Death of a Salesman
Dave Singleman Death Of A Salesman
An analysis of how Willy Loman is responsible for his own downfall in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”.
Willy Loman is responsible for his own downfall. Willy finds his own hero and tries to become the hero in his own existence. Willy tries to become a very successful businessman, at the start of his career he thinks that no one can tell him what to. Willy is not good with people, he is good with his hands, he is not a good salesman and he chooses the wrong career.
Willy often makes up stories or changes the stories he knows because he cannot face the truth of his life that he has not accomplished as much as he has planned. Willy’s downfall is his own doing which is brought about by his unrealistic dreams, his pride, his career choice and his failure to manage life’s problems. Willy, at a young age, noticed an old salesman who worked at an age of 80 and made a lot of money.
The old salesman took orders from no one, he made his own orders and everyone did as the old man said. When the old salesman, Dave Singleman dies, all the buyers came to his funeral. All the people Dave ever knew came. There were thousands mourning his death. From that point, Willy Loman found an awesome dream which he followed the rest of his life. Willy became a salesman. Willy is the most unqualified salesman ever! He never sold a thing. Willy stops seeing the truth at one point of his life and he relies on his own lies to numb his pain. The pain of knowing he cannot and wont be able to become Dave Singleman. He is Willy Loman, who is good at fixing the house. He is not cut out for travelling from city to city and selling goods to people he has never met before. Willy dramatically dies living out his dream, the dream that never suited Willy Loman. Willy does not allow people to tell him what to do. He believes that he cannot be bossed around and that he is too important to fall under anyone’s authority but his own. Willy teaches Biff and Happy not to take orders from anyone. He thinks this will make Biff, Happy and himself successful, but it is in fact a major contribution to Willies failure. Willy did not become a “Big Shot” meaning he did not become important to the field of retail. Willy thought he was a “big shot” when he was not and this must have made people angry because he is not liked by many people. People have to earn their importance. They cannot just be important overnight. This lack of status contributes to his co-workers disrespect. Willy accomplishes less when he works compared to working and staying at home. Willy fixed up his house with great skill and ease. Willy’s family appreciates the things Willy does for the house and the family. They share many happy memories of him working on the house. Willy is suited at a job that requires hard labour rather than being a salesman. Biff says in the novel that Willy puts more work in the house than he ever did at work. This is not true because Willy paid off the house because of his job but in a sense it is true because Willy put his whole life into being a salesman and if he put his life into being a carpenter he probably would have accomplished much more than just paying off the house. Thus manual labour brought Willy enjoyment but he rejected it in his pursuit of the American Dream. Willy Makes up stories or changes stories because his life so uninteresting. He is not doing anything with his life and this depresses Willy. He often says that he will take care of the problem first thing in the morning. When Willy wakes up he intentionally forgets about all his problems and goes on with his life. These problems accumulate until Willy loses control. Willy ends up killing himself because of the overwhelming amount of lingering problems. Willy Loman thinks he is an important figure but in reality he is an ordinary person. Willy cannot take orders from anyone and this does not allow him to gain respect from others. Willy chooses the wrong career and does not accomplish much during his life because of his poor career choice. Willy Also never faces the truth and blocks out his problems until there are too numerous to handle. These four reasons show that Willy is responsible for his own downfall and ruins his and his families lives.
Death of a salesman — character of Willy Loman and his relation with his wife, sons, friends and his extra marital affair
Modern playwrights have continued to create characters whose tragic flaws lead to tragedy, but these are not usually heroes in the classical sense. Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” for example, tells the story of a man whose character’s defect leads to tragedy and the suffering of others. Death of a Salesman, is a gripping drama written by Arthur Miller, illustrating the suffering and hardships experienced by an ordinary 60-year old salesman who is on an unusual journey to achieve the American dream.
Similar to the numerous early American dramas, the main character has a dream of attaining prosperity and status in his community.
Willy Loman is an ordinary salesman who believes he will one day be a successful salesman. Because of Willy’s frail mind, the old salesman sometimes doesn’t know if he is living in the realm of today or yesterday. He berates his sons and cheats on his wife. When he loses his job at sixty-three, he commits suicide.
The drama unveils the emotional breakdown suffered by the play’s tragic hero, Willy Loman, at the dramatic moment when he realizes the only way he would be able to support his family was to commit suicide so they could obtain his life insurance money. Willy Loman possesses neither great stature nor great virtue.
He does not become aware of his character flaws. Therefore, he does not meet the classic Aristotelian definition of a tragic hero. However, his downfall is a result of his inability to be honest with himself, which is a character flaw. Miller in this wanted to show that in a modern democratic society, heroes do not have to be kings or nobleman and that the downfall of an average man is just as tragic as any other. No one has a perfect life. Everyone has conflicts that they must face sooner or later. The ways in which one deals with these personal conflicts can differ as much as the people themselves.
Some insist on ignoring the problem as long as possible as is the case with our hero, while some attack the problem to get it out of the way. This technique of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman, leads to very severe consequences. He never really does anything to help the situation, he just escapes into the past, whether intentionally or not, to happier times were problems were scarce. He uses this escape as if it were a narcotic, and as the play progresses, the reader learns that it can be a dangerous drug, because of it’s addictiveness and it’s deadliness.
After failing to deal adequately with his feelings, he escapes into a time when things were better for his family. It is not uncommon for one to think of better times at low points in their life in order to cheer themselves up so that they are able to deal with the problems they encounter, but Willy Lowman takes it one stepfurther. His refusal to accept reality is so strong that in his mind he is transported back in time to relive one of the happier days . A time when no one argued,he and his were younger, the financial situation was less of a burden, and his sons enthusiastically welcomed him back home from a long road trip.
Willy is not good with people, he is good with his hands,he is not a good salesman and he chooses the wrong career. Willy often makes up stories or changes the stories he knows because he cannot face the truth of his life that he has not accomplished as much as he has planned. Willy’s downfall is his own doing which is brought about by his unrealistic dreams, his pride ,his career choice and his failure to manage life’s problems. Willy, at a young age, noticed an old salesman who worked at an age of 80 and made a lot of money.
The old salesman took orders from no one, he made his own orders and everyone did as the old man said. When the old salesman, Dave Singleman dies, all the buyers came to his funeral. All the people Dave ever knew came. There were thousands mourning his death. From that point, Willy Loman found an awesome dream which he followed the rest of his life. Willy became a salesman in spite of being the most unqualified salesman ever! He never sold a thing. Willy stops seeing the truth at one point of his life and he relies on his own lies to numb his pain. The pain of knowing he cannot and will not be able to become Dave Singleman.
He is Willy Loman, who is good at fixing the house. He is not cut out for travelling from city to city and selling goods to people he has never met before. Willy dramatically dies living out his dream, the dream that never suited Willy Loman. Willy does not allow people to tell him what to do. He believes that he cannot be bossed around and that he is too important to fall under anyone’s authority but his own. Willy’s relationship with his wife is clearly a cause of his collapse. Willy neglects to demonstrate honesty in his relationship with his wife.
The reader is told of Willy’s past and how on business trips he would deceivingly find himself a woman to spend the night with. When Willy is no longer able to make a living he borrows money from his friend, Charley, and claims that it is money that he had made. As Willy’s condition slowly deteriorates, he sets up tubing, which he plans to hook up in a fashion with intent of suicide. He neglects to tell Linda how he feels. Due to Willy’s lack of honesty with Linda, she too is not honest with him. She is aware that Willy is borrowing money from a friend, but doesn’t say anything about it.
After Willy is unable to complete a drive to New England, due to his obviously deteriorating condition, Linda avoids reality and makes excuses for Willy. Linda always puts Willy on a pedestal and refuses to see any fault in him. Willy teaches Biff and Happy not to take orders from anyone. He thinks this will make Biff, Happy and himself successful, but he is once again wrong and suffers in his life because of that. As a father Willy fails, he is not a good father for many reasons. First and foremost, he makes his occupation his number one priority.
For years, he travelled for his business so frequently that he never got the opportunity to truly get to know his own sons. As a result, he could not give them both his love and time as a father. Biff catches his father with the women he is in love with, this not only breaks his heart but he can never trust his father again. As a father, Willy Loman offers his sons terrible advice. For example, this is what the old salesman tells teenage Biff about women: WILLY: Just wanna be careful with those girls, Biff, that’s all. Don’t make any promises. No promises of any kind. Because a girl, y’know, they always believe what you tell ’em.
Return to the Nature — an Ecocritical Interpretation of Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman, the masterpiece of Arthur Miller, depicts a story of common American family—Lowman’s family. Willy is a man with hugh ambitious but finally failed in the fierce competition of his business. Linda, his wife, is a loyal , considerate and strong wife who always takes good care of the whole family and always stands in the back of his husband. Biff, Willy’s elder son, is a real weak and sticky-fingered man who are loved by his father but always disappoint him.
Happy, Willy’s second son, is a man who just like puffing but never did something successful.
It was a story of a sixty-four-year old salesman Willy Lowman keeps travelling and selling everyday to afford his family all because of the inaction of his two sons. He has a hugh dream that he wants to start his own business, but he failed because of his faulty idea that personality can make fortune. Linda worries his husband a lot that she tries to persuade him to ask his boss Howard for a position in New York so that he doesn’t have to travel.
Finally, Howard fired Willy for his unsuccessful business. Full of desperation, Willy lays his last hope on Biff that he hopes Biff can find a good job and start their families’ business.
However, Biff can’t give up his bad habit to steal others’ things and finally let his father down one more time. To find no way out of the desperation, Willy ends his life in his car. Arthur Miller wrote this drama based on his own experiences which have been considerably influenced by the Great Depression. During the 1930s, the United States went through an all-around economic depression. The collapse of financial system resulted in terrible situations: factories bankrupted millions of Americans jobless, homeless and hopeless.
Also read about Animal Farm Characters
But for Miller, it was more like a psychological disaster which influenced a lot on every American people. This play came into being in 1949, and the prototype of Willy Lowman was Miller’s uncle Manny Newman. Miller still remembered well the encouter with his uncle, “I could see his grim hotel room behind him, the long trip up from New York in his little car, the hopeless hope of the day’s business. ”(Miller: 130-131) And Miller also remarks, “Newman was a competitor at all times, in all things, and at every moment. (Miller: 122) And Manny’s death also inspired Miller of the his writing of the tragedy. It was not only Manny as the prototype of Willy Lowman, but a lot of other victims in the real society. His story of the salesman was just a projection of the whole society. 1. 2 A Brief Introduction to the Theory of Ecocritcism Ecocritism as a critical theory appeared along with the stressful environmental crisis. In 1962,Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, and it stirred a powerful and far-reaching ecological movement. She reminded us that we can solve the ecological problem through the change of our world viewpoint instead of assisting by war or violent revolution. ”(Lu: 27) In 1978, “ecocriticism” was firstly raised by William Rueckert in his essay Literature and Ecology: an Experiment in Ecocriticism to encourage the connection between ecological concepts and the study of literature. In 1991, Modern Language Association held a special session entitled“Ecocriticism: The Greening of Literary Studies”in which ecocritics’ enthusiasm of building a new study ran high.
At the annual meeting of the Western Literature Association in 1992, a new Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) was founded “to promote the exchange of ideas and information pertaining to literature that considers the relationship between human beings and the natural world” and to encourage “new nature writing, traditional and innovative scholarly approaches to environmental literature, and interdisciplinary environmental research”. (Glotfelty: xviii) From then on, ecocriticism has become one of the most prosperous branches among western critical theories.
The one most quoted definition of ecocriticism is raised by Cheryll Glotfelty, the first professor of Literature and the Environment in America, defines: Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and thephysical environment. Just as feminist criticism examines language and literature from a gender-conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and economic class to its reading of texts, ecocriticism takes an earth-centered approach to literary studies. (Glotfelty: xix) Greg Garrard held different viewpoints.
He ever defined ecocriticism like this: “In deed, the widest definition of the subject of ecocriticism is the study of the relationship of the human and the non-human, throughout human cultural history and entailing critical analysis of the term ‘human’ itself. ” (Garrard: 5) Chinese scholar Wang Nuo argued that “the mission of the ecocriticism is to explore how the thoughts, culture, science and technology, ways of production and lifestyles, mode of social development of human beings formed human beings’ anthropocentric attitude toward nature and finally resulted in ecological crisis. (Wang: 11) Another Chinese scholar Lu Shuyuan intended to combine Chinese ecological thoughts with deep ecology. He asserted that not only did nature need ecological balance, but also society and the spirit of human beings need ecological balance. Hence, he proposed two new items, social ecology and spiritual ecology. If society is not harmonious, people will feel lonely and unhappy.
