protagonist of most tragedy’s often has a significant character flaw which makes them suffer, this flaw is explored and identified through Willy’s communication with other characters and enables the audience to gain a sense of the psychology and emotion of Willy Loman as he under goes his suffering.
Linda, being a very significant character has a large impact on the audience’s response to Willy. She has an undying and unconditional love for Willy that appears everlasting:
“- because I love him. He’s the dearest man in the world to me,”
This love that Linda has for Willy indicates that there is a great deal of good and worth in him. Linda sees her husband as a hero, and desires only to be happy with him; because this view is coming from such an upright character it has a substantial effect on the audience in that Linda’s views are reciprocated.
For this effect to take place on the audience needs to have respect for Linda in order to share her views on a character they could quite easily dislike. Miller has made this point more substantial by characterising Linda as a respected woman, full of strength, dignity and upright morals. A specific example of this is how she stands by him while his flaw of self deception causes him to suffer and he visibly deteriorates, Linda standing loyally next to him also suffers as a result of this:
Biff: Your Hair…Your hair has got so grey.
Linda: Oh it’s been grey since you were at high school.
It is clear from her sons perception that Linda is physically deteriorating, which the audience can later presume is due to her knowing that Willy is suicidal, yet she stands by him and she loyally makes excuses for her own deterioration so not to distract any attention from her sons so they can focus on their father.
The effect that Linda has on the audience’s perception of Willy as a hero is substantial. She also causes the audience to sympathise with him as they empathise with her. She is seen as a loyal worthy fine lady, so consequently she is respected by the audience, as well as any decision that she makes. So her decisions to love, respect and defend Willy Loman in his time of need is effects the audience. They start to see Willy as a man in need and this causes them to sympathise with him. He is also seen as a man who is going through difficulty and persevering which does cause the audience to look on Willy as a tragic hero. The fact that she goes to lengths to protect him indicates there is something there to protect.
The sense of foreboding in the play does indeed mount up to the death of Willy Loman and is representative of the fall of the protagonist. The character responses to this event are dealt with in the requiem. Linda is in a state of confusion as she does not understand why Willy has done killed himself:
“I don’t understand it. Why did you do that? Help me, I can’t cry”
Linda does not understand how her love and support was not enough for her husband. The audience here may not be sympathising with Willy so much but with Linda, at the situation that he has put his wife in. As Linda is seen is such a respected way this could affect the amount of sympathy the audience shows towards Willy. However the audience is reassured of Linda’s everlasting supportiveness:
“We’re free and clear…We’re Free”
The objective that Linda and her husband have been striving to accomplish together has been achieved. Indeed Willy is also free through taking his own life and will know longer through self deception. Linda in a time where she could quite easily and justifiably be angry with Willy still shows him respect and admiration:
“He was so wonderful with his hands”
This could have the effect that, the audience like Linda does not look negatively upon Willy but with confusion and respect, which comes from a man struggling to survive in a world he didn’t want to be in, the act perhaps of a tragic hero.
Linda’s view is not shared with other characters in the play, which creates conflict in how the audience sympathises with Willy. This is quite intentional and Miller does not intend to portray Miller as a classic tragic hero as Willy’s suffering is largely down to factors he has caused that he had full control over.
It is clear from an early stage that Biff has little respect Willy and it becomes apparent that this was due to him discovering his father was having an affair:
“Because I know he’s fake and he doesn’t like having anyone round who knows.”
This tarnishes any admiration Biff had for Willy and negatively affects their relationship. This causes Biff to focus on the harmful things that Willy has done to his wife his brother and indeed himself. However this can still make the audience sympathise with Willy as they can see his actions in the past have ruined his present day life beyond renovation, which can make the audience feel for what Willy has lost. However Biffs view of Willy creates another perspective Willy’s characterisation one that the audience does not see as a noble tragic hero and subsequently does not give Willy any sympathy. Biff understands that his father is in a state of denial and that it is his own fault:
“He had all the wrong dreams. All, all wrong.”
Biff believes his father never really knew who he was, and his suffering was a result of this. This in effect does not portray Willy as a tragic hero as his suffering was his own fault and he was not battling against anything but himself, in Biffs’ view. However it could be argued that Willy was fighting against a capitalist system that demanded he worked for material possessions.
So in conclusion Willy does in fact receive sympathy from the audience as his deterioration and the loss of his son’s admiration and respect, which he held so dearly, causes the audience to emphasise with him. However as Willy’s downfall is self inflicted and could be seen as a selfish act, weather he is seen as a tragic hero is debateable, and is even inconsistent with other characters, so it is a largely subjective matter with fair arguments on both sides.