Death of a Salesman: Literary Criticism

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Death of a Salesman

Literary Criticism

For over forty years audiences and readers have been drawn into the lives of the Loman family and have often found in that family their own parents and themselves. Arthur Miller’s classic American play, Death of a Salesman, exposes the relationship between gender relationships and dysfunctional family behaviors. The play was well written with plenty of creative plot ideas; however, it completely degrades women. Throughout Arthur Miller’s Death of a salesman, we see the women being objectified through their treatment at the hands of men. The author portrays this in Linda’s constant emotional abuse to show that she is unimportant to Willy, Happy and his actions and statements are used to show that women are easily manipulated, Willy and Ben thinking of their father as an adventurous man while treating their mother as less significant to show men’s superiority. 

          All through the play we see the way that Willy, Biff, and Happy treat women, and during that time period it was normal for men to be treating women that way. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century women were looked down upon, they were restricted from doing anything that made them leave the house. Women were seen as the housekeepers, having to cook, clean, have and take care of children, whereas the men would be outside working, and living a life where they could do anything they pleased. Men did not see women as persons, but rather as creatures for their amusement. Females were treated as fragile and delicate beings and were not nearly as important as men and had no power or control. (Breanna Romans, 2016).

          Every single woman in the play was treated with unimportance because, as mentioned above, this was the way men in the 1940s viewed women. The time period that Arthur Miller wrote Death of a Salesman was an era where women were mistreated, and treated as objects.

 Linda is the female who is being objectified the most by her husband Willy. We see in the play, day after day, Willy constantly interrupted Linda, cut her off, ignored her, and treated her with disrespect. “Linda: Maybe things are beginning to… Willy: (wildly enthused, to Linda) Stop interrupting! ” (Act 1, page 46) The most objectifying action Willy displayed was his disloyalty towards Linda, and yet, she still cherished and respected him even during his lowest moments. “Linda: No, you can’t just come to see me, because I love him. He’s the dearest man in the world to me, and I won’t have anyone making him feel unwanted and low and blue.” (Act 1, page 55) In the 1940’s, women standing up for themselves to their husbands was unheard of. Linda took so much emotional abuse from her husband that it was no longer considered wrong, but normal. Willy never saw the intelligent side of Linda. Even though she was always so loving, he is always the one who takes control over their sons Biff and Happy, she has no control in shaping who they become, as he wants the boys’ future to be the way he had planned it to be. Willy treated his wife as the typical housewife that he would advertise.

          In addition to that, Happy Loman portrayed many aspects of the objectification of women through his actions and statements regarding women themselves. Happy doesn’t care about morals when it comes to women. He only likes the idea of being with them. He lies to women to get their attention, most likely for the intention of sleeping with them. There were situations in the play that suggest this attitude as he would hit on women that already have partners. The play insists that Happy goes for girls just for their looks to build his self esteem. He says this by complimenting them, for example, when he states “Would you object to a compliment from a stranger? You ought to be on a magazine cover” (Act 2 Page 101). Happy tells women things they would like to hear. For example, it is stated when Happy says “Biff is quarterback with the New York Giants” (Act Two Page 102). This demonstrates that the play is showing how easily fooled women can be. From the way the play expressed the women, it was as though they were prostitutes. This also makes it seem like women are easily seduced and easy to be controlled by men. Just like with the 3 executives’ fiancés, the play makes it seem like women are easily manipulated by men and drop their morals because they are blinded by their wants. The girls whom Happy associate with get drawn to the way Happy talks to them and his appearance. Happy takes advantage of their naive look on the world. He shows his sexual objectification of women when he states “Look at that mouth. Oh. God. And the binoculars.” (Act 2 Page 100). Even Biff has a tainted view on women from seeing his dad’s mistress and has no respect for them, with the exception of his mom.

          Another female who was objectified was Willy’s mother. The Loman family history can be pieced together through Willy’s flashback conversation with Ben(partly with his conversation with Charley) and his present conversation with Howard. Apparently, Father Loman was a travelling maker and seller of flutes who went off to seek adventure in Alaska and deserted Mother, leaving her with two boys to raise alone. Then Ben ran off when he was seventeen and Willy was not quite four years old. Thus Willy and Mother were left alone together. The desertion by his father left Willy feeling “kind of temporary” (Act1, page 51) about himself and provoked Ben to imitate and surpass what his father had done. Both sons mythologize the father: to Willy he was “an adventurous man” with “quite a little streak of self-reliance” (Act 2, page 81); to Ben he was “a very great and a very wild-hearted man” who with “one gadget” (the flute) supposedly “made more in a week than a man like Willy could make in a lifetime” (Act 1, Page 49). Both trivialize the role of their mother. Ben calls her a “Fine specimen of a lady” and the “old girl” (Act 1 page 46) and assumes she would be living with lesser son Willy. But she is the woman who bore and raised Ben, whom he deserted and made no attempt to contact, not even knowing that she had “died a long time ago” (Act 1, Page 46). Willy’s only other stated information about Mother Loman is his memory of being “in Mamma’s lap listening to some kind of high music coming from a man with a big beard” (Act 1, page 48). The mother thus provided the position of comfort from which to attend to the father (Kay Stanton, 1989). Mother is never mentioned again which gives the impression that she is not of importance in Willy’s life.

           ‘The woman’ was Willy’s mistress and was mentioned a lot in the play, but the fact that she doesn’t even have a name is the most degrading thing the writer has done to her character. She only exists to satisfy Willy’s sexual desires and is treated as an object rather than a person. She was a tool to tend to Willy’s bruised ego and as a reward she was showered with gifts.(Prezi, 2015). She is easily tossed aside like an old toy when Biff comes to see his father. She is blindsided, and she is left humiliated when Willy denies her, sending her out of the room in her nightgown.” Willy(pushing her offstage): Get outa here! Go back, go back!” (Act 2, page 87) Even though she was treated better than Linda, she was still discarded when she was no longer of use to him. She was nothing more than his side lady and he had no intentions of making her anything more. She was used for her body and to fill the gaps in Willy’s life. The dialogue suggested that she did not know of Willy’s children, and of his marriage until Biff arrived at the hotel which proves that she was not a home wrecker and had good intentions with Willy. Willy’s character relates to the author Arthur Miller, he was married but at the same time was having affair with Marilyn Monroe which suggests that the author himself did not respect women either.

In conclusion, Women in Death of a Salesman are used to excite and appease to men even if the men are abusive or disrespectful. We have seen this in the way Willy treats Linda and how he constantly cuts her off and emotionally abuse her, in addition to ‘the woman’ and how she was tossed away when she was no longer of use to Willy. Happy also shows very huge disrespect to women when his only intention with them is sexually, along with his brother Biff. Ben and Willy also trivialized their mother and didn’t even know that she passed away. Every single woman in this play was objectified one way or another by the hands of men, and every single man in the play has disrespected a woman with no exceptions. Till this day we still face this problem. Men today still continue to see women as objects of pleasure probably even more so than past times. Although we have advanced in the way people treat, and see women, they are still fighting for equal rights, and to stop being treated as objects.

Breeana Romans, objectification of women in salesman

Harry Harder, “Death of a Salesman: An American Classic”

Kay Stanton, Women and the American Dream of Death of a Salesman

Khan Academy, Women in the 1950s

Prezi, Death of a Salesman: The objectification of women

Prezi, The objectification of women in the Death of a Salesman

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