Answers To Questions: Death Of A Salesman And Glengarry Glen Ross Essay Example
Definition of a Tragic Hero
The common image of a tragic hero has long been the brooding form of Hamlet, but in reality, the tragic hero is one that is entirely human, to his or her very core. The tragic hero is not made tragic by his or her heroism, but instead by his or her humanity; it is the humanity and often the hubris that a tragic hero demonstrates that forces them into the role of tragic hero, not the heroism that they display. If these characters demonstrated true heroism in the traditional, classical sense, they would be considered to be epic heroes or other types of protagonists instead of tragic heroes. As it is, characters like Miller’s Willy Loman and the character Shelley Levene from Glengarry Glen Ross qualify in many ways as tragic heroes in a very modern sense of the concept.
It was Aristotle who was first to postulate the idea of the tragic hero in writing, although he may not have been the first to conceptualize the idea. Of the tragic hero, Aristotle writes that he must experience a moment of awakening, in which he becomes privy to the knowledge that the audience has known all along. Aristotle writes, “Reversal of the Situation is a change by which the action veers round to its opposite, subject always to our rule of probability or necessity  Recognition, as the name indicates, is a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune. The best form of recognition is coincident with a Reversal of the Situation, as in the Oedipus” (Aristotle). In short, the character experiences a moment of clarity that allows him to see clearly the outcome of his actions; without this moment of clarity, the tragic hero would not be as tragic, nor would he be as appealing to the audience.
However, Miller, being a modern author with modernist sentiments and philosophies, characterizes the tragic hero differently. Miller writes, “As a general rule, to which there may be exceptions unknown to me, I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing--his sense of personal dignity” (Miller). These characters may not be the important characters of the past-- they may not be kings or wealthy in any way, like Miller’s character Loman. Instead, they are the everyday person trying to gain a foothold in society by chasing their dreams. Willy Loman never achieves his dreams, falling again and again into the traps that are laid by society to waylay him, and eventually succumbs to his own hubris. Miller writes, “From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggles that of the individual attempting to gain his ‘rightful’ position in his society. Sometimes he is one who has been displaced from it, sometimes one who seeks to attain it for the first time, but the fateful wound from which the inevitable events spiral is the wound of indignity, and its dominant force is indignation. Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly” (Miller). This is where Loman as a tragic hero begins to break down in Miller’s description: Loman is too happy to describe himself in self-aggrandizing terms, talking about himself with much more pride than he should have had. In this way, he fits the definition of Aristotle’s tragic hero much more closely; he is driven to a fall by hubris as well as his desire for bigger and greater things in his life (Miller).
In Glengarry Glen Ross, the final confrontation scene between Levene and Williamson is meant to showcase the fall of Levene: again, this fall comes as a result of hubris on the part of Levene. Levene begins to monologue about his intelligence and skill, and as a result, exposes too much information about the crime that he committed. When this information is released, it leads to his downfall; while his downfall is not as deadly as Miller’s suggestion in Death of a Salesman, it is still the fall from grace that so often comes as a result of a tragic hero’s hubris. Although Miller suggests that the tragic hero is one looking for his place in the world, there is still an element of hubris and fall as a result of hubris in both of these pieces of theatre.
Capitalism, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Death of a Salesman
Capitalism has many malcontents, and there are many people who criticize the forces of capitalism. One of the primary ways that people criticize capitalism is through the use of literature; in both Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross, the idea and implementation of capitalism are criticized by the playwrights. In both plays, the environments that the main characters work in contribute heavily to their behavior and their eventual downfall; the environments in these locations are, by and large, a function of the capitalistic society in which these individuals were located.
Klages suggests that there is a difference between the postmodern and modernist readings of these two pieces of literature. Klages writes, “Postmodernism, like modernism, follows most of these same ideas, rejecting boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejecting rigid genre distinctions, emphasizing pastiche, parody, bricolage, irony, and playfulness. Postmodern art (and thought) favors reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity (especially in narrative structures), ambiguity, simultaneity, and an emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subject” (Klages). The impact of these distinctions may be unclear at first, but it is important to look at these distinctions in the context of capitalism and the capitalistic environments in both pieces. In Death of a Salesman, Loman is thrown into a sales environment that is so all-consuming that it eventually ends in his death; in Glengarry Glen Ross, the owners of the real estate firm have created an environment so toxic and full of competition that many of the individuals in the firm are participating in illegal and inappropriate behavior in order to curry favor with the owners.
The capitalistic society in both pieces of literature is portrayed as being a soul-sucking entity that forces people into unhappy, bad situations that they often cannot find a logical and ethical way out of without something extreme occurring. In Death of a Salesman, Miller writes: “Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up And it's a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still — that's how you build a future” (Miller). The future can only exist in the context that capitalism allows it to exist; it turns the people who make it move forward into cogs in a wheel, working tirelessly to fight it out with other people who are equally unhappy.
One of the shared themes between Glengarry Glen Ross and Death of a Salesman is the idea of pressure. In both pieces, capitalism is exerting pressure on the main characters, forcing them to act in ways that they would not normally act. Capitalism is profit-driven, and those who support capitalism often point to the open market as being the ideal regulatory body for itself. However, pieces like Glengarry Glen Ross and Death of a Salesman suggest that there are certainly negative impacts to allowing capitalism to run rampant in a society; a society too entrenched in capitalism becomes a soulless entity that is incapable of understanding the humanity of the people within that particular society. In some ways, this is capitalism at its most efficient-- the people in both pieces are either incredibly successful in the sales market or they wash out of the market entirely, which is what capitalism is meant to cause-- a more efficient and effective market, with minimal dead weight.
Miller and Mamet introduced their plays in decidedly different time periods, and this heavily impacted the way they portrayed capitalism. Miller premiered his play in the turbulent time of 1949, a time in which the debate between capitalism and socialism was at an all-time high. Mamet, on the other hand, introduced his piece in 1983, as the Cold War was coming to a close and it appeared more and more likely that the Americans and the capitalist way of life was going to win the Cold War. Perhaps this is why Mamet’s impression of capitalism is so powerful, whereas Miller portrays capitalism as powerful, but much less aggressive than the way it is portrayed in Mamet’s play.
Klages, Mary. 'Untitled Document'. Bdavetian.com. N.p., 2015. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
Miller, Arthur. Death Of A Salesman. New York: Viking Press, 1949. Print.
Miller, Arthur. 'Tragedy And The Common Man'. Tragedy: Vision And Form. Robert W Corrigan. 2nd ed. New York: Harper, 1981. Print.
New York Times,. ''Glengarry Glen Ross''. YouTube. N.p., 2010. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
YouTube,. 'Arthur Miller Interviewed By Charlie Rose'. N.p., 2008. Web. 4 Jan. 2015.
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