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Death Of A Salesman And All My Sons As Optimistic Tragedies

4243 words - 17 pages

Death of a Salesman and All My Sons as Optimistic Tragedies


    This essay deals with Arthur Miller, and his uniqueness as a tragic playwright. The research question that this paper attempted to answer was, why were Miller's plays different from many other tragedies. Two of Arthur Miller's tragedies were used in this essay, Death of a Salesman and All My Sons. The thesis of this essay is, Arthur Miller deviates from the standard perception of tragedy in his plays, Death of a Salesman and All My Sons because unlike other tragedies, they are optimistic in that the main character causes the tragedy for what they perceive to be the greater good.

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He is known throughout America and in many parts of the world for his tragedies. Miller has worked in other forms of literature, including his own autobiography, but he is most famous for his plays that he has been writing for more than sixty years, and continues to write. He has received many prestigious awards, including the Avery Hopwood Award, and his greatest honor, the Pulitzer Prize for his play, Death of a Salesman. Besides writing plays, Miller has also written books and essays. One of his more interesting essays was on the definition of a tragic play. He is one of the many literary scholars who have created their own definition of a tragedy. Arthur Miller deviates from the standard perception of tragedy in his plays, Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, and A View from the Bridge because unlike other tragedies, they are optimistic in that the main character causes the tragedy for what they perceive to be the greater good.

What Defines a Tragedy

The definition of tragedy has been argued for thousands of years. Literary scholars have different ideas, none of them wrong, but distinct in their own ways. Some have loose definitions, with very flexible standards. There are others that believe quite the opposite, having very strict definitions with no room for variations. Aristotle was one of these latter scholars. His definition was very exact, with no room for flexibility. He believed that, "A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself; in language with pleasurable accessories, in a dramatic, not in narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, where with to accomplish its catharsis."1 This definition is very binding, giving the impression that if one doesn't fit all of these requirements then it's not a tragedy. There needs to be more variation, room for playwrights to make their tragedy different from others, not all plays should have the same components. The definition of a tragedy needs to be broader than that, but not without any rules.

Arthur Miller also defined tragedy. There are several different things that Miller believes make a tragedy. One is that the main character does whatever he has to do to secure his personal sense of dignity. Miller says, "tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly."2 Pride goes along with this, which is also a major part of many of Miller's tragedies. The character's "personal sense of dignity" can also be seen as his pride. This isn't true in all cases, but in many. Another key part of a tragedy, according to Arthur Miller, is the "tragic flaw" that the main character has. The tragic flaw is the characteristic that the character has that makes him fail, whatever it may be. The character fails because he tries to overcome this flaw, but does not succeed. Miller explains, "nor is it necessarily a weakness. The flaw, or crack in the character, is really nothing--and need be...

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