If the individual can’t find love and doesn’t know how to love, they will be in a state of spiritual crisis. Then we need to solve the crisis of natural, social and spiritual ecology in order to achieve the genuine harmonious co-existence between man and nature. . The Analysis of the Symbols of Natural Ecology in Death of a Salesman 2. 1 The Backyard and Seeds In Death of a Salesman, Willy dreams more than once of the old days. The main scenes of his dreams are in their backyard. From Willy’s recall, the audience know that there were two elm trees, a piece of grass and some flowers before. “The grass don’t grow any more… Remember those two elm trees out there?… This time of year it was lilac and wisteria. And then the peonies would come out, and the daffodils. What fragrance in this room! (Miller: 5) The memories in the backyard are the symbols of nature that Willy is yearning for all along this drama.
For Willy, all the living things in the backyard represent the harmonious relationship between man and nature. Without the trees and flowers in their backyard, Willy still enjoys the beauty of nature. When he drives in his trip, he is always fascinated by the scenery outside his window. “… it’s so beautiful up there, Linda, the trees are so thick, and the sun is warm. I opened the windshield and just let the warm air bathe over me. ”(Miller: 3) Finally, he decided to buy some seeds and grow them in his backyard. Gee, on the way home tonight I’d like to buy some seeds. … before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens…” (Miller: 31)
Willy never give up any opportunity to embrace nature. The seeds not only represent the hope of Willy’s dream of success, but a symbol of the single spark of rebuilding the harmony between man and nature. 2. 2 The Dreams of Father and Son When Willy’s brother Ben tells him that he had bought somewhere in Alaska and needed a man to look after the things, Willy is so excited and answers: “God, timberland! Me and my boys in those grand outdoors! ” (Miller: 38) Willy wants to live with his family in an intimate contact with the poetic and picturesque nature instinctively. He is longing for a house in the countryside and living for a quiet and comfortable life. And in this drama, Willy more than once fancies his brother Ben coming back for him and telling him that: “When I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by God I was rich. ” (Miller: 17) “Jungle” is also a symbol of nature, and what Ben said symbolizes that only nature could bring people the real fortune.
This fortune is a gift from nature and priceless for it is something money doesn’t bring. Also his son Biff, like his father, has a dream to embrace the nature and live in a farm. After he returns from the west part, he finds that he is not suitable for the modern life in big cities. He wants to go back to the west and has a farm of his own. “Listen, why don’t you come out West with me?… maybe we could buy a ranch. Raise cattle, use our muscles. Men built like we are should be working out in the open. ” (Miller: 6) And he can see the beauty of the natural scenes, “This farm I work on, it’s spring there now, see?
And they’ve got about fifteen new colts. There’s nothing inspiring or—beautiful than the sight of a mare and a new colt. ” (Miller: 7) However, not like his father, he sees clearly that the modern life in big cities is not easy and he would like to compromise to follow his natural instinct to embrace nature. That’s why he doesn’t understand his father’s paradoxical dreams—hoping both having a successful life in modern competition and living a quiet life in the countryside. 3. The Analysis of Ecological Imbalances in Death of a Salesman 3. 1 The Imbalanced Ecological Conflicts between Man and Nature In Death of a
Salesman, Miller shows the audience the destroy of the nature by social development and the irremeable beauty and happiness that nature brings to human beings. The fast development of the society makes this poetic and picturesque beauty of nature become a highly urbanized and commercialized market. From a sharp contrast between Willy’s complaint about the changed living condition now and the cherishable memory of the comfortable rusticity in the past, this drama demonstrates clearly that the America’s high urbanization and commercialization totally destroyed the inhabited environment and harmonious relationship bewteen man and nature.
Willy is not only a salesman of a New England company but a victim of the increasingly worse natural inhabited environment of American society. He is like an animal in the box, strained and terrified. The intimacy between man and nature is seperated by the nightmare of the modernized city, like the critic Thompson said, “Willy and Linda’s house used to be in the countryside. There is a garden behind the house with trees around and enough space for two children to play. However, with the merciless expansion of the city, these houses are surrounded by high buildings. (Thompson: 23) Willy feels so uncomfortable by these surrounded buildings that he can only sigh: “The way they boxed us in here. Bricks and windows, windows and bricks. ” He feels himself can’t get along with all the environment around him, “The street is lined with cars. There’s not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don’t grow any more, you can’t raise a carrot in the backyard. They should’ve had a law against apartment houses. Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there? When I and Biff hung the swing between them? (Miller: 4)
For Willy, the elm trees and the swing all symbolize the harmonious combination between man and nature. Hoplessly, Willy can only criticize these builders, “They should’ve arrested the builder for cutting those down. They massacred the neighborhood. ” (Miller: 4) These comments are so useless that Willy can only yearn for the peaceful and joyful past, “More and more I think of those days, Linda. This time of year it was lilac and wisteria. And then the peonies would come out, and the daffodils. What fragrance in this room! (Miller: 4-5) In the highly materialized society, high efficiency and fast pace tighten people’s nerve, make most people lose their esthetic sentiment, and even make them only care about the material satisfaction. In Death of a Salesman, by using both the joyful memories in the past of Willy and his disatisfaction to the modern life, Miller analyzes the imbalanced relationship between the man and nature. 3. 2 The Imbalanced Ecological Conflicts between Man and Man High urbanization, industrialization and commercialization not only alienate the relationship between man and nature but the relationship between man and man.
Followed by the worsening of the natural environment, men’s own nature begin to be alienated and materialized. Those characters which human beings shouldn’t have—the expansion of material desire, the paramountcy of techniques and the anthropocentrism begin to contaminate men’s spiritual ecology and turn men into spiritually barren non-human, machines of technology and slaves of comsuption. The communication between men and men become utilitarian. Most people put the house, car, electric facilities and so on in the center of their lives and changing the whole society into a spiritual wasteland.
This alienation on one hand threatens the healthy development of human’s spirit, on the other hand, it destroys the social environment. It makes the whole society and spiritual ecology become imbalanced. In this alienated background of society, most friendly contacts in the past are substituted by the merciless modern competitions. In Death of a Salesman, in order to afford the whole family, Willy has to beg Howard for just a low salary but on the contrary he is fired by Howard. In Howard’s eyes, old Willy is becoming useless and nonprofitable.
Willy desperately cries out: “I put thirty-four years into this firm, Howard, and now I can’t pay my insurance! You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away—a man is not a piece of fruit! ” (Miller: 37) Ironically, Howard turn a blind eye to someone who have made some contributions to the firm in the past but focus on a recording machine—a representative of electric mechanical products. Money and profit become the principles of the relationship between men and men. Willy, as a salesman, actually become a product of his company until his death. Only his death can bring his family twenty thousand dollars as his real value.
Arthur Miller, as a dramatist, feels deeply the slavery and alienation the commercialized society bring to people. Willy’s tragedy is the result of the alienation of the society. The imbalance of natural environment social ecology will lead to the imbalance of human’s spiritual ecology. 4. Conclusion Death of a Salesman depicts the early period of twentieth century’s America—a period of fast development of capitalism, a period of sacrificing the natural beauty, harmonious relationship between man and nature in order to develop the commercialization.
Arthur Miller thinks that the nature is not only the living environment but also the source of men’s joyful spirit. Only when the relationship between man and nature become harmonious, men can live a healthy life. Miller prophets the difficulty and tragedy of human beings’ living condition and shows his disatisfaction to the materialized and commercialized society. This drama gives the development of modernization some important warnings.
The Death Of a Salesman
Willy is a very contradictorary character; he finds it very hard to come to terms with reality. He lives in his dreams and takes all his pleasures from the past, which he distorts in order to feel happy and continue living a self-delusion. His role models are the great salesmen of an old age when their personalities came first and their goods second. These people don’t however have a place in the modern business world where only ruthless aggression gets any results.
He realises this when he says, “After all the highways, and the trains, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.” However, he doesn’t do anything to change his methods of business.
Pride is extremely important to Willy, whether it be pride in being (or pretending to be) a successful salesman, pride in his sons (especially Biff) or pride in being independent – he refuses Charley ‘s help at the very time when he needs it most.
Despite never being able to reach his goals and his life being a huge self-deception in which he still keeps hope. Even as he is contemplating death he still maintains hope in the fact that his insurance monies will be, enough to give Biff the much-needed start he needs.
Linda is Willy ‘s wife and exceedingly loyal to his hopes and ideas. She is constantly trying to find a way between her sons and Willy in order to try and ease the tension. She becomes obviously depressed as Willy contemplates suicide or as she puts it ‘ringing up a zero’ whilst knowing that, there is nothing she can do to help him. She want him and herself to be happy despite all of the problems in their lives and is angry at Biff and Happy for expecting a perfect family life. Linda is the one who knows about Willy’s wish to end his own life but she never intervenes, as she doesn’t want to be the one who causes any trouble.
Biff is the son of Willy and Linda, he has never really been able to reach his full potential and even now when he is reaching his the middle of his life, he remains unsure of himself. Willy has successfully managed to build up a structure of self-deceit, which has obviously stopped his son from realising his strengths and weaknesses. He has not made his way in the world and seems very lost and unsure of in which direction he wants to go. He admires Willy but he has been disillusioned by his affair with the woman and now lacks motivation in finding his place in the world.
He is the only other one who realises that the family has been built up around a web of deception and finds it hard to continue to pretend to be what he is not. He refuses to live in a lie and enter unwillingly into the world of business. What he really desires is a country life far away from the life of falsity and corruption. A complete contrast to the life that he is leading however, he is too undisciplined to direct his energies in a good career direction.
Happy is like Willy and Linda’s other son and like Willy is a failure but he finds it hard to admit it. He wants success and respect like his father, but his weakness is most notably for women.
He sees Biff as his road to success and so it is inevitable that his dreams will stay dreams. In addition, like Willy he has pretended to be what he is not. Biff describes this when he says “You big blow, are you the assistant buyer? You’re one of the two assistants to the assistant, aren’t you?”
He never learns anything about himself, unlike Biff when he says “We never told the truth in the house for ten minutes.” Happy fails to realise the effects of Willy ‘s death on his own ambitions. Happy continues with the self-deception, which runs in the Loman family and can’t understand that he too must face reality if he ever wants to be anything.
The theme of truth vs. deception runs throughout the entire play. Willy has to got himself tangled in a web of deception and lies, which he can’t get out of. In order to convince himself that all is well he has to tell more lies and deceive more, therefore creating an even thicker web from which it will be even harder to get out of. Biff seems to be the only one who really realises this and understands that the only way their lives can become happy is to tell the truth and get out of the web. Willy finds this very hard to do, as he seems to have almost forgotten what the truth is.
Happy also finds it equally difficult to tell the truth however, maybe because he has never really known what it is. Linda seems to be the reason for a lot of these deceptions, as Willy tells lies so that he may deceive her and seem to be successful. In addition, Willy’s affair creates a lot of deception when he is caught and then has to hide it from Happy and Linda. This ultimately destroys his relationship with Biff and creates further tension within the family.
Willy seems to believe in working only in business. What he doesn’t realise is that in order to get into the business world and be a good salesman you need to put in a lot of hard work. This is reflected in his sons. When Biff and Happy are studying at high school Willy doesn’t seem to be bothered about how hard they study, just that they are “well liked”, and subsequently they are failures as business men. However Bernard who Biff, Willy and Happy describe as a swot does work hard throughout his school years ends up becoming a very successful lawyer working in the high court whilst Biff and Happy are still trying to live the lives of boys, not men.
Willy works hard all of his life but he has had the wrong priorities and has believed in personality which has now left him old-fashioned and therefore unwanted within the business world. He constantly looks up to the salesmen of a bygone age like Dave Singleman who when describing Willy says “He died the death of a salesman, in his green velvet slippers…” These salesmen could get by with only personality but the harsh truth is that he is living now, where ruthless aggression gets results. He also brings his sons up with the same beliefs as him, meaning that they can’t even make a break in the business world to start with.
The Loman family relationship isn’t a particularly good one. This is because of all the lies that are created in order to distort the truth. They can’t tell the truth because they all feel that they have to be something that they are not. They all feel that they have to be something, which they are not because they are failures and yet they can’t be seen to be because they have always been told that they are successful. They don’t tell the truth as to they have never been told that there is a lie, they truly are living in a lie which Willy has created.
The relationship between Willy and Linda must be very poor and he cant have been happy with Linda because he commits adultery, maybe this is because he is lonely on his long trips but surely if it is a very happy and close marriage then he would have been able to withstand temptation. Maybe he resents Linda for not giving him what he wants and being there for him.
When Linda finds the gas piping with which Willy is trying to commit suicide she doesn’t confront him or even do anything about it because she doesn’t want to create a disturbance or maybe she was worried that it would embarrass him and therefore her. If they are very close then she could have been able to talk to him about it and try and sort things out.
