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Hero and Villain in Death of a Salesman

Perhaps a play embodies a climax of controvertibility when there is a controversy even about the hero of the play. In most literary pieces, at least this is generally clear: who is the hero of the play? But Death of A Salesman is really seems to be a slippery play, even when this is considered. There is n straight answer to this. Most of the critics are of the view that Willy Loman is the hero, and a tragic on, too. But many other critics refuse either to accept him as a tragic hero or are not willing to grant him the rank of a tragic hero.

Arthur Miller himself describes Wily Loman as a tragic figure and is of the view that Aristotle’s conception of tragedy and tragic hero should not be applied to Willy Loman. But in general, Willy Loman is a little man, an everyman, with no peculiar characteristics. In spite of Willy Loman’s frantic search through his own past, he did not attain the self-realization customary for all tragic heroes. The end which his suicide offered him simply illustrates a limited finding of truth.

While he attains a proficient comprehension of himself and the underlying nature of the sales vocation, he did not succeed in realizing his personal fiasco and duplicity of his soul and family in the course of the scrupulously deceit in his life. He could not even comprehend the real personal, spiritual knowledge of himself as a “lowman”. He is too obsessed by his own “wilfulness” to realize the inclined truth that his forlorn mind has formed. Centering on Willy’s establishment in a quandary of lies, hallucinations, and self deceptions, we can establish that he paid no notice to the importance of self-realization.

Willy’s inability to acknowledge the tormented love given to him by his family is vital to the height of agonized day, and the story proffers this powerlessness as the real tragedy. In this sense, he is villain. Furthermore, he sowed the seeds of empty dream-weaving into his sons. Although this is an unconscious activity but it is like poisoning his own nest. In this way he becomes the most insidious type of creature and this is a hallmark of a villain. When we take our eyes off Willy Loman, the next character that engages our attention is Willy’s elder son, Biff Loman.

Most of the action of the play takes its shape through Biff as also does most of Willy’s hope, tension, dream etc. Biff is also a failure like his father. Biff’s failure not only means the shattering of Willy’s dream; the entire myth that Willy has been living with, crumbles to nothingness. The younger generation sees in Biff, a reflection of its own inescapable predicament. This abject failure in life is a terrible illustration of the tremendous waste of human resources in a world of maddening competition where misdirected energies involve the futile labor of Sisyphus. But his failure has a dignity in it i.

e. the poise of a tragic hero. Biff is almost victimized in the clutches of world competition which squeezes his senses out of him, of the unexciting, and uninteresting ordinariness of this world which is diverted of any romantic colors. This mechanized world, in which tough labor yields comparatively insignificant results, torments his soul, for Biff instinctively loves to be amidst nature, like his Willy Loman, in a moment of self-analysis ad self realization, Biff says to Happy. ; Hap, I’ve had twenty or thirty different kinds of jobs since I left home before the war, and it always turned out the same.

I just realized it lately……This farm, I work on, it’s spring there now, see? And they’ve got about fifteen new colts. There’s nothing more inspiring or beautiful than the sight of a mare and a new colt. And it is colt there now, see? Texas is a cool place, and it is spring. And whenever spring comes to where I am. I suddenly get the feeling. My God, I’m not getting anywhere: When the am I doing, playing around with horses, twenty-eight dollars a week; I am thirty four year old, I ought to be makin’ my future. That’s when I come running home.

And now I get there. And I don’t know what to do with myself…I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and everytime I come back here I know that I‘ve done is to waste my life”. A young man’s potentials being wasted, has both irony and poignancy of tragic waste. Biff feels lost and bewildered in this wide world, where he has no one and nothing to belong to: he feels alienated in this world of material existence. He wants to belong to somewhere, somebody, but cannot. Willy Loman thinks that Biff is just one of the common ruts.

He blames him, for not settling down as late as the age of thirty-four. He has not launched his career successfully. Willy feels that Biff is not lazy but is simply lost. Willy meets his greatest disappointment in Biff because his failure has negated the myth by which Willy had been living—that personal attractiveness is key to success. Willy says about him: “Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hardworker. There is one thing about Biff-He’s not lazy. ”

Biff is not only carrying the burden of his own dreams but also the dreams of his father. Biff is a very abrupt and rare mixture of the idealist poet who wants to realize himself realistically. Biff is Willy’s son-a chip of the same block. He is also a dreamer but what he actually is, is only what Willy has been dreaming to all along, to make him. I too spent life between fear and hope. Fear was related to the harsh realities of life whereas hope was to find the idealistic life i. e. fulfillment of my dreams. So I remained constantly oscillating between idealism and realism.

Although my balance always tilted toward positive aspects of life but my fictitious idealism remain a hurdle to completely adopt that path of positive life. But like Biff, I was also a progressive and round character and learnt with the passage of time and cast away my misconceived notions. In the end, Biff stages a complete breaking off from his father’s dreams of him as his own dreams of himself. He sheds off the armor of self-pity and self-justification and faces the naked realities truth. It seems that he almost court-martialed himself, almost ruthlessly: “I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been.

We‘ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years”. In the well known final confrontation with his father, Biff courageous enough to shatter the Loman myth: “We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house…………I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air. , I could never stand talking-orders from anyone…I’m not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you. You were never anything but a hardworking drummer who landed in the ash-can like all the rest of them! I’m one dollar an hour, Willy! I’m not bringing home any prizes any more, and you’re going to stop waiting for me to bring them home! ”

Such cruel honesty is noble and highly commendable because Biff achieves a greater self realization than Willy. In this way he can be regarded as a hero of the play, if not a tragic hero. Above-mentioned discussion and arguments clearly manifest that Biff is the hero and Willy Loman is the villain of play. However it can be denied that some sometime these characteristics of hero and villain overlap in each character and they exhibit a paradoxical nature of both of a villain and of a hero.


Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman in Arthur Miller’s Collected plays : with an introduction. New York: Viking Press, 1957-1981.

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