The play, Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, an American dramatist is one such play written by Miller to embody the tragic force of traditional Greek plays. However, the primary aim of Miller’s plays is to relay the injustices and inadequacies of American society perpetrated on individuals particularly those who live on the margins of their societies who find it difficult to advance due to constraints placed on them by an established order.
An examination of when and under what conditions most of his plays were written gives us inkling as to why certain themes and issues are focal in his plays. Plays such as Focus (1945) an attack on anti-Semitism which was prevalent at the time, The Crucible (1953) which reveals much about the Salem witchcraft trials and there are others that sought to underscore societal problems an the demise of individuals who fell prey to these injustices. All my Sons, which is an enthralling account of a guilty father who portrays the role of an inept father who later kills himself, A View from the Bridge, is also another like Death of a Salesman which revolves around the whole concept guilt ridden fathers who consummate their disfiguring role by committing suicide as they thought it to be the best route to take.
Death of a Salesman is very much relative to Miller’s life as an aspiring playwright after his father, a coat manufacturer lost his job after the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The concept of the American Dream and a misinterpretation of this belief of attaining success which was deeply imbued in persons of the working and lower class is also an issue dealt with in this piece of work which he Arthur Miller experienced and witnessed.
These themes and issues in correlation to dramatic devices and literary devices and theories are all aid in Miller’s aim at creating an interesting dramatic piece.
Through my Eyes
An examination of the main character and Tragic Hero, Willy Loman.
“Be liked and you will never want” this encapsulates Willy Loman’s belief on how to attain success; by displaying a charismatic and likeable personality in order to gain the favour of others this will allow little or no difficulty in advancing oneself and attaining success. This is however Willy’s fatal flaw as this misguided perception or understanding of the American Dream is what later leads to the ill fated end to his life. Dreaming and hoping rather than working to realize these dreams and bequeathing his faulty views and opinions to his sons, this is where I believe Willy made a huge blunder and is the worst thing he has done in the play.
This understanding of the American Dream would indubitably make one corrupt because in order to be well liked by all then this would require that one becomes a hypocrite, a liar and one who compromises good values and beliefs and gives preeminence to pleasing others rather than focusing on those who really matter like family. The statements he continuously makes-his theories to success, points to this truth; “â€¦start big and you will end big.”; “â€¦personality always wins the day” (Act 1, Scene 11); “â€¦be liked and u will never want.” (Act 1, Scene 4). He condones Biff’s theft of the balls declaring that it was a good move; “Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative” (Act 1, Scene 3). Another incident demonstrating this man’s imprudence is when he encourages or rather insists on Biff copying from Bernard for a math exam which would determine whether he graduates from high school (Act 1, Scene 4). From these incidents it is quite apparent that this man is imprudent, unwise and irrational and his behaviour, words and actions demonstrate this.
From the outset, it is evident that Willy is troubled by many things and Act one Scene one reveals this. His deteriorating state of mind is made evident from this Scene and Linda’s awareness of this is also apparent however it seems as though change was never possible because the wife of this dying man failed to point out his flaws and the damage he did by imposing false values on his sons seemed irreparable.
Firstly, this man is exhausted, he is not as young as he used to be and it seem as though his charm has also lost its vigour and vitality. He feels encumbered by the demands of his changing environment; he feels confined and constricted which is also depicted in the stage direction and how he views the developed neighbourhood-“â€¦they boxed us in here. Bricks and windows, windows and bricks”(Act 1, Scene 1). He says adamantly in the same scene “I don’t want a change! I want Swiss cheese. Why am I always being contradicted”, this speaks indicatively of his stagnancy and refusal to change which I think is another flaw that leads to his demise. He refuses to experience change, detach himself from the past and become more forward thinking. He seems to also be disinclined to challenge and rivalry, and unable to deal with the thought of failure or being less influential which is what he gradually became. He says in the same scene; “The competition is maddening!” Society has become a virtual jungle and one must work towards preempting worthwhile opportunities before they are lost or seized by others. He failed to acknowledge this phenomenon and thus failed as a husband, a businessman and most importantly as a father.
