Death of a Salesman; Aristotle’s Six Elements of a Drama
Aristotle defines the drama Death of a Salesman as a tragedy. Throughout this review, the reader will see how Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman meets each of the six categories that Aristotle defines as being pertinent to the concept of a dramatic tragedy. The playwright also affirms other properties such as the plot, character, thought, diction, song, and spectacle.
The initial level of the definition is the plot of the drama. According to Aristotle, this indicated four things. The first is that the scheme needs to be whole with a beginning, middle, and an end. In the Death of a Salesman, this factor is satisfied (Poetics1.7). For Aristotle, the dramatic play must adhere to these, and neither starts nor ends indiscriminately. In this drama, the chief character, Willy Loman, confesses to himself that he is at the end of his career. He follows that acceptance with the recognition that his family deserves better than he can give, thereby choosing to commit suicide (Miller). The end of the drama allows every secondary actor to provide their perception on the circumstance and the reactions of Willy Loman, thereby giving not only Willy his last words, but those that the incidents have affected. Example Ben’s last saying was, “The jungle is dark but full of diamonds” this turns Willy’s suicide in a metaphorical moral struggle.
Aristotle’s second category is character. At this stage, Aristotle meant that the main character or the tragic character would cause their downfall (Poetics 2.13). In this sense, Willy Loman is a tragic hero. Instead of being honest with himself and others, he tells them how much his customers like him and how great he is doing in businesses; however, in reality, he is not well cherished and is not doing that well. This is featured in the requiem of the drama when Linda asks why nobody showed up. It would appear that she wanted to believe that he had the comrades he told her, but she knew that he was just exaggerating (Miller).
The third factor is the thought. For Aristotle, this meant that one could see what sort of things a man chooses or avoids (Poetics 1.7). However, it also means the arguments and rhetoric of the character (Poetics 2.19). In the Death of a Salesman, the idea is vividly evident. Inside the living memories of Willy Loman, the audience can discern why he made certain decisions and what circumstances led to outcomes that can only be explained in the current moment of the drama. Charley observes the salesman’s life. The salesman supported his dreams in “smile and shoe shine” which is an unrealistic way to operate a business. In another instance, the theme of the play is interpreted in different styles, such as knowing who one is or being sincere to oneself and their family. These topics are carried throughout the drama and thereby satisfy the third category of Aristotle’s description.
Diction accompanies thought, that is, the account of the use of words in a tragedy (Poetics 3.22). In this sense, the memory in which Willy associates is the use of words that are included and lend themselves to flow within the genre of tragedy. They are not used in the regular occurrence, but in flashbacks, and in mental breaks that Willy shows to have during the drama, up until he commits suicide. For instance, Willy cannot define his real personal perspective. He cannot tell whether he understands himself as a literal”Loman” or “low-man.”
The song or melody of the drama is the fifth section, and to Aristotle, it is an essential part (Poetics 2.18). In the Death of a Salesman, Miller used the Requiem of the play as the chorus, whereby it brings all the loose ends collectively and ties them up skillfully, which also is part of the level of the plot in which the end is not closed randomly. The Requiem permits everyone to have their say and to reveal their perceptions as to the life and demise of Willy Loman.
The last level of the tragedy definition is the spectacle, which is not so much a component of the drama itself but a factor that is associated with the way in which the show is depicted on stage. In the Death of a Salesman, the element of the spectacle could be understood by the setup of the scene, the point that the kitchen is the central part of the house, which also signifies the heart of the family. The living room is not regularly seen, but the bedrooms of the boys and Willy and Linda are incorporated. It is these principal areas that are central to the lives of the actors, especially Willy, and the reasoning behind his decisions. The other fundamental scene is the hotel where Biff realizes that his father is having an affair for this act is a significant factor in Biff’s life. However, the spectacle is more than the stage set up, it also involves the actors and directors and the feeling that the actors and actresses portrayed in the drama during production. According to Aristotle’s definition, the spectacle cannot be met by the drama itself, but by the production company; therefore, it is not applicable to this discussion.
Aristotle: Elements of Greek Tragedy. (2013). The Encyclopedia of Greek Tragedy, 132-137. doi:10.1002/9781118351222.wbegt0780
MILLER, A. (n.d.). 1949 AWARD: ABOUT THE PLAY DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Part D: Belles-Lettres, Volume 12, Drama / Comedy Awards 1917-1996. doi:10.1515/9783110955781.131