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Analysis - "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller

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Reaction Paper – “Death of A Salesman” by Arthur Miller

Marcos Leiva


April 6, 2015
Mr. Ozichi Alimole

Reaction Paper – “Death of A Salesman” by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman is a tragedy about the struggles of a middle class family living in Brooklyn, New York during the 1940’s. The play is a scathing critique of an American society that places emphasis on hollow materialistic values. Arthur Miller personifies the struggle between what society believes to be the “American Dream” and the middle class family trying to make that dream a reality, through the play’s protagonist Willy Loman, who is a depressed, overworked, and spiritless working man with delusions of grandeur. Originally written as a short story, Arthur Miller’s uncle (who was a salesman) inspired him to turn the story into a play. When the drama hit Broadway in 1949 it was a total hit and transformed Miller’s career, as well as gained him recognition as a gifted playwright, with the production winning the Pulitzer Prize that year and has remained a classic to this day.

Chasing the “American Dream” Willy Loman is the play’s tragic hero and as the story line progresses the audience gets to learn how truly depressed Willy Loman is and how he has an unrealistic view on the world. The play starts with Willy coming home early from work because of a business trip to New England he has cut short. He tells his wife that he kept finding himself daydreaming while he was driving and drifting off the road. He appears tired, worn out and spiritless right from the beginning and his wife is worried and concerned for his well being. The character of Willy Loman symbolizes the plight of the middle class working man living in New York City and early on the protagonist evokes feelings of pity and sadness from the audience. You genuinely feel bad for Willy at the beginning because it seems he is just another “good guy” caught in a vicious cycle of trying to keep up with society in a modern Capitalist culture. Later on, however, we learn that Willy is really not that good of guy, and instead we see how his selfishness, delusions, and inability to take accountability for his actions eventually leads to his demise. Imagination plays a role in writing and reading Arthur Miller’s “The Death of a Salesman”. In terms of writing the play, Miller had to imagine what would be the best way to personify and describe the characters and their situation. He also needed to have imagination to be able to know how to effectively use flashback scenes, which he makes good use of this technique in order to show and compare the young Willy Loman with the old Willy Loman, and illustrates to the reader and the audience the progression of Willy Loman’s demise. In terms of reading the play, imagination is used by the reader when trying to picture how the characters may look like, as well as trying to imagine the characters reactions and emotions to certain situations

Miller creates meaning by building up the conflict of the protagonist Willy Loman. Throughout the tragic drama piece you learn how truly unhappy Willy Loman is with his life, although he attempts to hide his personal misery from his family, the truth eventually makes its way out of hiding. One example of this is when one day Willy’s wife Linda went down to the cellar to change a fuse, and found a rubber pipe behind the heater that Willy was using to inhale gas in an attempt to poison himself. This is a shocking scene in the play and it is the first time that the reader and/or audience really understand Willy Loman’s depression. The play has made such an impact on society because of its portrayal of how American families chase the “American Dream”. It criticizes the effects of a modern capitalist economic system on the lives of a middle class family that has unrealistic views of themselves. We are reminded throughout the piece how all of the characters have yet to find themselves. Willy’s oldest son Biff used to be a high school football hero with a promising life ahead of him, but after failing his math class and unable to graduate he attempts to reach out to his father for help. Instead of receiving the help he was seeking, he shockingly finds out that his father was having an affair. This is the turning point in Biff’s life which he is never able to recover from and thus the creation of the play’s antagonist. He gives up on his higher education and possible football career, and instead works as a farmhand throughout the Southwest for ten years attempting to figure out his life, the whole time feeling like a failure and disappoint to his father Willy, who constantly reminds him that he is every time they see or talk to each other. Happy, is Biff’s younger brother, and although he is financially more successful than his brother, he is also isn't happy with his life. He wants to prove to the executives and managers that he works for that he can also do what they do. He hates taking orders and working under his superiors because he feels that he is better than they are. Linda is the ever patient wife, who has endured the struggles that Willy has put his family through but all the while supporting and encouraging Willy as best she can. It isn't until the end of the story that Linda’s pain is revealed when she lashes out at the two boys for leaving their father at a restaurant they were supposed to have dinner at. She is not happy with her life and we later find out that although she loved Willy, she wasn't happy with him either, as she couldn't even cry at his funeral. Finally there is our protagonist Will Loman, a sixty year old struggling salesman who has lost his soul, mind and will to live due to bad decisions and unrealistic views and expectations on his life and the lives of his sons, primarily Biff, who it seems is someone he is trying to vicariously live his life through. Willy does not get to see his family much because he spends a lot of time travelling up and down the East Coast making sales. He loses sight of what is truly important in life because all he can think of is making enough commissions in order to pay off his car, house, appliances, etc. He has two boys that idolized him growing up but that eventually despise him, as they get older, for the things he’s done and the way he has treated their mother. Eventually Willy cannot take his pain and depression anymore, and decides to end his life by getting in his car, speeding off and crashing it.
Arthur Miller makes a powerful statement in “Death of a Salesman” by showing us how an individual’s delusions and false sense of reality creates a hollow and unfulfilled life. It helps us take things into perspective when it comes to evaluating our lives in terms of work, family, and the things we surround ourselves. The play is a direct attack on the “American Dream” and what that means to us, as it has different significance for different people. For Willy it was popularity and demeanor. For many of us, it’s a big home with a Mercedes in the driveway. The bigger question that Miller evokes is, what are we sacrificing to achieve this dream? “Success” then starts to become a relative term, in which you only consider yourself successful if you have a nicer car than your coworker, or you have the biggest, most expensive house on the block. You are now chasing something that you will never catch up to because there will always be someone who has more than you, and you find out that success is no longer equated to happiness. The lesson that Miller is teaching us here is a simply one, be happy with the things that you have and the things that matter like your family and friends, and stop focusing and working like a dog for the things that you don’t have. Life is short, don’t be like Willy.

Miller, A. (1949). Death of a Salesman.

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