Sample English Essay Paper on Tragedy and the Common Man

Assignment

Prompt 1

The description of a hero based on the perspective of Aristotle deviates slightly from the characteristics depicted in the death of a salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross. Willy and Shelley in Miller and Mamet’s plays respectively, therefore do not portray the character of the tragic heroes as described by Aristotle perfectly, although they fit some of the traits attributed to literary tragic heroes by both Miller and Aristotle. Aristotle asserts that a man does not become a hero unless they can see the root of their own downfall (Class notes 1). This can only begin with the recognition of the fact that one’s downfall is imminent. Miller on the other hand opines that a hero can be a common man or a man of noble birth but solely depends on what they accomplish (Miller par. 2- 4).

The case of Willy in ‘The Death of a Salesman’ depicts a classical example of this perceived recognition of error and acceptance of its consequences. For instance, Willy attributes the beginning of his woes to his son’s realization that he had an affair with a particular young lady. This guilt associated with this error constantly gnaws at his conscience, and he eventually decides to follow his wife’s advice of going to his employer to request for a work transfer instead of constantly commuting, another mistake that results in his being fired. Similarly, Shelley in Mamet’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ portrays a similar image of a person whose mistake, i.e., planning a robbery at his company, results in his embarrassment and eventual failure to achieve success in the real estate sales deal he had intended to close.

The second characteristic associated with tragic heroes is that there should be a reversal of fortune attributed to the character’s decisions and errors. This goes hand in hand with the requirement for the character to have excessive pride prior to their downfall. Both Willy and Shelley satisfy this characteristic requirement. In this case, Willy was recognized as a top salesman for his company and he had acted indicatively of the same. For instance, when he goes to his employer to demand for a change of his work to New York, he cannot understand why he is being told there are no opportunities in New York yet he has been a good salesman and even the former boss, that is, his supervisor’s father had recognized his prowess and could have given him the opportunity he requested for.

Shelley portrays his pride in the manner in which she considers that he should talk to his supervisor and belittles him because he does not close many sales from those given by his supervisor. The same pride, however, dwindles as he agrees that his business deals are purely by luck while on his own. Based on the statuses of these characters prior to their tragic ends, it is evident that they both held highly esteemed positions in their companies and we’re proud of those positions as the best salesmen in their different fields. Their fortunes were also both reversed after their decisions to demand a job change and to rob the company of Willy and Shelley respectively.

Aristotle’s description of a hero also encompasses the consideration that the fate of the hero must be more adverse than expected. On the one hand, Willy depicts this tragic hero in the sense that his death was not expected. Contrariwise, the suicidal death is not in most cases associated with heroism as it depicts inability to face up to one’s struggles. The true definition of a hero tends towards a conclusion with the recognition that the experienced reversal of fortunes is a result of the actions of the hero. Willy shows this realization through his mental status deviation. As opposed to before the reversal of fortunes, Willy constantly jumbles up his experiences, unable to distinguish between past and present communications as well as between his role in sales and the disagreement with his son over his past affair. Shelley, on the other hand, does not show any indications of remorse or realization that it is indeed his actions that have resulted in him being arrested (Delaney 3). His partner in the crime has however arrived at this conclusion and thus runs away into hiding to avoid being arrested.

Other characteristics of the hero as recognized in tragic hero narratives and plays include: that the hero, from the start of the story, should be perceived as doomed; fear and empathy must be stimulated by their story; must have the weakness of pride; must be noble yet imperfect and, must also be spiritually and physically wounded by decisions made and the experiences had through the storyline (Class notes 2). According to the two plays, the heroes depict some but not all of the characteristics highlighted. Willy is perceived to be doomed from the start as the story develops around his monologues and regrets over his past decisions particularly on the affair his son discovered. Furthermore, it is eminent that the decisions made, which eventually lead to his suicidal thoughts impose severe spiritual and physical wounds in him, as evidenced by his constant self- retributions and the final act of resignation. Shelley, on the other hand, portrays neither predictable doom nor a sense of spiritual wounding. He is however physically wounded given that he is arrested for his mistake. The two characters’ stories both do not arouse empathy or fear and are not noble from the beginning as shown through their hidden actions and malice.