Willy, despite the great love he has for his family ultimately cant of be very happy with his family life otherwise he wouldn’t have killed himself.
Arthur Miller: Biography
1915: Arthur Aster Miller was born on October 17th in New York City.
1948: Built himself the small Connecticut studio in which he wrote Death of a Salesman. Trip to Europe with Vinny Longhi where he visited Italy and met some Jewish death camp survivors held captive in a post-war tangle of bureaucracy.
1949: Death of a Salesman premiers and receives the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, the Antoinette Perry Award, the Donaldson Award, and the Theatre Club Award, among others. Attends the pro-Soviet Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to chair an arts panel with Odets and Dimitri Shostakovich.
1950: Sound recording of Death of a Salesman.
1951: Yiddish production of Death of a Salesman, translated by Joseph Buloff. First, film production of Death of a Salesman, with Frederic March, for Columbia pictures.
1951-52: Us tour of Death of a Salesman.
1954: First radio production of Death of a Salesman, on NBC.
1957: First television production of death of a Salesman, on ITA, England.
1964: Covered the Nazi trials in Frankfurt, Germany for the New York Herald Tribune.
1968: Attends the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as the delegate from Roxbury.
1972: Attends the Democratic National Convention in Miami as a delegate.
1983: Directs Death of a Salesman at the People’s Art Theatre in Beijing, the People’s Republic of China.
1985: Death of a Salesman with Dustin Hoffman airs to an audience of 25 million on CBS.
1999: Death of a Salesman revived on Broadway for the play’s 50th anniversary, and wins Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play.
Death of a Salesman Critical insights
In a 2003 interview with his biographer, Christopher Bigsby, about the inherent structure of his plays, Arthur Miller explained, “It’s all about the language” (Bigsby, “Miller”). Miller’s declaration about the centrality of language in the creation of drama came at the end of his almost seventy-year career. He had completed his final play, Finishing the Picture, and a little more than a year later, he became ill and subsequently died in February 2005. Thus Miller’s statement can be seen as a final avowal about how language operates in dramatic dialogue, a concern that had obsessed him since the start of his career when he wrote his first play, No Villain, at the University of Michigan in 1935.
Despite Miller’s proclamation, not enough critical attention has been paid to the sophisticated use of language that pervades his dialogue. Throughout his career, Miller often was subject to reviews in which critics mostly excoriated him for what they judged as a failed use of language in his plays.
For example, in the Nation review of the original production of Death of a Salesman in 1949, Joseph Wood Krutch criticized the play for “its failure to go beyond literal meaning and its undistinguished dialogue. Unlike Tennessee Williams, Miller does not have a unique sensibility, new insight, fresh imagination or a gift for language” (283-84). In 1964, Richard Gilman judged that After the Fall lacks structural focus and contains vague rhetoric. He concluded that Miller’s “verbal inadequacy [has] never been more flagrantly exhibited” (6). John Simon’s New York review of the 1994 Broadway production of Broken Glass opined that “Miller’s ultimate failure is his language: Tone-deafness in a playwright is only a shade less bad than in a composer.” In a June 2009 review of Christopher Bigsby’s authorized biography of Miller, Terry Teachout judged that Miller “too often made the mistake of using florid, pseudo-poetic language” (72).
These reviews illustrate how, as a language stylist, Arthur Miller was underappreciated, too often overshadowed by his contemporary Tennessee Williams, whose major strength as a dramatist for many critics lies in the “lyricism” of his plays. As Arthur K. Oberg pointed out, “In the established image, Miller’s art is masculine and craggy; Williams’, poetic and delicate” (303). Because Miller has so often been pigeonholed as a “social” dramatist, most of the criticism of his work focuses on the cultural relevance of his plays and ignores detailed discussions of his language–especially of its poetic elements. Most critics are content to regard his dialogue as “colloquial,” judging that Miller best used what Leonard Moss described as “the common man’s language” (52) to reflect the social concerns of his characters. The assumption is often made that the manufacturers, salesmen, Puritan farmers, dockworkers, housewives, policemen, doctors, lawyers, executives, and bankers who compose the bulk of Miller’s characters speak a realistic prose dialogue–a style that is implicitly antithetical to poetic language.
This prevailing opinion of Miller as a dramatist who merely uses the common man’s language has been reinforced largely by a lack of in-depth critical analyses of how figurative language works in his canon. In his November 1998 review of the Chicago run of the fiftieth anniversary production of Death of a Salesman, Ben Brantley noted that, “as recent Miller scholarship has suggested again and again, the play’s images and rhythms have the patterns of poetry” (E3). In reality, though, relatively few critics have thoroughly examined this aspect not only of Salesman but also of Miller’s entire dramatic canon.1 Thomas M. Tammaro judges “that critical attention to Miller’s drama has been lured from textual analysis to such non-textual concerns as biography and Miller as a social dramatist” (10).2 Moreover, classroom discussions of Miller’s masterpieces Death of a Salesman and The Crucible (1953) mostly focus on these biographical and social concerns in addition to characterization and thematic issues but rarely discuss language and dialogue. Five years after his passing, it is time to recognize that Arthur Miller created a unique dramatic idiom that undoubtedly marks him as significant language stylist within twentieth- and twenty-first-century American and world drama. More readers and critics should see his dialogue not exclusively as prose but also as poetry, what Gordon W. Couchman has called Miller’s “rare gift for the poetic in the colloquial” (206).
Although Miller seems to work mostly in a form of colloquial prose, there are many moments in his plays when the dialogue clearly elevates to poetry. Miller often takes what appear to be the colloquialisms, clichés, and idioms of the common man’s language and reveals them as poetic language, especially by shifting words from their denotative to connotative meanings. Moreover, he significantly employs the figurative devices of metaphor, symbol, and imagery to give poetic significance to prose dialect. In addition, in many texts Miller embeds series of metaphors–many are extended–that possess particular connotations within the societies of the individual plays. Most important, these figurative devices significantly support the tragic conflicts and social themes that are the focus of every Miller play. By deftly mixing these figurative devices of symbolism, imagery, and metaphor with colloquial prose dialogue, Miller combines prose and poetry to create a unique dramatic idiom. Most critics, readers, and audiences seem to overlook this aspect of Miller’s work: the poetry is in the prose and the prose is in the poetry.
Indeed, poetic elements pervade most of Miller’s plays. For example, in All My Sons, religious allusions, symbols, and images place the themes of sacrifice and redemption in a Christian context. In Death of a Salesman, the extended metaphors of sports and trees convey Willy Loman’s struggle to achieve the American Dream. In The Crucible, the poetic language illustrates the conflicts that polarize the Salem community as a series of opposing images–heat and cold, white and black, light and dark, soft and hard–signify the Salemites’ dualistic view of the world. In A View from the Bridge, metaphors of purity and innocence give mythic importance to Eddie Carbone’s sexual, psychological, and moral struggles. After the Fall uses extended metaphors of childhood and religion to support Quentin’s psychological quest for redemption. The Ride Down Mt. Morgan connects metaphors of transportation and travel to Lyman Felt’s literal and figurative fall, and Broken Glass uses images of mirrors and glass to relate the world of the European Jew at the beginning of the Holocaust to Sylvia and Phillip Gellburg’s shattered sexual world.
That most critics continue to fail to recognize Miller’s sophisticated use of poetic elements is striking, for it is this very facility for which many other playwrights are praised, and the history of drama is intimately intertwined with the history of poetry. For most of Western dramatic history, plays were written in verse: the ancient Greek playwrights of the fifth century b.c.e. composed their tragedies in a verse frequently accompanied by music; the rhyming couplets of the Everyman dramatist were the de rigueur medieval form; and English Renaissance plays were poetic masterpieces. Shakespeare’s supremacy as a dramatist lies in his adaptation of the early modern English language into a dramatic dialogue that combines prose and poetry. For example, Hamlet’s “quintessence of dust” speech is lyrical prose. In the twentieth century, critics praised the verse plays of T. S. Eliot, Maxwell Anderson, Christopher Isherwood, and W. H. Auden.
Even more baffling about this critical neglect is that Miller readily acknowledged his attraction to poetry and dramatic verse. His views on language, particularly poetic language, are evident in the prodigious number of essays he produced throughout his career. Criticism has mostly ignored this large body of nonfiction writing in which Miller frequently expounds on the nature of language and dialogue, the tension between realistic prose and poetic language in twentieth-century drama, and the complex evolution of poetic language throughout his plays.3 For example, in his 1993 essay “About Theatre Language” he writes:
It was inevitable that I had to confront the problem of dramatic language. . . .I gradually came to wonder if the essential pressure toward poetic dramatic language–if not of stylization itself–came from the inclusion of society as a major element in the play’s story or vision. Manifestly, prose realism was the language of the individual and private life, poetry the language of man in crowds, in society. Put another way, prose is the language of family relations; it is the inclusion of the larger world beyond that naturally opens a play to the poetic.
. . . How to find a style that would at one and the same time deeply engage an American audience, which insisted on a recognizable reality of characters, locales, and themes, while opening the stage to considerations of public morality and the mythic social fates–in short, the invisible? (82)
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Miller’s attraction to poetic dramatic dialogue can be traced back to his development as a playwright, particularly his time as a student at the University of Michigan in the mid-1930s and the early years of his great successes in the 1940s and 1950s, when his views on dramatic form, structure, aesthetics, and language were evolving. Miller knew little about the theater when he arrived in Ann Arbor from his home in Brooklyn, but during these formative college years, he became aware of German expressionism, and he read August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen, whom he often acknowledged as major influences on him. Christopher Bigsby has pointed out that Miller always remembered the effect that reading Greek and Elizabethan playwrights at college had on him (Critical Study 419). However, Miller was markedly affected by the social-protest work of Clifford Odets. In his autobiography, Timebends (1987), Miller describes how Odets’s 1930s plays Waiting for Lefty (1935), Awake and Sing (1935), and Golden Boy (1937) had “sprung forth a new phenomenon, a leftist challenge to the system, the poet suddenly leaping onto the stage and disposing of middle-class gentility, screaming and yelling and cursing like somebody off the Manhattan streets” (229). Most important for Miller, Odets brought to American drama a concern for language: “For the very first time in America, language itself had marked a playwright as unique” (229). To Miller, Odets was “The only poet, I thought, not only in the social protest theater, but in all of New York” (212).
After Miller won his first Avery Hopwood Award at Michigan, he was sent to Professor Kenneth Rowe, whose chief contribution to Miller’s development was cultivating his interest in the dynamics of play construction. Odets and Rowe clearly were considerably strong influences on Miller as he developed his concern with language and his form broke out of what he termed the “dusty naturalistic habit ” (Timebends 228) of Broadway, but other influences would also compel him to write dramatic verse. The work of Thornton Wilder, particularly Our Town (1938), spoke to him, and in Timebends Miller acknowledges that Our Town was the nearest of the 1930s plays in “reaching for lyricism” (229). Tennessee Williams is another playwright whom Miller frequently credited with influencing his art and the craft of his language. He credited the newness of The Glass Menagerie (1944) to the play’s “poetic lift” (Timebends 244) and was particularly struck by A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), proclaiming that Williams had given him license to speak in dramatic language “at full throat” (Timebends 182).
Moreover, Miller practiced what he had learned and espoused. In fact, he reported that when he was first beginning his career he was “up to [his] neck” in writing many of his full-length and radio plays in verse (“Interview” 98). When he graduated from Michigan and started his work with the Federal Theatre Project in 1938, he wrote The Golden Years, a verse play about Montezuma. In a letter to Professor Rowe, he reported that he found writing verse much easier than writing prose: “I made the discovery that in verse you are forced to be brief and to the point. Verse squeezes out fat and you’re left with the real meaning of the language” (Bigsby, Arthur Miller 155). Also, he explained that much of Death of a Salesman and all of The Crucible were originally written in verse; the one-act version of A View from the Bridge (1955) was written in an intriguing mixture of verse and prose, and Miller regretted his failure to do the same in The American Clock (1980) (Bigsby, Critical Introduction 136).
However, Miller found an American theater hostile to the poetic form. Miller himself pointed out that the United States had no tradition of dramatic verse (“Interview” 98) as compared to Europe. In the 1930s, Maxwell Anderson was one of the few American playwrights incorporating blank verse into his plays, and the English theater witnessed some interest in poetic drama in the 1940s and 1950s, most notably with Christopher Fry and T. S. Eliot. In reality, dramatic verse had been in sharp decline since the late nineteenth century, when the realistic prose dialogue used by Henrik Ibsen in Norway was adopted by George Bernard Shaw in England and then later employed by Eugene O’Neill in the United States. Miller also judged that American actors had difficulty speaking the verse line (“Interview” 98). Further, Miller came of age at a time when American audiences were demanding realism, the musical comedy was gaining in dominance, and commercial Broadway producers were disinterested in verse drama.
