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Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

This research examines Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman as a tragedy as defined by Aristotle in the Poetics. The research will set forth the context in which Death of a Salesman has been labeled a tragedy and against which it can be measured based on Aristotle's theory, and then argue that, although Miller's play is undoubtedly a serious drama and undoubtedly shares certain attributes with the classical definition, to consider it a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense would be to misconstrue Aristotle's definition and to grant too much interpretive power to Miller's own view of what he calls tragedy and the common man.

In order to show the relationship between Death of a Salesman and Aristotelian theory of tragedy, it is useful to examine Aristotle's definition of tragedy, which he says is

the representation of an action that is worth serious attention, complete in itself, and of some amplitude; in language enriched by a variety of artistic devices appropriate to the several parts of the play; presented in the form of action, not narration; by means of pity and fear bringing about the purgation of such emotions (Aristotle 38-9).

Uncertainty or contingency of action is balanced by the fact that actions definitely have consequences, usually disastrous, but always resolved in a way that demonstrates the completeness of the action. The immediate emotional or sensory impact of tragedy speaks to its theatricality, although Aristotle points out that tragic power "is independent both of performance and of actors, and besides, the production of spectacular effects is more the province of the property-man than of the playwright (Aristotle 41). In other words, it is the thought or pattern of ideas that inform plot and action that distinguishes tragedy.

Death of a Salesman would appear to be consistent with Aristotle's definition, inasmuch as it is a serious play. Miller makes just such a case in his much-cited essay on the play, stati...

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Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 11:59, May 29, 2020, from