I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.
This, one of Miller's ideas on tragedy, is reflected in Death of a Salesman when Willy's wife Linda states that "A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man." (page 40) In combining these statements, we can see that Miller is emphasizing his belief that tragic things can happen to people who don't have much to lose, but still lose most of what they have. Granted, it is understood that with a king, or some type of great man, a tragic fall is much more noticeable and dramatic than it is with an average man. But it cannot change the fact that tragedy can befall anyone and, like Linda says, "Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person," any person, and that though they may not be the finest characters, they are human beings, and because a terrible thing is happening to them, attention is due for them.
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.
Willy is just such a character as described above. Though it is not Willy who reveals this much about himself, but his observant wife Linda. She says, "He drives seven hundred miles home without having earned a cent? ... When he has to go to Charley and borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend to me that it's his pay?" It is with these statements that the readers see that Willy has pride. That he is trying so hard to protect his personal dignity that he must lie to his family in order to keep up the appearances that he can still support them. Perhaps this is the "tragic feeling" Miller is talking about, perhaps it is pity that is evoked in us. Yet one thing is for sure: Willy is indeed willing to lay down his life to protect his personal dignity and try and support his family with monetary earnings. We know this because, Willy did lay down his life.
Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.
Is it tragic then, when Willy decides to share with Linda his real take on his own salesmanship skills? If Miller is to believed, then yes it is so. "When he was young, they were glad to see him. But now his old friends, the old buyers that loved him so and always found some order to hand him in a pinch-- they're all dead, retired. He used to be able to make six, seven calls a day in Boston. Now he takes his valises out of the car and puts them back and takes them out again and he's exhausted. Instead of walking he talks now..." Linda knows Willy is unable to survive in the salesmanship business any longer, by his own accounts. Though he tries not to worry Linda or his children and puts on a facade, Linda is able to see the truth of his own self-evaluations. He knows he is not well liked, nor welcomed any longer. He feels that it may be due to his appearance, but to be fair, he is an old man. Willy's "total compulsion to evaluate himself justly," is where readers are able to clearly look upon the tragedy of the situation, the decomposing of a man, a human being.
The flaw, or crack in the character, is really nothing- and need be nothing, but his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status.
Perhaps Willy Loman sees his rightful status as a great man, one like his brother Ben, even. It is obvious that Willy refuses to lie down and accept the fact that he will never achieve some type of greatness, even if he could somehow do it through his sons. Linda tries to remind Willy that he has "enough to be happy right here, right now." That he doesn't need to do things like take his brother's proposition to go to Alaska, although he'd rather go and make quick money versus having a steady job. This belief stems from the fact that, like in this idea on Tragedy and the Common Man from Death of a Salesman's author Arthur Miller, Willy remains unwilling to remain passive in going after his dream. He is willing to work for what he wants, as is apparent by his commitment to his salesmanship company for so long.
Now, if it is true that tragedy is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly, his destruction in the attempt posits a wrong or an evil in his environment. And this is precisely the morality of tragedy and its lesson.
"Why didn't anybody come?
... I can't understand it. At this time especially. First time in thirty-five years we were just about free and clear. He only needed a little salary. He was even finished with the dentist." Willy Loman did indeed destroy himself in his attempts to evaluate himself justly. Maybe he figured his life was worth the insurance money his family would gain from his car crash. Who knows what went through Willy's mind when he decided to commit suicide. Certainly not Linda, who remains befuddled as to why he would do such a thing when they were close, so close, to being "free and clear."
As a character in the play, Linda's words and actions were the application of Miller's ideas on tragedy. His beliefs injected into the structure of Linda and Willy Loman's story, if you will. It is clear that much thought was put into this play. Makes one wonder.. How much of the author is reflected in their characters?