Loman’s aim seemed to be about aggrandizing wealth and status and assuming a particular social class. He also sought to mask his true identity by lying about whom he associated with, how much he earned and what he owned. He lied to his sons; “I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops protect it like it is there own”, he lied to his wife about how much he earned and had to resort to borrowing from Charley.
His pride and jealousy will not allow him to be pitied or helped by others for example Charley, he would rather remain in his deteriorating state than make the slightest attempt at changing; “I got a jobâ€¦Why the hell are u offering me a job for?” (Act 1, Scene 8) and in Act 2, Scene he is once again advised by Charley to take the job and he refuses.
He is guilt ridden and must and did atone for his wrong doings. The mending of stockings by his wife Linda constantly reminds him of his betrayal the night he cheated on her. His guilt is what makes him treat her as though she should be silenced and not allowed to give her opinions or views in conversations. He is always on the offensive when he thinks he is being challenged. He feels offended by the mere cynicism by Charley in Act 2 ,Scene also in Act 1, Scene 9 Charley objects to the boys stealing sand from the building site so too does Linda but Willy only ignores Linda and makes fun of Charley.
It is never a good thing to take one’s own life however removing himself from his family is the best thing Willy has done in the play. Linda no longer had to put up with being treated as secondary and unimportant. She no longer had to endure the pressures of deranged husband whom she was constantly wary of with regards to his attempts at suicide. His sons were now free to embark on their own ideas of a successful and fulfilling life even though this would be difficult due to his misleading teachings that have basically corrupted them. The family can now move forward.
Poem- Change Makes Good.
Wake up your life is basically a dream,
An impractical game that will end in either life or death,
Which do you chose?
There are many routes to vast sea
Are you looking with your natural eyes,
Or surreally through the eyes of your imagination,
Regardless, reality is what you should focus primarily on,
Not what is lost, not what you have won.
The race is ahead of you,
You have not trained, you have been evasive and have avoided the cues,
Nonetheless you have to run this race,
Change your attire,
Change your approach,
Its time wake up.
The woods are burning you say to your sons,
Ha, how ironic,
When ashes cover the ground before you,
And you have nothing to show for it,
But, change your approach,
There is some time left,
To wake up.
Don’t take the cues lightly,
Charley doesn’t intend to spite you,
He realizes that your days now seem nightly,
So he is offering you another route,
A changed path,
Don’t let guilt, pride and jealousy through you off course,
Wonder how Ben did it?
He didn’t live in his dreams,
He was wide awake,
He saw success and worked, toiled and ran that race,
His aim was not reputation,
It was self actualisation.
Change your approach,
Do what you must, do what you should,
Change makes good.
An examination of the character Linda Loman.
Linda is a seemingly passive and submissive woman who is bent on pleasing her husband. She says, “He’s the dearest man in the world to me, and I wont have anyone make him feel unwanted and lowâ€¦” (Act 1, Scene 10), she does in fact make every attempt to achieve this much to the detriment of her husband Willy. The remarks she continuously make with regards to Willy and how she consoles him speaks truly of how fond she is of him. Examples of this include her denial of the fact that Willy is mentally unstable; “Maybe it was your steering again.”, “Maybe it’s your glasses.” Willy often feels insecure and conscious of what the critics may say about him to negate what they say she highlights his strengths or sometimes stretches the truth; “â€¦you are doing wonderful dearâ€¦”, “â€¦you’re the handsomest man in the world.” It is significant to note also that in all these incidents where she exalts Willy she fails to point out to him when he has faltered for example with the boys she is not forceful in challenging Willy with regards to teaching the boys the right values-in Act 1 Scene 7 she is not adamant that Biff returns the balls he stole from Bill Oliver also in Scene 9 of the same Act she does not insist that the boys do not steal from the building site. Through inductive reasoning however, it is evident that she is conscious of obvious problems affecting Willy and his judgment but fails to avert the ruin of her family by intervening at times when Willy has obviously faltered.