Christopher Bigsby has pointed out that Miller was “in his own mind, an essentially poetic, deeply metaphoric writer who had found himself in a theater resistant to such, particularly on Broadway, which he continued to think of as his natural home, despite its many deficiencies” (Critical Study 358). Struggling with how to accept this reality, Miller accommodated his natural inclination to verse by developing a dramatic idiom that reconciled his poetic urge with the realism demanded by the aesthetics of the American stage. Thus he infused poetic language into his prose dialogue.
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Let’s examine how some of these poetic devices–symbolism, imagery, and metaphor– operate in Miller’s masterpiece, Death of a Salesman. From the outset of the play, Miller makes trees and sports into metaphors signifying Willy Loman’s struggle to achieve the American Dream within the competitive American business world. Trees symbolize Willy’s dreams, sports the competition for economic success.4 Miller sustains these metaphors throughout the entire text with images of boxing, burning, wood, nature, and fighting to make them into crucial unifying structures. In addition, Miller’s predilection for juxtaposing the literal and figurative meanings of words is particularly evident in Salesman as the abstract concepts of competition and dreaming are vivified by concrete objects and actions such as boxing, fists, lumber, and ashes.
Trees are an excellent illustration of how Miller uses literal and figurative meanings. Two references in act 1, scene 1, immediately establish their importance in the play. When Willy unexpectedly arrives home, he explains that he was unable to drive to Portland for his sales call because he kept becoming absorbed in the countryside scenery, where “the trees are so thick, and the sun is warm” (14). Although these trees merely seem to distract Willy from driving, he also indicates their connection to dreaming. He tells Linda: “I absolutely forgot I was driving. If I’d’ve gone the other way over the white line I might’ve killed somebody. So I went on again–and five minutes later I’m dreamin’ again” (14). Willy’s inability to concentrate on driving indicates an emotional conflict larger than mere daydreaming. The play reveals how Willy often exists in dreams rather than reality–dreams of being well liked, of success for his son Biff, of his “imaginings.” All of these dreams intimately connect to Willy’s confrontation with his failure to achieve the tangible aspects of the American Dream. He is a traveling salesman, and his inability to drive symbolizes his inability to sell, which guarantees that he will fail in the competition to be a “hot-shot salesman.” The action of the play depicts the last day of Willy’s life and how Willy is increasingly escaping the reality of his failure in reveries of the past, to the point where he often cannot differentiate between reality and illusion.
The repetition of the mention of trees in Willy’s second speech in scene 1 cements the importance of trees in the play as a metaphor for these dreams. He complains to Linda about the apartment houses surrounding the Loman home: “They should’ve had a law against apartment houses. Remember those two beautiful elm trees out there? When Biff and I hung the swing between them?” (17). However, these trees are not the trees of the real time of the play; rather, they exist in Willy’s past and, more important, in the “imaginings” of his mind, the place where the more important dramatic action of the play takes place.
Miller’s working title for Death of a Salesman was “The Inside of His Head,” and certainly Willy’s longing for the trees of the past illustrates how dreaming works in his mind. Throughout the entire play, trees–and all the other images connected to them–are complicated symbols of an idyllic past for which Willy longs in his dreams, a world where Biff and Hap are young, where Willy can believe himself a hot-shot salesman, where Brooklyn seems an unspoiled wilderness. The irony is that, in reality, the past was not as idyllic as Willy recalls, and the play gradually unfolds the reality of Willy’s failures. The metaphor of trees also supports Willy’s unresolved struggle with his son Biff. Willy’s memory of Biff and himself hanging a hammock between the elms is ironic as the two beautiful trees’ absence in the present symbolizes Willy’s failed dreams for Biff.
Throughout the play, Miller significantly expands upon the figurative meaning of trees. For example, in act 1, scene 4, Willy responds to Hap’s claims that he will retire Willy for life by remarking:
You’ll retire me for life on seventy goddam dollars a week? And your women and your car and your apartment, and you’ll retire me for life! Christ’s sake I couldn’t get past Yonkers today! Where are you guys, where are you? The woods are burning! I can’t drive a car! (41)
Willy’s warning that “the woods are burning” extends the tree metaphor by introducing an important sense of destruction to the trees of Willy’s idyllic world of the past. Since the trees are so identified with Willy’s dreams, the image implies that his dreams are burning too–his dreams for himself as a successful salesman and his dreams for Biff and Hap. The images of burning and destruction are crucial in the play, especially when Linda reveals Willy’s suicide attempts–his own form of destruction, which he enacts at play’s end. We realize that since Willy is so associated with his dreams, he will die when they burn. In fact, Willy repeats this same exact line in act 2 when he arrives at Frank’s Chop House and announces his firing to Hap and Biff. He says: “I’m not interested in stories about the past or any crap of that kind because the woods are burning, boys, you understand? There’s a big blaze going on all around. I was fired today” (107). This line not only repeats Willy’s warning cry from act 1 but also foreshadows Biff’s climactic plea to Willy to “take that phony dream and burn it” (133). The burning metaphor–now ironic–also appears in Willy’s imagining in the Boston hotel room. As Willy continues to ignore Biff’s knock on the door, the woman says, “Maybe the hotel’s on fire.” Willy replies, “It’s a mistake, there’s no fire” (116). Of course, nothing is threatened by a literal fire–only by the figurative blaze inside Willy’s head.
Once aware of how tree images operate in the play, a reader (or keen theatergoer) can note the cacophony of other references that sustain the metaphor in other scenes. For example, Willy wants Biff to help trim the tree branch that threatens to fall on the Loman house; Biff and Hap steal lumber; Willy plaintively remembers his father carving flutes; Willy tells Ben that Biff can “fell trees”; Willy mocks Biff for wanting to be a carpenter and similarly mocks Charley and his son Bernard because they “can’t hammer a nail”; Ben buys timberland in Alaska; Biff burns his sneakers in the furnace; Willy speculates about his need for a “little lumber” (72) to build a guest house for the boys when they get married; Willy is proud of weathering a twenty-five-year mortgage with “all the cement, the lumber” (74) he has put into the house; Willy explains to Ben that “I am building something with this firm,” something “you can’t feel . . . with your hand like timber” (86). Finally, there are “the leaves of day appearing over everything” in the graveyard in “Requiem” (136).
Miller similarly uses boxing in literal and figurative ways throughout the play. In act 1, scene 2, Biff suggests to Hap that they buy a ranch to “use our muscles. Men built like we are should be working out in the open” (24). Hap responds to Biff with the first sports reference in the text: “That’s what I dream about, Biff. Sometimes I want to just rip my clothes off in the middle of the store and outbox that goddam merchandise manager. I mean I can outbox, outrun, and outlift anybody in that store” (24). As an athlete, Biff, it seems, should introduce the sports metaphor, but, ironically, the sport with which he is identified–football–is not used in any extensive metaphoric way in the play.5 Instead, boxing becomes the extended sports metaphor of the text, and it is not introduced by Biff but rather by Hap, who reinforces it throughout the play to show how Willy has prepared him and Biff only for physical competition, not business or economic competition. Thus Hap expresses his frustration at being a second-rate worker by stressing his physical superiority over his managers. Unable to win in economic competition, he longs to beat his coworkers in a physical match, and it is this contrast between economic and physical competition that intensifies the dramatic interplay between the literal and the figurative language of the play.
In fact, the very competitiveness of the American economic system in which Willy and Hap work, and that Biff hates, is consistently put on physical terms in the play. A failure in the competitive workplace, Hap uses the metaphor of physical competition–boxing man to man–yet the play details how Hap was considered less physically impressive than Biff when the two were boys. As an adult, Hap competes in the only physical competition he can win–sex. He even uses the imagery of rivalry when talking about his sexual conquests of the store managers’ girlfriends: “Maybe I just have an overdeveloped sense of competition or something” (25). Perhaps knowing that they cannot win, the Lomans resort to a significant amount of cheating in competition: Willy condones Biff’s theft of a football, Biff cheats on his exams, Hap takes bribes, and Willy cheats on Linda. All of this cheating signifies the Lomans’ moral failings as well.
The boxing metaphor also illustrates the contrast between Biff and Hap. Boxing as a sports metaphor is quite different from the expected football metaphor: a boxer relies completely on personal physical strength while fighting a single opponent, whereas in football, a team sport, the players rely on group effort and group tactics. Thus the difference between Biff and Hap–Hap as evoker of the boxing metaphor and Biff as a player of a team sport–is emphasized throughout the text. Moreover, the action of the play relies on the clash of dreams between Biff and Willy. Biff is Willy’s favorite son, and Willy’s own dreams and disappointments are tied to him. Yet Hap, the second-rate son, the second-rate physical specimen, the second-rate worker, is the son who is most like Willy in profession, braggadocio, and sexual swagger. Ultimately, at the play’s end, in “Requiem,” the boxing metaphor ironically points out Hap’s significance as the actual competitor for Willy’s dream, for he decides to stay in the city because Willy “fought it out here and this is where I’m gonna win it for him” (139).
Biff’s boxing contrasts sharply with Hap’s. For example, Biff ironically performs a literal boxing competition with Ben, which juxtaposes with the figurative competition of the play. The boxing reinforces the emphasis that has been placed on Biff as the most physically prepared “specimen” of the boys. Yet Biff is defeated by Ben; in reality he is ill prepared to fight a boxing match because it is a man-to-man competition, unlike football, the team sport at which he excelled. He is especially ill prepared for Uncle Ben’s kind of boxing match because it is not a fair match conducted on a level playing field. As Ben says: “Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You’ll never get out of the jungle that way” (49). Thus the literal act of boxing possesses figurative significance. Willy has not conditioned Biff (or, by extension, Hap) for any fight–fair or unfair–in the larger figurative “jungle” of the play: the workplace of the American economic system.
Willy, too, uses a significant amount of boxing imagery, much of it quite violent. In the first imagining in act 1, Biff asks Willy about his recent sales trip, “Did you knock them dead, Pop?” and Willy responds, “Knocked ’em cold in Providence, slaughtered ’em in Boston” (33); when he relates to Linda how another salesman at F. H. Stewarts insulted him, Willy claims he “cracked him right across the face” (37), the same physical threat that he will later make against Charley in act 2 on the day of the Ebbets Field game. Willy wants to box Charley, challenging him, “Put up your hands. Goddam you, put up your hands” (68). Willy also says, “I’m gonna knock Howard for a loop” (74). Willy uses these violent physical terms against men he perceives as challengers and competitors.
As with the tree metaphor, this one is sustained throughout the scenes with a plethora of boxing references: a punching bag is inscribed with Gene Tunney’s name; Hap challenges Bernard to box; Willy explains to Linda that the boys gathered in the cellar obey Biff because, “Well, that’s the training, the training”; Biff feebly attempts to box with Uncle Ben; Bernard remarks to Willy that Biff “never trained himself for anything” (92); Charley cheers on his son with a “Knock ’em dead, Bernard” (95) as Bernard leaves to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court; Willy, expressing to Bernard his frustration that Biff has done nothing with his life, says, “Why did he lay down?” (93). This last boxing reference, associated with taking a dive, is a remarkably imagistic way of describing how Biff initially cut
down his life out of spite after discovering Willy’s infidelity.
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Miller also uses images, symbols, and metaphors as central or unifying devices by employing repetition and recurrence–one of the central tenets of so-called cluster criticism, which was pioneered in the 1930s and 1940s.6 In short, cluster criticism argues that the deliberate repetition of words, images, symbols, and metaphors contributes to the unity of the work just as significantly as do plot, character, and theme. These clusters of words can operate both literally and figuratively in a text–as I. A. Richards notes in The Philosophy of Rhetoric–and, therefore, contribute significantly to the overall aesthetic and thematic impact. For example, in Arthur Miller, Dramatist, Edward Murray traces word repetition in The Crucible, examining how Miller, “in a very subtle manner, uses key words to knit together the texture of action and theme.” He notes, for example, the recurrent use of the word “soft” in the text (64). My own previous work on The Crucible has examined how the tenfold repetition of the word “weight” supports one of the play’s crucial themes: how an individual’s struggle for truth often conflicts with society.
Let’s examine an intriguing example of word repetition from Death of a Salesman.7 The words “paint” and “painting” appear five significant times in the play. The first is a literal use: at the end of act 1, Willy tells Biff during their argument, “If you get tired of hanging around tomorrow, paint the ceiling I put up in the living room” (45). This line echoes Willy’s previous mockery of Charley for not knowing how to put up a ceiling: “A man who can’t handle tools is not a man” (30). In both instances, Willy is asserting his superiority on the basis of his physical prowess, a point that is consistently emphasized in the play.
