What Is an Example of a Tragic Hero in the Works of Arthur Miller?

One of the most well-known examples of a tragic hero in the works of Arthur Miller is the character Willy Loman from the play "Death of a Salesman." "Death of a Salesman" won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. The character Willy Loman represents Arthur Miller's belief that the ancient literary form of the tragedy should be democratized.

The concept of the tragic hero in literature takes many shapes according to storyline, but it generally refers to a noble or virtuous protagonist who is destined for a tragic defeat or downfall. The hero or heroine struggles against his fate, fighting valiantly to defeat his foes, yet he succumbs to his destiny in the end. The most famous tragic hero in classical literature is the title character of "Oedipus the King" by Sophocles. Unlike Willy Loman, Oedipus is of noble birth and the story thus fits the standard tragedy where royalty implies the potential for greatness.

In "Death of a Salesman," the characters are average working-class people but with the same potential for greatness through their actions, which play out through ordinary scenes and circumstances. The struggle against fate by Willy Loman involves pitting the past against the present and the perception of dignity against humility. The classic tragic hero storyline is followed as Willy suffers the fate of being displaced, then struggles to overcome that destiny, and finally commits suicide.