She becomes vocal however in her defense of Willy, despite how he often treated her, in Act 1 Scene 10 a rational and deep thinking Linda is presented she speaks truthfully of Willy and his deteriorating state while still making excuses for him; “Willy Loman never made a lot of moneyâ€¦he is not the finest character that ever lived.”; “the man is exhausted.” In Act 2, Scene she is greatly angered by Biff and Happy’s desertion of Willy at the restaurant, it upsets her to the point where she wants her sons to leave and not return; “Get out of here, both of you, and don’t come back!…You pair of animals!”.
Failing to point out to Willy his flaws and not contesting Willy and his ill conceived beliefs and imprecise values and theories to attaining success is the worse thing Linda has done in this play. It contributed significantly to the family becoming dysfunctional.
Linda’s best move however was in Act 1, Scene 10 when she was most vocal in the play. She brings to light the secrets of the family at least those which she is aware of and finally has an open and honest discussion with her sons. The family has a new resolve at this point in the play as unspoken of issue were brought up and dealt with and in the subsequent Scene a resolution is arrived at. She however could have been this assertive with Willy and had these open and honest discussions earlier to forestall the unfortunate turn the family took.
I do hope you and your family are coping with the unfortunate turn of events with regard to Willy’s job loss and the difficulty of the boys in getting settled. I realize that you do adore Willy and you will do all you can to please hi but Linda you must not ignore the fact that Willy has some misconceptions and faulty assumptions concerning his life and the life of his sons. Linda this is a serious matter, you cannot sacrifice the future of your children in an attempt to gain the favour of your husband. He has failed in many ways and you need to acknowledge that. You should take the correct approach to dealing with the problems of your family whether or not any particular individual will be displeased. If you do love your family you will do what you know will help them to change and improve. I do hope you consider my advice and your conscience.
Journal entries from Biff’s perspective
I really want to please dad and become the great business man he always dreamed me to be but I just can’tâ€¦its not my passionâ€¦I don’t feel happy within the walls of an officeâ€¦paperwork and all of that. I want to be in the open field get my hand in the rough. What am I doing in an office making a contemptuous fool of myself? If only I had not flunked math maybe my life would have turned out better all the lies and theftâ€¦dad made my life what it is today. How could he be such a liar! A big fake, a fony! Cheated on the woman he devoted his love and life to! He betrayed all of us! And then says I am spiting him such a fool, he has definitely lost it. Mom deserves better, I love that woman so much and I can’t bear to see her pressured and overcome by the problems of this family.
If only he would accept that he is wrong and allow me to realize my dreams not the dream he wants to live through me. It is not fair to me. It was not fair to momâ€¦neither Happy whom he paid little attention to and now he too, an assistant of the assistant lies about his reality and who he truly is. I will live my life Dadâ€¦I will live my life. This is the decision I should have made a long time ago and it is my best yet. I was wrong to have thought that dad view of me was the view I had to adopt as my own. I believe that we most all stop living a lie and be true to ourselves. Dad needs to accept that he is not as great as he makes himself out to be and I am who I am he needs to also accept that.
I am the Product of your Failing
Let’s go make endless memories dad just you and me,
Carry me on your shoulder dad, I wana be just as above the ordinary
Just as you said I should be,
Teach me how to ride a bike, play ball I want to do it all dad
You and me I want this to be an endless memory.
Dad I think you are the greatest there is,
You conquer them all; your charm always wins the unfeeling heart,
Your answers to life’s question are never wrong,
Whatever you do Dad it seems to be an art.
I guess your right Dad, once my motives are good then I am not wrong,
Once I have a goal I can seek all the help I want to achieve it,
I will never take without a reason,
I am not likely to fail because I am admired.
So you taught me Dad so I learnt,
The traits, the habits that now leave my burnt,
Still a child in search of selfhood,
Patterning the ways of my Dad; the ways I understood.
Though I am grown and seek to find the truth,
The truth about me, about you about why,
About why and howâ€¦
How you could have lied; cheated on us, disregarded us.
My questions you can never answer,
Because your mind,
You can’t even conquer,
It controls you,
And the blind cannot lead the blind,
So you will no longer lead me,
Loman love is waning,
Whose fault we all are still contemplating,
Sad to say but I am the product of your failing,
We all are.