Works Cited

Delaney, Bill. Glengarry Glen Ross In. Masterplots 4th Ed. Salem Press, 2010.

Miller, Arthur. Tragedy and the common man. The New York Times, 1949, February 27. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/books/00/11/12/specials/miller-common.html

Class notes. Tragic hero as defined by Aristotle.

Prompt 2

The two plays each describe an aspect of capitalism. The Death of a Salesman was written at a time when the vast depression was ongoing. Companies had downsized significantly, and the play was written as a depiction of the societal happenings in the face of difficulty in finances. The businessmen face difficult times and where one would not have expected to be met with business challenges, they appear. Modernist literature is characterized by features such as individualism; symbolism; absurdity and experimentation. Each of these elements is depicted in any given piece of writing to varying degrees. In Miller’s play, the context of modernism is clearly perceived through the main character, Shelley. Other aspects also contribute to the literary application, and it is through the combined impacts of the different literary devices and styles that the theme of modernism is clearly depicted. Symbolism, as used in the play, demonstrates the intrigues of individual personalities. The individual, in this case, the main character is perceived to be more interesting than the society within which he exists.

During the play, the audience is more likely to notice the changes in the main character’s life than those in the general society. The concept of individuality thus supersedes communism in the play. In the context of capitalism, the same individualistic tendencies are common in capitalist ideologies whereby capitalists tend to be more interested in what they can accumulate individually than on the impacts of their activities on the other members of the population. The distinction between the working class and the capitalists is also distinguished in through literary symbolism. The modernist capitalism revolved around capitalists who took advantage of the less fortunate as tools of the trade. In the play, the relationship between the employer, Howard Wagner, and the employee, Willy Loman clearly depicts the boundaries between the capitalist and his sources of income. The problems of the low-class people are confined within their class while those of the high class can be passed down to the lower individuals through retrenching (Sickels 97), salary reductions and other measures that are punitive when viewed from the perspective of the workers.

The play’s title is also symbolic of the ideological and the physical death of the salesman. The depression and the tough economic conditions prevalent at about the time of authorship of the play probably resulted in huge financial losses to businesses as well as a reduction in income levels for salesmen and other businessmen. For those who relied on commission, the economic conditions meant even tougher times for their families. This further explains the modernist capitalist conditions in the play, evidenced by the fact that the main character’s sons, Biff and Happy Loman are not able to afford higher education and thus resort to lying about their fortunes and their education prospects. The capitalist society is such that while education is considered an important aspect of life, only a few can afford it and it is thus used as a measure of the level of wealth possessed by a family.

Mamet’s play also provides a capitalist perspective based on the play’s plot and characterization. However, the capitalist traits are observable from a postmodernist perspective, which is slightly different from the characteristics of the modernist literature. In Glengarry Glen Ross, the postmodernist capitalism is portrayed particularly through meta-fiction. Meta-fiction refers to the telling of a story fictitiously and does not include any attempts to portray it as a true story. The theme of betrayal and capitalism both override the play yet the story is told completely from a real estate perspective, which separates the events in the play from the features associated with the communal perception of inflation and tough economic times. The setting of the play, its timing and the application of the capitalist mindset to the story makes it to further extrapolate its consideration in the context of the postmodernist theory. Capitalism in the postmodernist literature is often depicted in the combination of the political and economic characteristics which are prevalent in the postmodern environment. Late capitalism was depicted through the juxtaposition of consumerism and private ownership of the means of production.

In Mamet’s play, this juxtaposition is best observed in the persons of the real estate agents and their organizational owner and the buyers. A buyer such as Lingks occupies the position of the consumer and has significant power over any business with which it has a deal (Delaney 2). The decision-making process is influenced by the perceptions held by the buyer as well as those held by the seller. In any case, the owners of the production mean, in this case, the company, work together with the agents in the traditional forms of agreements which are commission based.

Works Cited

Delaney, Bill. Glengarry Glen Ross In. Masterplots 4th Ed. Salem Press, 2010.

Miller, Arthur. Tragedy and the common man. The New York Times, 1949, February 27. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/books/00/11/12/specials/miller-common.html

Sickels, Amy. Arthur Miller’s death of a salesman: history of criticism. Critical Insights, 76 – 91.

Class notes. Tragic hero as defined by Aristotle.