The second time “paint” appears is in act 2, when Biff and Hap abandon Willy in Frank’s Chop House to leave with Letta and Miss Forsythe. Hap says to Letta: “No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy. Come on, we’ll catch Biff, and honey we’re going to paint this town!” (91). Of course in this line Miller uses the cliché “Paint the town red” for its well-known meaning of having a wild night of partying and dissolution–although it is notable that Miller uses a truncated form of the phrase. Nevertheless, here the cliché takes on new significance in the context of the play. Willy defines masculinity by painting a ceiling, but Hap defines it by painting the town with sexual debauchery and revelry, lording his physical superiority and his sexual conquests over other men.
The third, fourth, and fifth repetitions occur in act 2 during the imagining in the hotel room when Biff discovers Willy with the woman. When the woman comes out of the bathroom, Willy says: “Ah–you better go back to your room. They must be finished painting by now. They’re painting her room so I let her take a shower here” (119). When she leaves, Willy attempts to convince Biff that “she lives down the hall–they’re painting. You don’t imagine–” (120). Here, painting is simultaneously literal and metaphorical because of its previous usage in the play–but with a high degree of irony. Willy’s feeble explanation that Miss Francis’s room is literally being painted is a cover-up for the reality that Willy himself has painted the town in Boston. Biff discovers that Willy’s manhood is defined by sexual infidelity–ultimately defining him as a “phony little fake.”
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Another relatively unexplored aspect of Miller’s language is the names of his characters. Miller chooses his characters’ names for their metaphorical associations in most of his dramatic canon. Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays’s 1997 text The Language of Names revived some interest in this technique, which is known as literary onomastics and is considered a somewhat minor part of contemporary literary criticism. Kaplan and Bernays examine the connotative value of names that function in texts as “symbolic, metaphoric, or allegorical discourse” (175). Although some scholars have discussed the use of this technique in individual Miller plays, most readers familiar with the body of Miller’s work notice how consistently he chooses the names of his characters to create symbols, irony, and points of contrast.
For example, readers and critics who are familiar only with Death of a Salesman among Miller’s works have long noted that Willy’s last name literally marks him as a “low man,” although Miller himself chuckled at the overemphasis placed on this pun. He actually derived the name from a movie he had seen, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, in which a completely mad character at the end of the film screams, “Lohman, Lohman, get me Lohman” (Timebends 177-79). To Miller, the man’s cry signified the hysteria he wanted to create in his salesman, Willy Loman. Many critics also have noted the significance of the name of Dave “Singleman,” the eighty-year-old salesman who stands alone as Willy’s ideal.
Despite Miller’s consistent downplaying in interviews of the significance of his characters’ names, an examination of his technique reveals how extensively he connects his characters’ names to the larger social issues at the core of every play. For example, the last name of All My Sons’ Joe Keller, who manufactures faulty airplane parts and is indirectly responsible for the deaths of twenty-one pilots, resembles “killer.” In previous work on the play, I have noted the comparison of the Kellers to the Holy Family, and how, therefore, the names of Joe and his son, Chris, take on religious significance. Susan C. W. Abbotson has noted how the first name of The Ride Down Mt. Morgan’s Lyman Felt suggests the lying he has lived out. She also has analyzed the similarities between Loman and Lyman, and has argued that Lyman is a kind of alter ego to Willy some forty years later. Frank Ardolino has also examined how Miller employs Egyptian mythology in naming and depicting Hap (“Mythological”).
An intriguing feature of Miller’s use of names is his repetition of the same name, or form of the same name, in his plays. It is striking how in Salesman Miller uses the name “Frank,” or variations of it, five times for five different characters, a highly unusual occurrence.8 In act 1, during Willy’s first imagining, when Linda complains to Biff that there is a cellar full of boys in the Loman house who do not know what to do with themselves, Frank is one of the boys whom Biff gets to clean up the furnace room. Not long after, at the end of the imagining, Frank is the name of the mechanic who fixes the carburetor of Willy’s Chevrolet. In act 2, in the moving scene in which Howard effectively fires Willy and Willy is left alone in the office, Willy cries out three times for “Frank,” apparently Howard’s father and the original owner of the company, who, Willy claims, asked Willy to “name” Howard. Willy also meets the boys in Frank’s Chop House and, in the crucial discovery scene in the Boston hotel room, Willy introduces the woman to Biff as Miss Francis, “Frank” often being a nickname for Francis.
There are significant figurative uses of “Frank” too, for, although the word means “honest” or “candid,” all of the Franks in Salesman are clearly associated with work that is not completely honest. Biff uses the boy Frank and his companions to clean the furnace room and hang up the wash–chores that he should be doing himself. Willy somewhat questions the repair job that the mechanic Frank does on “that goddam Chevrolet.” Despite Willy’s idolizing of his boss, Frank Wagner, Linda indicates that Frank, perhaps, promised Willy a partnership as a member of the firm, a promise that kept Willy from joining Ben in Alaska and that was never made good on by either Frank or his son, Howard. Miss Francis promises to put Willy through to the buyers in exchange for stockings and her sexual favors, but it is uncertain whether she holds up her end of the deal, since Willy certainly has never been a “hot-shot” salesman. And, of course, Frank’s Chop House is the place where Stanley tells Hap that the boss, presumably Frank, is going crazy over the “leak in the cash register.” Thus Miller clearly uses the name Frank with a high degree of irony, an important aspect of his use of figurative language in his canon. Of course, all this business dishonesty emphasizes how Salesman challenges the integrity of the American work ethic.
Miller’s careful selection of names shows that he perhaps considered the names of his characters as part of each play’s network of figurative language. As Kaplan and Bernays note, “Names of characters . . . convey what their creators may already know and feel about them and how they want their readers to respond” (174). Thus, in his choice of names, Arthur Miller may very well be manipulating his audience before the curtain rises, as they sit and read the cast of characters in their playbills.
Finally, being aware of Miller’s use of poetic language is crucial for however we encounter his plays–as readers who analyze drama as text or as audience members in tune with the sound of the dialogue. It is, indeed, “all about the language”–the language we read in the text and the language we hear on the stage.
1. Although some critics have examined Miller’s colloquial prose, only a few have conducted studies of how poetic devices work in his dialogue. Leonard Moss, in his book-length study Arthur Miller, analyzes Miller’s language in a chapter on Death of a Salesman, a section of which is titled “Verbal and Symbolic Technique.” In an article titled “Death of a Salesman and Arthur Miller’s Search for Style,” Arthur K. Oberg considers Miller’s struggle with establishing a dramatic idiom. Oberg judges that Miller ultimately “arrives at something that approaches an American idiom to the extent that it exposes a colloquialism characterized by unusual image, spurious lyricism, and close-ended cliché” (305). He concludes that “the play’s text, although far from `bad poetry,’ tellingly moves toward the status of poetry without ever getting there” (310-11). My 2002 work A Language Study of Arthur Miller’s Plays: The Poetic in the Colloquial traces Miller’s consistent use of figurative language from All My Sons to Broken Glass.
In other studies discussing individual plays, some critics have noted poetic nuances in Miller’s language. In “Setting, Language, and the Force of Evil in The Crucible,” Penelope Curtis maintains that the language of the play is marked by what she calls “half-metaphor” (69), which Miller employs to suggest the play’s themes. In an article published in Notes on Contemporary Literature, John D. Engle explains the metaphor of law used by the lawyer Quentin in After the Fall. Lawrence Rosinger, in a brief Explicator article, traces the metaphors of royalty that appear in Death of a Salesman.
2. Thomas M. Tammaro also points out that the diminished prestige of language studies since the height of New Criticism may account for the lack of a sustained examination of imagery and symbolism in Miller’s work. Moreover, Tammaro notes that Miller’s plays were not subjected to New Critical theory even when language studies were prominent (10). In his new authorized biography Arthur Miller: 1915-1962, Christopher Bigsby clearly recognizes Miller’s attempts to write verse drama, but this work is largely a critical biography and cultural study, not a close textual analysis.
3. Most notable among these works are the following: “The Family in Modern Drama,” which first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1956; “On Social Plays,” which appeared as the original introduction to the one-act edition of A View from the Bridge and A Memory of Two Mondays; the introduction to his 1957 Collected Plays; “The American Writer: The American Theater,” first published in the Michigan Quarterly Review in 1982; “On Screenwriting and Language: Introduction to Everybody Wins,” first published in 1990; his 1993 essay “About Theatre Language,” which first appeared as an afterword to the published edition of The Last Yankee; and his March 1999 Harper’s article “On Broadway: Notes on the Past and Future of American Theater.”
4. For a more detailed discussion of these metaphors, see “Death of a Salesman: Unlocking the Rhetoric of Poetic Power” in my 2002 volume A Language Study of Arthur Miller’s Plays. Also, in “Figuring Our Past and Present in Wood: Wood Imagery in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and The Crucible,” Will Smith traces what he describes as a “wood trope” in the plays.
5. When Biff discovers Willy with the woman in the hotel room in act 2, she refers to herself as a football (119-20) to indicate her humiliating treatment by Willy and, perhaps, all men.
6. Frederick Charles Kolbe, Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, and Kenneth Burke pioneered much of this criticism. For example, Spurgeon did groundbreaking work in discovering the clothes imagery and the image of the babe in Macbeth. Kenneth Burke, in The Philosophy of Literary Form, examines Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy as a play that uses language clusters, particularly the images of the “prizefight” and the “violin,” that operate both literally and symbolically in the text (33-35).
7. In his work Arthur Miller, Leonard Moss details the frequent repetitions of words in the text, such as “man,” “boy,” and “kid.” He notes that forms of the verb “make” occur forty-five times in thirty-three different usages, ranging from Standard English to slang expressions, among them “make mountains out of molehills,” “makin a hit,” “makin my future,” “make me laugh,” and “make a train.” He also notes the nine-time repetition of “make money” (48). Moss connects these expressions to Miller’s thematic intention: illustrating how the American work ethic dominates Willy’s life.
8. In “`I’m Not a Dime a Dozen! I Am Willy Loman!’: The Significance of Names and Numbers in Death of a Salesman,” Frank Ardolino takes a mainly psychological approach to the language of the play. He maintains that “Miller’s system of onomastic and numerical images and echoes forms a complex network which delineates Willy’s insanity and its effects on his family and job” (174). Ardolino explains that the name imagery reveals Biff’s and Willy’s failures. He sees the repetition of “Frank” as part of Miller’s use of geographical, personal, and business names that often begin with B, F, P, or S. Thus the names beginning with F “convey a conflict between benevolence and protection on the one hand and dismissal and degradation on the other” (177). Benevolent Franks are Willy’s boss, the boy Frank who cleans up, and the repairman Frank. Degrading Franks are Miss Francis and Frank’s Chop House, which contains the literal and psychological toilet where Willy has his climactic imagining of the hotel room in Boston.
Abbotson, Susan C. W. “From Loman to Lyman: The Salesman Forty Years On.” “The Salesman Has a Birthday”: Essays Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Ed. Stephen A. Marino. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000.
Ardolino, Frank. “`I’m Not a Dime a Dozen! I Am Willy Loman!’: The Significance of Names and Numbers in Death of a Salesman.” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology (August 2002): 174-84.
____________. “The Mythological Significance of Happy in Death of a
Salesman.” The Arthur Miller Journal 4.1 (Spring 2009): 29-33.
Bigsby, Christopher. Arthur Miller: A Critical Study. New York: Cambridge UP, 2005.
____________. Arthur Miller: 1915-1962. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008.
____________. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama, Volume Two: Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee. New York: Cambridge UP, 1984.
____________. “Miller and Middle America.” Keynote address, Eighth International Arthur Miller Society Conference, Nicolet College, Rhinelander, WI, 3 Oct. 2003.
Brantley, Ben. “A Dark New Production Illuminates Salesman.” New York Times 3 Nov. 1998: E1.
Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form. 2d ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1967.
Couchman, Gordon W. “Arthur Miller’s Tragedy of Babbit.” Educational Theatre Journal 7 (1955): 206-11.
Curtis, Penelope. “Setting, Language, and the Force of Evil in The Crucible.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Crucible.” Ed. John H. Ferres. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972.
Engle, John D. “The Metaphor of Law in After the Fall.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 9 (1979): 11-12.
Gilman, Richard. “Getting It Off His Chest, But Is It Art?” Chicago Sun Book Week 8 Mar. 1964: 6, 13.
Kaplan, Justin, and Anne Bernays. The Language of Names. New York: Simon &
Krutch, Joseph Wood. “Drama.” Nation 163 (1949): 283-84.