I feel cheated and starved of love and affection maybe because Dad failed to play his role effectively. I guess considering that Biff was older and would face the demands of the world of work before me, Dad placed more emphasis on his future. Nevertheless I want to please Dad. I want to achieve what Biff does not seem to be able to achieve.
Mom says all I am is a philandering bum! How could sheâ€¦it has always been my desire to make Dad recognize me for something praiseworthy. I might be a little bit off track trying to demean my superiors by sleeping with their spouses but I must admit I get gratification from it, I feel powerful, fulfilled. I know this is probably a big problem of mine, the worst thing I have done, using women for my own selfish desires, but I do intend to change. I hope to get married someday and run that department before the year is up. I think this family deserves a change.
Dialogue: Happy cajoles an associate
Happy: Lovely morning isn’t it, I wake up Happy (’cause that ma name -laughs-), and I am greeted this morning by divine beauty. (He smiles at her)
The Woman: (Flattered) Hi it’s my first day on the job, it’s a pleasure meeting you Happy, I am Colleen (She says with a smile).
Happy: Wow, your smile is so engaging, I am sure you get complemented a lot about your smile, mm it’s lovely.
The Woman: (Laughs) I do actually, I think it is my greatest asset, thank you.
Happy: One of, if I may say so myself, you ought to be on a magazine cover.
The Woman: Really? I am more of an office girl the camera is not for me. (She says with a smile)
Happy: Oh I beg to differ; you seem like a natural talent.
The Woman: (Laughs) Why thank you but I must be getting back to work.
Happy: She is also a responsible employee, very attractiveâ€¦say could we have lunch this afternoon, get acquainted and discuss some business proposals I have?
The Woman: Sure, no problem at all, this afternoonâ€¦
Happy: (Smiling) Good, enjoy the rest of your day then Colleenâ€¦
He leaves feeling accomplished and confident that through this woman he can achieve reckoning. He will use her for his own pleasure and achieve some mobility in the business.
Linda’s Journal Entries
I try my best, I honestly do try but I am always silenced by Willy. He is the dearest man to me and I will go to great lengths to please him. I often allow him to do as he pleases because I am afraid; afraid of what may happen if I challenge him. I love that man, and I can see he is dying but what more can I do now? I can only plead with Biff and Happy especially Biff his favourite to make something of his life. How can he be so unsettled? So unthinking? The least he can do is lighten the heart of his father, the man is exhausted! I may have done a lot of things wrong in the past like not objecting to Willy at times when he is wrong, when he misleads the boys but I didn’t think this would be the result at all. I only want the best for this family. They must however not upset Willy anymore than he already is Biff and Happy must try getting this family out of its deteriorating state because Willy simply can’t.
Lullaby for Willy
Go to sleep,
Go to sleep,
Go to sleep Willy darling,
Close your eyes,
Think about me,
Don’t think about our dying family,
I am here with you,
Don’t you worry about a thing,
Don’t you weep,
Don’t you think of that taking great leap.
Get your rest,
You must not worry about your sons great mess
Close your eyes, am here with you, go to sleep.
Journal Entries from Willy’s Perspective
How did you do it Ben? How did you become so great? Share the secret Ben! I am confused I do not know where I went wrong! Bernard, why did he lay down? Was it my fault? Sigh deeply. I told them exactly what they needed to become successful. Why didn’t they just listen? Bernard was Biff’s friend why didn’t he emulate some of his characteristics maybe he would have been just as successful as Bernard.
If only I had taken up that job in Alaska1 that’s where I went wrong, I could have been a more successful man today paving the way for my sons. It pains my heart to know that Linda made me miss out on that opportunity. Things would be much better, happier the family would be as it was in the past. Aah, those good old days when Biff and I would wash the car, play ball and talk for hours, those fond memories.
I think I taught my boys well I only regret not seeking more advice from Ben and taking up that job in Alaska. Now I am so frustrated I don’t know what to do the woman in my head keeps laughing, the memories of that night keep haunting meâ€¦maybe that’s why Biffâ€¦No! No, I gave him a command he owes me! He is trying to spite me and look what it is doing to me. I cant endure anymore, I just cant.
Letter from Willy to Biff
Son it has been so long, I was so pleased when I saw your letter in the mail. Your mom and I was just talking about the time when we hung the swing between the two great beautiful elm trees and when you used to be the center of attention at high school; when you smiled their faces lit up. Such wonderful memories, sometimes I wish we could return to those happy times of the past and we could have that bond we once had. You must be engaging in some business venture or the other now, a young man with such personal attractiveness I always say. Make me proud son, do not disappoint your mom! I want to see you become the baron that I was, well I still am but I am not as impacting as I once was. Take my advice son, charm them and you will win them, works like a charm, ha haha. Well son, take care now and write soon, send something for your mom she will be expecting it, and always remember what I taught you and you will never go wrong. Bye now son, I love you.
Yours with love,
It is rather sad that this man’s pride and jealously will lead to self destruct. I am only a concerned friend who is doing all in my power to help him and his family make ends meet. It is simple, all he has to do is take the job I am offering, he can get by a lot better. Willy needs to change his arrogance will lead to his demise. I did the best I could by offering him this job and only sorry I could not do more.
Bernard’s Reflection on Biff
My aim as a friend was to be supportive and helpful I did do this, I was a wits ends with Biff and his Dad Willy. It was as if my voice wasn’t heard. It didn’t matter if I was not well liked, I was goal oriented and bent on achieving success and encouraging and insisting that my good friend Biff becomes just as ambitious and forward thinking is my best attempt at helping him. What I am still baffled by is why Biff didn’t continue. What happened when he had gone up to New England to see Uncle Willy? He had such a promising futureâ€¦what happened?
Behind the Scenes
An examination of the conditions and time during which the play Death of a Salesman(1949) by Arthur Miller was written will answer the questions of why certain themes and issues are particularly dealt with in the piece, why the dramatis personae epitomized certain characteristics, how society affected these individuals and how they responded to the environment around them.
Arthur Miller was born in New York in 1915, and studied at the University of Michigan. His father worked at a factory as a clothing manufacturer and after the Great Depression lost his job. Miller consequently had to work to sustain himself and send himself to University. These are the conditions under which Miller grew and lived. He witnessed the plight of individuals who had difficulty attaining and keeping jobs, people who eventually fell into a state of abject poverty, depression and frustration. These individuals were denied opportunities of upward social mobility and thus fell victim to the established system.
Miller’s play sought to underscore these issues, centrally the issue of false values of society imposed on the most vulnerable classes of people. His plays are usually concerned with the responsibility of individuals to other members of society. He views himself as a social and political spokesman and he uses theatre as a means to highlight the drawbacks of the society that ought to facilitate the improvement of the lives of the indigent and less fortunate.
The Great Depression had a substantial and varied impact on the lives of Americans. Physically and psychologically, it was devastating to many people, who not only lacked adequate food, shelter, and clothing but felt they were to blame for their desperate state.
Because society expected a man to provide for his family, the psychological trauma of the Great Depression was often more severe for men than women. Many men argued that women, especially married women, should not be hired while men were unemployed. The aftermath of the Great Depression, around which time Death of a Salesman was written, was not to a great extent dissimilar to the conditions discussed in the aforementioned.
The American Dream a perception held by many as ideally what life should typify. This dream life featured an affordable home with a backyard swimming pool, year-round barbecues, and a convertible automobile for commuting to a white-collar job-possibly in Hollywood-during weekdays and to the beaches for surf parties on weekends. Society existed and operated on the basis of wealth creation and increasing one’s wealth. Miller sought to depict this Hedonistic society, which failed to emphasize the integral component of the American Dream- hard work and perseverance.
These U.S social ideals influenced individual thinking and persons became persuaded and bent on achieving what was deemed to be the life of an American. Consequently, parents in an effort to realize this dream felt pressured if circumstances were not favuorable and conducive to exacting the merits of this dream. Families unable to live in this capacity of the ideal American family would thus feel unaccomplished and for some due to obsession would feel distraught.