Marino, Stephen. “Arthur Miller’s `Weight of Truth’ in The Crucible.” Modern Drama 38 (1995): 488-95.
____________. A Language Study of Arthur Miller’s Plays: The Poetic in the Colloquial. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.
____________. “Religious Language in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons.” Journal of Imagism 3 (1998): 9-28.
Miller, Arthur. “About Theatre Language.” The Last Yankee. New York: Penguin, 1993.
____________. “The American Writer: The American Theater.” The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller. Ed. Robert A. Martin and Steven R. Centola. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.
____________. “Arthur Miller: An Interview.” Interview with Olga Carlisle and Rose Styron. 1966. Conversations with Arthur Miller. Ed. Matthew C. Roudané. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1987. 85-111.
____________. “Death of a Salesman”: Text and Criticism. Ed. Gerald Weales. New York: Penguin Books, 1967.
____________. “The Family in Modern Drama.” The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller. Ed. Robert A. Martin. New York: Viking Press, 1978.
____________. “Introduction to the Collected Plays.” The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller. Ed. Robert A. Martin. New York: Viking Press, 1978.
____________. “On Broadway: Notes on the Past and Future of American Theater.” Harper’s Mar. 1999: 37-47.
____________. “On Screenwriting and Language: Introduction to Everybody Wins.” The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller. Ed. Robert A. Martin and Steven R. Centola. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.
____________. “On Social Plays.” The Theatre Essays of Arthur Miller. Ed. Robert A. Martin. New York: Viking Press, 1978.
____________. Timebends: A Life. New York: Grove Press, 1987.
Moss, Leonard. Arthur Miller. New Haven, CT: College and University Press, 1967.
____________. “Arthur Miller and the Common Man’s Language.” Modern Drama 7 (1964): 52-59.
Murray, Edward. Arthur Miller, Dramatist. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1967.
Oberg, Arthur K. “Death of a Salesman and Arthur Miller’s Search for Style.” Criticism 9 (1967): 303-11.
Otten, Terry. The Temptation of Innocence in the Dramas of Arthur Miller. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2002.
Richards, I. A. Richards on Rhetoric: I. A. Richards–Selected Essays, 1929-1974. Ed. Ann E. Berthoff. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.
Rosinger, Lawrence. “Miller’s Death of a Salesman.” Explicator 45.2 (Winter 1987): 55-56.
Simon, John. “Whose Paralysis Is It, Anyway?” New York 9 May 1994.
Smith, Will. “Figuring Our Past and Present in Wood: Wood Imagery in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and The Crucible.” Miller and Middle America: Essays on Arthur Miller and the American Experience. Ed. Paula T. Langteau.
Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007.
Spurgeon, Caroline F. E. Leading Motives in the Imagery of Shakespeare’s Tragedies. 1930. New York: Haskell House, 1970.
Tammaro, Thomas M. “Introduction.” Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams: Research Opportunities and Dissertation Abstracts. Ed. Tetsumaro Hayashi. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1983.
Teachout, Terry. “Concurring with Arthur Miller.” Commentary 127.6 (June 2009): 71-73.
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
Who does not want to live the perfect life, the American Dream? Throughout Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is in pursuit of this Dream. Willy focuses on the idealistic American dream his entire life, associating it with financial success, an excellent reputation and being well liked. He makes victims of his wife and of his sons by subjecting them to mistreatment and deprivation of a strong male role model. According to the Webster’s Dictionary a victim is one who is subjected to oppression, hardship or mistreatment.
Willy puts far too much pressure on his elder son Biff, not enough on his younger son Happy, and he makes a “yes-woman” out of his doting wife Linda. Willy’s ideas of the American Dream outweigh the realistic trials and tribulations that need to be overcome in order to achieve the Dream.
The American Dream is one of success and Willy views success as being well liked. He wants Biff to be well liked and hence puts much pressure on him to be popular.
During Willy’s flashbacks to 1929, Willy encourages Biff to be a good football player rather than a good student. Willy pays so much attention to Biff and puts so much pressure on him to succeed and to be well liked that Biff does not have anything concrete (such as marks) as a backup. Willy believes that even though Bernard can get the best marks in school, that he will not survive in the business world because he is not well liked (Miller 33). Biff wants to live up to his father’s dreams. He wants his dad to be proud of him. Before the football game at Ebbets Field, Biff promises “to break through for a touchdown,” just for his dad (32).
As a teenager, and right up until he catches Willy cheating, Biff does everything he can to get into Willy’s good books. He is the star football player and popular enough to order his friends around: “Fellas! Everybody sweep out the furnace room!” (34). Then, all of a sudden, things change. After finding Willy and Miss Francis together, Biff comes to the conclusion that his father is not as important as he makes himself out to be: “he [Mr. Birnbaum] wouldn’t listen to you [Willy]” (120). This is the turning point in Biff’s life because he becomes a victim of Willy’s actions. At this point, in a hotel room in Boston, Biff gives up on his life and the dream of success when he decides that he is “not going there [the University of Virginia]” (120). Willy has ruined his son’s chances at getting a good education and a successful career.
Willy puts so much emphasis on Biff’s success, that he neglects Happy. As a result, Happy feels the need to follow in Willy’s footsteps in order to gain the level of respect and attention from his father that is given to Biff. Happy feels this neglect as a teenager and feels the need to satisfy his dad: “I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop?” (33). Happy wants to be popular and well liked in order to get some positive attention from Willy. Even as an adult, Happy holds on to the need to impress his dad and to keep him content with his life.
Happy wants Biff to lie to their father about seeing Bill Oliver because Willy “is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something” (105). Happy wants Willy to be pleased with Biff because that would keep Willy happy and could stop him from having flashbacks and talking to himself. Success in business is one of Willy’s goals for the American Dream and thus, Happy wants to be a businessman because he is seeking his father’s approval.
While in pursuit of the American Dream, Willy needs someone to support him and to agree with all of his decisions. Linda is there for him throughout the hard times. She guides him by being supportive of his decisions and even supports his lying. She knows that he goes to Charley to “borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend[s] to [her] that it’s his pay” (57). Linda allows him to feel important, at least in front of his own family. Not only does she defend him in front of their sons, but she also tries to keep the peace between her husband and Biff.
Willy doesn’t appreciate this as he should, turning on her when she tries to get him to listen to Biff, telling her ” don’t take his [Biff’s] side all the time” (65 ). Later, when she tries to comfort him, he tells her to “get to bed” (134). She endures him yelling, “stop interrupting” (64) without breaking down, only to ask him whether she “should?sing” (68) to soothe him. He has trained her to take his harsh words and act like nothing has happened. Linda is the glue that keeps the Loman family together as she tries to get Willy and her sons to speak calmly and peacefully and to see the best in each other.
Ultimately, the Loman family is affected by the American Dream gone awry. Willy Loman is very focused on this dream and his family’s success in business. Consequently, he mistreats his sons and his wife, making victims of them. His sons do not have a strong male role model who they can look up to during their maturing years. Instead, they have a daydreaming, failing salesman for a father, whose sole objective in life is to live the American Dream. He has also trained their mother to agree and comply with everything he says. The American Dream implies happiness and for Willy Loman that happiness is to die the death of a salesman. We have to wonder how the idea of death can bring happiness to someone’s life.
Self-Identity Of Willy Loman
Willy Loman, in Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman, is the typical hard-working American going after a dream. He was a man who was “escape there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine” (1947) Yet he was a guy who ‘didn’t understand who he was'( 1947 ). His absence of self-knowledge and failure to accept who he is leads to his madness and supreme demise.
Throughout the play, Willy attempts chasing “all the incorrect dreams” (1947 ). Willy strives to a male called David Singleman, a salesman who “died the death of a salesman, in his green velour slippers” (1894 ).
Willy knows that David has actually become effective by being popular and this is what Willy does, except that the times have altered and ‘company is company’ (1915 ). This misguided ideology leads Willy to be a bad salesman who hardly makes sufficient money to support his household. Willy can’t see the truth of this as he is too stubborn to accept that his whole life has actually totaled up to really little.
His success has always avoided him since he does not realize who he is. Willy isn’t a great salesman, but more of a man who’s “terrific with his hands” (1947) Willy ought to’ve worked with his hands since natural structure skills.
He finished lots of intricate building tasks around your house such as” [finishing] the cellar, … the brand-new patio, … the extra bathroom, and [putting] up the garage” (1947) He is described as being the happiest outdoors with “a batch of cement” or seeds for their little garden. Willy couldn’t understand what made him happy and what he was best at, and chose rather to follow a hollow dream of ending up being a terrific salesperson. When his phony imagine wealth and popularity began to fall apart, Willy started losing control of his life and his mind. This forced Willy to raise wealth for his family by unfortunately ending his life.
Death was also an escape for Willy from his place in the world as a typical working class man. He owns very little, and he makes very little, so he has no sense of accomplishment. Robbed of this, he develops the theory that if a person is well liked and has a great deal of personal charm, then all doors will automatically be opened for him. Willy built his life around these dreams. However, for Willy to live by his ideals in the modern capitalistic world necessitates accepting mediocrity or even failure. Unable to accept his place in the world as a ‘low man’, Willy deceives himself into a false reality. He lies about his exceptional importance to the company and his fame by saying “I’m vital in New England” (1879) In reality, Willy isn’t needed by the company because of his poor salesmanship, and is forced to lose his job. At times Willy even believes his own lies and becomes enthusiastic when he tells his family that he made more money than he actually did.
The grandeur of Willy’s aspirations for himself and his sons disillusioned him into not accepting his commonness. Biff realizes this truth and tries to make his father realize that “I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!’ (1944) Unable to believe this, Willy retorts “I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman” (1944) The name Loman implies nothing in the modern business world in which Willy lives in and he is unable to realize that he is just a typical hard working man. This blindness to the truth doesn’t allow Willy to see that his dreams are unreachable. The pursuit of the unattainable leaves Willy constantly unsatisfied with his life and drives him to madness. “With his self-identity weakened and undermined, Willy lost his grasp of things in general.” Unable accept reality, Willy kills himself.
Willy Loman is, for Miller, the antithesis of the classic tragic hero. As his name implies, he is a `low man’, an everyday man, whose dreams and expectations have been shattered by the capitalistic values of the society that he failed to see. Unlike the heroes of classical tragedy, he is not a man of stature or noble purpose but he commands our respect and pity because he pursues his dream with a passionate intensity that makes him unique and gives him a heroic quality. While Willy is flawed in many ways, his tragic flaw, or hamartia, is not knowing himself. His inability to see and accept who he is leads to his final act. His suicide, an act in defiance of the system which until now had defeated him, is a tragic attempt to salvage in death the dream he couldn’t attain while living.
The representation of masculinities in “Death of a Salesman”
Death of a Salesman reveals the story of an American man confronting failure in a success-driven society and shows the tragic path which eventually leads to his suicide. Willy Loman believes in what he considers the promise of the American Dream wholeheartedly, which is based on the Declaration of Independence stated by Thomas Jefferson in 1776: “We believe that all men are born with these inalienable rights – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”(Malone, 28)
However, Willy is too caught up in this masculine dream and it does not succeed as he wishes.
He tries to live up to it and prove himself by working as a successful salesman, but he does not even come close to it. The play examines the cost of blind faith in the American Dream and how a man cannot escape his own pattern of the past. His sons, Biff and Happy, cannot get away from the pattern Willy imposes on them either.
What is the relationship between this disillusionment of the American Dream and the construction of masculinity? Can the construction of manhood be shattered just like the dream? This essay serves to answer these questions by examining the making of masculinity as seen in the three major characters.
The Modern Tragic Hero
Willy is a character who sets his ideals on the essences of “self-made manhood” and “passionate manhood” described by Rotundo. Although he has been the supporter of the family and is the “head of the household” (Rotundo, 2), he cannot fully exemplify the “communal manhood” phase as suggested by Rotundo. He pays for the house, the refrigerator, the vacuum cleaner, and puts up ceiling in the living room, without his wife’s financial or physical involvement. But he never really has a respectable place in the community. His boss, Howard Wagner, does not seem to value him and never does him any favor. The kind of “respect, comradeship, and gratitude” (81) Willy describes are not received from Howard, who is forced to fire Willy for his erratic behavior. He thinks that people seem to laugh at him in Hartford and he is “not noticed” (36). Therefore, Willy’s trivial place in society is revealed.
Under the “self-made manhood” phase, “a man took his identity and his social status from his own achievements” (Rotundo, 3) and thus his work role forms the essence of his identity. His fulfillment is constructed in his success in business and professions. Being a sixty year old salesman living in Brooklyn, Willy is a man with powerful strivings and aspirations for success. He believes “selling was the greatest career a man could want” (81) and he does not want Biff to be a carpenter or a cowboy. He is proud of the fact that he used to “average a hundred and seventy dollars a week in the year of 1928” (82) and has been trying all his life to derive personal achievements in work.