The Loman family felt unaccomplished. The head of the Loman family; Willy, felt distraught, fruitless he presumed that he had failed because he did not achieve a specified amount of success for which he did not concentrate the required amount of work. He was discordant with any thing that was less than equal to the life depicted in the American Dream. Willy’s irrationality, false pride and jealousy which resulted in his non acceptance of his social echelon and his non realization of success led to his downfall.
Miller sought to capture this sense of competion and obsession with opulence that was so imbued in the minds of Americans. He used the Loman family, lead by a disillusioned Willy to demonstrate the impact this obsession could have particularly if one went about realizing this dream the wrong way.
Character Temperature Ratings
Willy and Biff: the relationship that exists between Willy and Biff is plagued by secrets and lies. Willy had betrayed Linda and the entire family and Biff is aware of this and they can non longer share the bond they once had. The tension between these two vitiates the respect Biff once had for his father and communicating without some sparring. Hot 90-100Ëš
Willy and Linda: Willy is disillusioned and guilt-ridden. This affects his relationship with his wife who he constantly verbally abuses. He treats her with little regard and this is manifested in his response to her when she makes attempts to voice her opinions or challenge him. Linda’s adoration for Willy is not a mutual feeling as he does not seek to embrace her as a wife deserving of love and respect. Lukewarm 52Ëš
Willy and Happy: This relationship does not reflect the characteristics of the ideal father-son relationship. The two do not connector share a bond. Communication seldom occurs between these two and Willy does not allot time to the development of Happy’s future. Cool 29Ëš
Willy and Charley: Charley is concerned about Willy whom he recognizes is in a troubled state. He realizes also that pride and jealousy is a serious problem that Willy has and that they will lead to his demise. Willy will not admit his problem and make amends by accepting the help of his concerned friend. This is a peculiar relationship due to Willy’s disinclination to being self-effacing and accepting of Charley’s success and appreciating him as a friend.
Linda and Biff: Biff adores his mother and this explains why he is so upset when he he found out about his father’s infidelity. He felt betrayed for her, himself and the family. Linda is desirous of change foe her sons, and the family. She wants Biff to be as assertive as he once was and make Willy proud. Despite the problems that may exist Linda and Biff share a good relationship. Warm 87Ëš
Linda and Happy: Linda loves Happy but does not approve of very much dislikes his misuse of women. She wants him to also be a success and help the family to get out of its misery but they do not share much closeness. Lukewarm 60-70
Biff and Happy: the two appear to be close. They share their experiences with each other and offer each other advice. Happy always looked up to Biff and was obedient to him as the older sibling. As adults they still share that brotherly love and special bond. Hot 98Ëš
In thoroughly analyzing the play, the topical issues presented, the central idea and additional knowledge that the writer aims to impart to his readers, his stance on the subject matter then one must do so critically in observation of certain literary components that may be present within the play.
Miller seeks to speak profoundly about the society and its drawbacks and how these affect the individual. This issue of man rising above the constraint placed on him by society, elevating himself and becoming prosperous is very much relative here. Marxism ideals are averse to the aggrandizing of the individual’s social tier. It supported solidarity communal living, a society that benefited its nationals and promulgated as much as possible equality; recognition of all and ruled out against divisiveness. A root feature of communist states has been their subscription to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. The society that Miller sought to portray-the American society- did not reflect this social idealology. The American society under the auspices of the American Dream taught the theory of “Survival of the Fittest” and thus rivalry and competition for what one desired. A firm whether or not proficient in business would not alter conditions of wage earning for example to the benefit of employees. The higher achiever sought the increase there power on those below them and the aim was therefore increasing one’s wealth and status and strengthening one’s influence. It was basically a society defined and operated on the basis of wealth. Wealth defined who you were in society and how influential you could be.
In the play this issue is represented through Willy in particular. Loman his employer did not value his position in the firm. His firm would not in any way be at a loss without Willy and as the aim of any business profit creation is the
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