He is in constant fear that he will never sell anything again, revealing his value is placed greatly on the success in business. He wants to be a “well liked” and “personally attractive” man in business and convinces himself that “I’m vital in New England” because all these lead to success, wealth and power in society. However, the fact that he does not sell anything and is always rejected by buyers suggests that he is not the successful businessman he says he is after all.
Willy also fits into the “passionate manhood” phase in late 19th and early 20th century because he values bodily qualities a lot. Seeing Ben’s success in the wilderness, he wants his sons to “walk into a jungle” (52) and as suggested by Ben, if Willy will “screw on your fists, you can fight for a fortune up there” (85). He believes “a man who can’t handle tools is not a man” (44), which exemplifies the tough, primitive masculinity that he strongly believes in. He encourages Biff to fight with Ben and asks him to “go to it, go ahead, show him” his physical strength (49). The importance of baseball in the family reveals how the tough body is a “vital component of manhood” (Rotundo, 6). This idea is shown as well when Willy talks about how fat and foolish he looks (37). He wants Biff to wear professionally to discuss business deals, suggesting how physical appearance constitutes a vital role in this phase of manhood.
Willy, a sympathetic salesman and despicable father, has some traits that match Aristotle’s views of a tragic hero. The tragic hero in the classical world is a “mixture of good and bad characteristics”, who is “usually a person of importance who is undone by some personal flaw” (Pucci, 56). He has a “tragic flaw”, that is the cause of his downfall. Without the “distinct moment of epiphany”, and “compulsion to evaluate himself justly” (Pucci, 57), the tragic ending is the consequence of a hero. Traditionally, the tragic hero is a king or queen, someone who has the respect of a whole country. Willy can be seen as a modern tragic hero.
He is a good man who tries to take care of the family, but his faulty personality, the financial struggles, and his inability are substantial flaws that contribute to his failure and tragic end. His problem is that he completely accepts the values of his society that he judges himself by standards rooted in social myths, such as the myth of a perfect, money-making salesman. He has a series of ups and downs which is close to the tragic figure. He is an aging salesman who sells nothing, and repeatedly borrows money from Charley to pay for household installments. It is hard to tell if Willy finally learns his lesson. He seems to be unable to face the miserable reality of life. If there is such a lack of insight, it will be strikingly similar to traits of the tragic hero.
The Two Mythological Sons
Biff is a man who shows essences of the “passionate manhood”. He is a “well built” man who likes to “raise cattle, use our muscles” (23), and when getting ready for baseball games, he says “every muscle is ready” (88). When he is angry, he “could have torn the walls down” (104). He has been introduced by Willy to competition and hardy games at a young age. As Willy suggests it, Biff is like young god Hercules. According to The Columbia Encyclopedia, this most popular of all Greek heroes is famous for extraordinary strength and courage. He was the son of Zeus and Iphicles and incurred the everlasting wrath of Hera because he was the child of her unfaithful husband.
A few months after his birth Hera set two snakes in his cradle, but the extraordinary infant promptly strangled them. Hercules was involved in many other adventures and combats as well. In this Attic vase, Hercules is portrayed as a powerful, muscular man combating a lion from the wilderness. Therefore, associating Biff with this Greek figure illustrates how the primitive masculinity is found in him.
Hercules: Greece’s Greatest Hero. Philadelphia L-64-185, Attic red figure stamnos, ca. 490 B.C.
Biff longs for the West, which is obscured by his father’s blind faith in a twisted, materialist version of the American Dream. After his epiphany in Bill Oliver’s office, Biff determines to break through the lies surrounding the Loman family. He wants to come to realistic terms with his own identity. He announces that he is only a shipping clerk and he realizes that he has never been a real salesman. Biff’s identity revelation intends to reveal the simple and humble truth behind Willy’s fantasy. Both of them face disillusionment, reflecting Pleck’s notion of the son being “regarded as extensions of their fathers” (Kimmel, 85).
But Biff does a better job in acknowledging his failure and eventually manages to confront it. Willy is the “Father as Moral Overseer” (Kimmel, 84) in the play as he constantly tries to put Biff on the right track. He gets mad at the end because Biff has stolen Bill Oliver’s fountain pen, trying to “restrain the children’s sinful urges and encourage the development of sound reason”.
Early in the play, Happy tells Willy that he’s going to lose weight. Later in the play, this changes to “I’m gonna get married.” Why does Happy constantly interrupt conversations with either of these lines, and what does this mean to the play? How has Willy treated Happy all of his life? How has this affected Happy? Is Happy another Willy?
Pleck, Joseph. “Men in Domestic Settings” in Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity, ed., Micheal Kimmel. London: Sage Publications, 1987, p.83-97.
Malone, Dumas. The Story of the Declaration of Independence; Jefferson the Virginian. New York: Glier Corporation, 1982.
Pucci, Pietro. “Socrates and the Tragic Hero.” In Language and the Tragic Hero: Essays on Greek Tragedy in Honor of Gordon M. Kirkwood. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988, p.55-83.
“Hercules, Greek hero” in The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
Hercules: Greece’s Greatest Hero. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/lion.html
Critical Analysis of Death of a Salesman
Throughout Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman tended to take advantage of practically everybody he can be found in contact with.
He injured others constantly throughout this play for a range of various factors. Among his crucial targets was his other half Linda. From spoken to finical, Willy Loman abused his spouse Linda. His child Biff was also a prime target of his abuse. His abuse towards his kid was subtle sometimes, and not so subtle others. Biff wasn’t the only boy to come across abuse his brother Happy was likewise a target.
Delighted was abused not by any action, but by lack of. To further broaden on the abovementioned, Delighted was disregarded by his dad triggering much hinderance. A common occurrence among abusers is that their victimization seems be focused internally (household) or externally (everybody else) however hardly ever both. Willy Loman was an anomaly as far the formerly viewpoint was worried; Willy preyed on everybody he can be found in contact with.
From his finically helpful good friend, Charley, to the last individual you ‘d anticipate, a child. Though, that isn’t to state that Willy was in turn unhurt; he was likewise a victim. Those who are preyed on typically feel that they are justified in their diatribe versus all others, no matter how incorrect. His employer Howard would victimize Willy Loman, specifying his lack of value to service. Which might be viewed as an extreme act versus one’s ego, however this wasn’t the most widespread perpetrator of harassment. The quintessential worst enemy of Willy was his mental health problem; but more specifically his regular delusional tangents. Throughout Arthur Miller’s Work of art, Death of a Salesperson, Willy Loman was both a victim and a victimizer as I’ll soon make evident in the text below.
The most evident victim of Willy Loman was his dearest wife Linda. There were many angles in which she was abused but none more apparent than verbally. Willy Loman didn’t abuse his wife in the conventional use of the word; he didn’t go on verbal tirade, it was much more passive. For example a scrip analysis from Death of a Salesman featuring an emotional moment between Willy Biff and Linda; from pages one hundred and twenty-seven to one hundred and thirty, Willy had twenty-eight lines, Biff had twenty-five lines and Linda a mere four. This clearly demonstrates that whenever Linda was part of the conversation that wasn’t one-on-one she was severely neglected. When Willy and Linda would talk one-on-one she couldn’t say a thing without being contradicted or having her opinion belittled; “LINDA: Willy, dear. Talk to them again. There’s no reason why you can’t work in New York. WILLY: They don’t need me in New York. I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England.” (Death of a Salesman, page 14)
This shows utter denigration just for the sake of flexing his superiority, and ironically enough, he later attempts exactly what his wife suggests. What this shows is that Linda was absolutely right and Willy chose to victimize her over admitting that his wife was right. In this scene Willy defames his wife by establishing her inability to do simple processes correct, “WILLY: Why do you get American when I like Swiss? LINDA: I just thought you’d like a change- WILLY: I don’t want a change! I want Swiss. Why am I always being contradicted?” (Page 17) Maybe this seems harmless but imagine how you would feel; you’re looking out for some ones best interests and made to feel incompetent in the process. There is no doubt in my mind that this was detrimental to Linda’s ego.
Another way Willy victimized Linda was a way only Biff and he were privy to; events in Boston that may have cost him a place in heaven. Willy chose to break sanctity of marriage by cheating on his wife with a woman from Boston, but this begs the question; is someone a victim if they don’t know they were victimized? The second definition on Dictionary.com states that a victim as “a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency.” Ostensibly, what makes a victim isn’t the harm; it is the deceitfulness behind the action. To apply logic; if Linda were to find out she would in turn be hurt. With the application of this definition all speculation ends, and Linda clearly can be labeled a victim.
The last dynamic to Linda-Willy victimization is the more subtle finical difficulty caused by Willy’s incompetence. Willy had a commission based job and as a result had very unstable salary. In the later years of Willy’s life he seemed to have lost his knack for selling and as a result his income. This clearly created an uncomfortable living environment for the Linda. For one, not having working appliances would make her life incredibly more difficult and in turn would cause her stress. Secondly, not knowing if they would be able to afford their insurance premiums was also a problem. Not knowing if your world could come to a crashing end at any moment would create an enormous amount of insecurity in Linda. I am perfectly aware that this wasn’t Willy’s intend by any means; it was a topic of Willy’s concern as much as it was Linda’s. As of such, I’m sure you’re curious how this could be interpreted as victimization; how could being unable to provide a healthy living environment for your family be victimization? It lies in Willy’s passivity and ego. Willy had an opportunity to receive a job from his friend and finical confidante Charles, and by refusing it he effectively threw Linda into a poor finical situation.
Another character Willy victimized was his own son Biff. Much like Linda, there was a few facets to Willy’s abuse as I’ll soon demonstrate. The first on the docket was the verbal abuse. To keep this from convolution I present the following, “Biff is a lazy bum!” (Page 16) This demonstrates verbal abuse towards Biff that caused a great amount of distress in his son; as Biff perceives in rebuttal to like-comments, “Why does Dad mock me all the time?” (Page 21) This just brings a pinch of tangibility and support the true power of Willy’s abusive comments. There was also a less visible approach to Willy’s abusive nature, and that was in how he spoke to Biff. I’m sure you’re probably encountered similar situations, maybe when meeting the judgmental mother-in-law.
To get straight to the point, they state seemingly standard question or comments laced in condescension and attitude. Willy had a perpetual filter of attitude when he would confront Biff; and I use the word “confronting” because the seemed less like conversations and more like an interview. It would be extremely difficult to demonstrate this, so instead I present a quote from his wife Linda who also recognizes his confrontational attitude. “LINDA: …You mustn’t lose your temper with him. WILLY: When the hell did I lose my temper? I simply asked him if we making any money…” (Page 15) As you can see, Linda has recognized what I did, Willy’s subtle criticism of his son Biff via seemingly harmless questions.
Though Willy’s verbal assaults were extremely hurtful they didn’t even scratch the surface relative his other mode of victimization; the belief of his son’s greatness. Most would consider thinking your son is great to a fantastic attribute for both son and father, but there is a level of moderation that was completely disregarded. Hoping the best for your son and being utterly divorced from reality are two completely different things; and unfortunately Willy was the latter. By constantly putting Biff on a pedestal he put him in a very uncomfortable situation. He made Biff feel that if he didn’t achieve the level of his expectations he was a failure. This ultimately led to his breakdown and the elimination any doubts of the pain Willy induced.
Besides the previously mentioned moments of abuse, Willy was a less than satisfactory parent. In order for people to become competent adults they require a strong upbringing. The reason Biff didn’t have a strong upbringing was because of Willy’s ego. Willy thought he was had fantastic genes and his son would be fantastic by default. For starters, his father ignored all warning sides that Biff was failing math, even after literal warning from his son’s friend Bernard; “BERNARD: I heard Mr. Birnbaum say that if you don’t start studyin’ math he’s gonna flunk you… WILLY: Don’t be a pest, Bernard!” (Page 32) Willy’s belief in Biff’s infallibility led him to completely disregard the warning signs of his failure. Some might think this is Biff’s responsibility, but I beg to differ. Willy is his father, and his son was at a crucial age in life, one where the easiest choice isn’t the best. This was a very important time for Willy to take hold and push him to succeed and unfortunately he didn’t. By not giving him a proper foundation he put his son in a predicament he could never escape, one that presented years of disappointment frustration and anger.
Willy’s abuse of his son Happy wasn’t of an unconventional nature. He didn’t insult Happy, nor did he criticize him. What he did could be interpreted as even worse, he didn’t acknowledge his existence. The only time he entered into mind was while Biff was the focal point. It was evident that this constant ignorance deeply bothered Happy. As a child Happy was constantly pretentious; trying to grasp any ounce of attention he could get his hands on. This is a sheer sign of someone who was attention deprived. He wouldn’t have had to constantly draw attention to himself if he was getting it anyways, in a manner a good father would provide. In his later life, Happy suffers from numerous characteristic of a person who was an attention deprived child. For one he perpetually lies to making him seem like something worth admiring; as demonstrated at the Chop House, “Excuse me, miss, do you mind? I sell champagne and I’d like you to try my brand. Bring her a champagne, Stanley.” (Page 101)
In this scene Happy boldly lies to woe a women he has just met; he was not a champagne sales person, he in fact worked an unsatisfying job as the assistant to the assistant buyer. Another sign of his victimization as child was evident in the way he treated his father. I speculate as the years past, Happy started to resent his fathers. This is evident by the apathy he demonstrated towards his father at the Chop House; “LETTA: Don’t you want to tell your father- HAPPY: No, that’s not my father. He’s just a guy. Come on…” (Page 115) There is an expression, “the apple doesn’t fall from the tree”. I think this moment brings this expression to life as Willy’s choice to ignore his son comes full circle as Happy does the same, leaving him high and dry.
Willy didn’t direct his victimization to the Loman family members alone, he chose to victimize people outside his family as well. He was relentless when it came to his neighbor and good friend Charley. Charley was a great friend of his who would help him finically at every turn of the way. Even when Willy lost his job and was indebt Charley put his best foot forward to correct this unfortunate circumstance by offering the obviously useless Willy a job. Willy seemed to overlook this steadfast friendship to criticize Charley for relatively irrelevant reasons; “WIILY: Where are the rest of your pants? CHARLEY: My wife bought them. WILLY: Now all you need is a golf club…” (Page 51)
This is just one of the numerous examples of Willy ruthlessly criticizing his loyal friend. Insulting someone when they are around could be construed as friendly banter if Willy didn’t insult Charley only in person. This is demonstrated when Willy s uses his loyal friend as a model of someone who isn’t “well-liked.” “HAPPY: Like Uncle Charley, heh? WILLY: Bigger than Uncle Charley! Because Charley is not-liked. He’s liked, but he’s not-well liked.” (Page 30) The most troublesome portion of this moment in Death of a Salesman is the level of candor. Willy throws his friend to the dogs as if he’s was a piece of meat.
The victimization didn’t pertain to Charley alone; it also carried over to his son Bernard. Willy view Charley’s son Bernard as weak because of his lack of athletic prowess. For this reasons Willy felt it necessary to victimize Bernard as exemplified in the following, “You want him to be a worm like Bernard?” (Page 40) In this quote Willy refers to his son’s friend Bernard as a worm during a conversation with his wife Linda. The most unfortunately part of this is that Bernard, much like his father has a caring nature, and constantly tries to help the Loman’s. Once again, Willy just brushes off any attempted assistances and chooses to do the exact opposite and victimize.
Victimization as far as Willy Loman was concerned wasn’t a one way street; the sword of victimization was double-edged. Howard, Mr.Loman’s boss was probably his biggest adversary. He was a very business oriented individual who didn’t see faces but instead dollar signs. This is best exhibited when an emotionally tattered Willy request a desk job in the New York office. “I appreciate that, Willy, but there just is no spot here for you. If I had a spot I’d slam you right in, but I just don’t have a single solitary spot.” (Page 80) Upon first glance this might seem as if Howard is a caring individual whose hands are tied, but that is just a business persona exhibited and taught universally.
If that seems like to far of a stretch you only need to inspect Howard’s actions that later came; “HOWARD: Willy, you can’t go to Boston for us. WILLY: Why can’t I go? HOWARD: I don’t want you to represent us…” (Page 83) Willy’s purpose upon visiting Howard was to request an advance to protect his family arrives only to get the proverbial boot. Howard did mention business is business and we are all aware that the business world is cut throat and if you aren’t effectively doing you’re job you don’t deserve to have one; but this doesn’t excuse the tactfulness of Howard’s actions. Willy’s loyalty was completely disregarded, he wasn’t given any chance or warning and for that reason this by whom Willy was most victimized.
Besides Howard, only one character could touch the level of victimization he achieved, and his name was Willy Loman; bar-none, his own worst enemy. One of the crucial problems with Willy was his need to be better than everyone else. He constantly compared his achievement to his brother Ben as well as his good friend Charley. He viewed anything less than their success as simply not good enough. This in turn caused Willy an enormous amount of anxiety. Comparing yourself with your peers isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s only bad when your point of comparison is insurmountable and you won’t settle for anything less; his brother Ben had a mammoth size fortune, and good friend Charley was a wealthy business owner with an, even wealthier Lawyer son. If that wasn’t enough, like most parents, Willy began to live his life through his son Biff. Biff being a total failure; this resulted in even more suffering for Willy. Willy’s hope began to decay and decay until it was unrecognizable, leaving him with only one option left.
Willy’s only option left was suicide. A series of culminating events in Willy’s eyes, denied him any other option. He was starting to subconsciously recognize his failure as a father and more importantly a man. I couldn’t imagine a more cold cut victimization of one self. Many people when in a depressed state commit heinous acts, but there is no more heinous than committing suicide. Suicide is the grand puma as far as self-deprecation goes and Willy was a culprit of it. The mode of his suicide was even more appalling; a forced car accident. There are many sure ways to kill yourself; hanging, or shooting, jumping off something really high, but it takes a significant amount of self victimization to commit suicide via motor vehicle. This is because the chances of sustaining permanent injury are extremely high versus the chances of death. For this reason, I can concur that all victimization of Willy’s were only overcome by the victimization of himself.
This play was riff in the victimization and concurrent victims. Linda was victimized in enumerable fashions by her husband Willy. Willy’s victimization also carried over to his two son’s Biff and Happy who where both victimized but in two different fashions; one by neglect the other by high expectations. The victimization by Willy Loman didn’t cease at the doors of the Loman household, it even was carried over to his loyal friend and neighbor Charley and son Bernard. Willy was in turn victimized by his boss Howard who made him feel inferior to the company, striking a serious blow to his ego, as well as putting him in a horrible finical situation.
This diatribe aside Willy was in fact the biggest abuser of himself. One unanswered question seems to resound through this play, and that is why did Willy feel the need to criticize those around him? Was it his upbringing? I am under the impression it was due to mental illness. Willy seems to have many of the characteristics of one who is depressed; persistently sad, anxious, feelings of helplessness, difficulty making decisions, irrational thoughts and at the top of that list, suicide. Willy was without a doubt the biggest victimizer in Death of a Salesman but his victimization of others was only superseded by the victimization of himself.
Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman Controversial Tragedy
Tragedy was a very questionable concern in literature till recent years. Current figures in literature have actually set a clear definition for disaster. Author Miller is one of these figures. Plays and novels have actually distinguished the definition of tragedy. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary disaster is a major piece of literature normally explaining a conflict between the protagonist and a remarkable force and having a sorrowful or dreadful conclusion that delights pity or fear. Miller’s explains that a tragic hero does not always have to be a king or a male of a higher status.
A terrible hero can be a common individual. A tragedy does not constantly have to end pessimistically; it could have a positive ending. The play Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, is a disaster since it’s hero, Willy Loman, is an awful figure that deals with a remarkable source, being the American dream and the struggle for success. Loman likewise thrills pity in the reader due to the fact that of his defeat and his failure to end up being a success or teach his kids how to make their lives successful.
Miller specifies a defect as “an inherent hesitation to stay passive in the face of what one conceives to be a challenge to one’s dignity …” Loman fulfills numerous of the requirements of being an awful hero. Willy is not “flawless” in his actions, which by Miller’s requirements make him a tragic hero. It is not incorrect for Willy to have flaws and it does not make him a weaker male however a terrible figure. Miller designed the play so that Willy could be a tragic hero and for this he needs to have a defect. Willy’s defect is that he is not able to see things in a more sensible point of view. Charley says something in the play that sums up Willy’s entire life. He asks him, “When the hell are you going to mature?” Willy’s invests his whole life in an illusion. He sees himself as a great guy that is popular and effective. Willy shows numerous childlike qualities. Much of these qualities have an impact on his family. His two children Biff and Delighted choice up this habits from their father. He is optimistic, stubborn, and he has an incorrect sense of his importance on the planet.
The extreme to which he followed the dream brought him to disillusionment and a loose sense of reality. Willy created a reality for himself where he “knocked ’em cold in Providence,” and “slaughtered ’em in Boston.”(p.33) “Five hundred gross in Providence” becomes “roughly two hundred gross on the whole trip.” The ultimate result of his disillusionment is his suicide. It is ironic that he dies for his ideals although they are misconstrued. Another of Willy’s flaws is his disloyalty to Linda. Willy is unable to hold strong against temptations such as the women he slept with in Boston. Biff’s faith in his father is lost after he encounters the situation. This may have been the cause for Biff’s failure in life.
Another of Miller’s guidelines for a tragic hero is that a common man can be a tragic hero. Willy sums up to many of the characteristics shown in Arthur Miller’s article, “Tragedy and the Common Man.” Willy is the common man Miller speaks of in the article. Willy awakes each day to face the hard struggle of work. Although Willy is not very successful as a businessman he still goes to work everyday because he must support his family. Willy placed a great deal of importance on the success of Biff. Willy believed that the best way to achieve success was the fast way. Willy’s dreams for his children to become successful shows his role as a common man. Willy went to extremes to try and reach his goal of Biff becoming successful.
Biff is the most important thing in Willy’s life because he is Willy’s last shot at success. If Biff doesn’t want to be successful and doesn’t love him, then Willy would be more satisfied in killing himself in order to try and show Biff that he really is a success. If Biff does love him and wants to become a success then Willy is satisfied in killing himself in order to give Biff a better shot at success with his life insurance money. Willy’s actions and his desire for Biff to become a success and live happily make him a common man.
Miller says a tragedy usually deals with a greater power that is taking the freedoms of a lesser power. The lesser power deals with this and fights back against the greater power, while putting something of importance on the line, making him/her a tragic hero. Willy is unable to become a success because he is not able to reach the American dream and work for this successfulness. Although he fights for this successfulness, he fails. Willy has wasted his life on trying to become a success. Willy puts his final stride toward success is in Biff. Willy has spent his life raising Biff and trying to teach him how to become successful. The problem is that Willy doesn’t know how to reach success and he teaches Biff that success is fast and easy when it’s not. Willy always believes he can achieve that kind of success.
He never lets go of his wasted life. He dreams of being the man who does all of his business out of his house and dying a rich and successful man. Furthermore, Willy also dreams of moving to Alaska where he could work with his hands and be a real man. Biff and Happy follow in their father’s footsteps in their lofty dreams and unrealistic goals. Biff wastes his life being a thief and a loner; furthermore, Biff, along with happy try to conjure up a crazy idea of putting on a sporting goods exhibition. Biff really knows that Willy has never been successful and he looks down upon Willy for teaching him the wrong ideal. Biff does realize that Willy has wasted his life in order to make Biff’s better. “Miss Forsythe, you’ve just seen a price walk by. A fine, troubled prince. A hardworking, unappreciated prince. A pal, you understand? A good companion. Always for his boys.” (p. 114)
Another idea that supports the fact that Death of a Salesman is a tragedy is that there is a possibility of victory. Miller speaks about the things that make a piece of literature a tragedy is his article “Tragedy and the Common Man.” Miller says that for a piece to be truly tragic an author can not hesitate to leave anything out and must put in all the information they have “to secure their rightful place in their world.” Although it does not happen in this play and Willy is unable to overcome the greater force, he is able to make an impact on it.
Willy’s failure sets an example that Biff understands. Willy could have still been successful if he was able to see the flaws in his ways and teach Biff the right way to be a success, which is in hard work. If Willy had not killed himself and taught Biff that working hard at anything would make his successful then Biff may have reached success for himself and make Willy a successful father as well. The reader must look at Willy’s suicide through Willy’s eyes. He killed himself in order to give Biff a better shot at being a success. Willy doesn’t understand that killing himself is wrong and he is not looking for any pity. Willy has sacrificed his own life so that Biff could have a better life. This truly does make him a tragic hero.
Willy Loman is a tragic figure in the play Death of a Salesman. Willy faces a superior source in the play and puts his life on the line for his beliefs and the beliefs of others. He meets the requirements of Miller’s article for a tragic hero. Death of a Salesman also meets Miller’s requirements for a tragic play because of Willy’s role in the novel along with the other standards that Miller sets for a tragedy. The exploration of tragedy by people such as Miller helps to define it more clearly.