Death of a Salesman
“Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller is a narration about American society, its expectations and attitudes that shape people’s lives. It is told through the lives of a salesman Willy, his family and several other people who, in some way, have an impact on them. Willy, who falls into his imaginary word of the past frequently during the day, is regretful for some of his actions in the past that ‘prevented’ him of becoming rich. Now, he wants his sons to succeed who are in their 30s and are of different characters.
Although the genre of the play is realism, the author uses attributes of surrealism that help in developing the story. The protagonist of the play has an imaginary word that reminds him of his past; thus helping the audience to see the motives of his or his family’s current actions. The play starts when Willy has already gotten into a trouble because of dreaming while driving which suggests that the play is not about an ordinary person. For the reader, the shift from reality to dreams of Willy is sometimes warned by the long speech of his or by the reaction of the people around him. As for the audience, there are visual effects that the author recommends for the play in order to illustrate his story clearly. “… in the scenes of the past these boundaries are broken, and the characters enter or leave a room stepping “through” a wall onto the forestage”. Moreover, the play is full of symbols and diverse characters.
The ‘new” critic would notice the significance of the names. Some of the names of the characters reflect to their personalities; such as the name of the younger son of Willy whose name is Happy and he is careless and self-assured. Biff (which also means a hit, a clout), is the elder son who has a troubled relationship with his father. He goes against his father’s wish of getting a prestigious job in New York since he finds himself unfit for it. In contrary to his father, he finds his strength and self-esteem in the end of the play. However, the marxist critic would notice the positions and actions of the rich and poor. Uncle Ben who visits Willy’s imaginary world time to time is the brother of his. He became rich after he went to Alaska, and this continues to disturb Willy throughout the play and has a huge impact on his behavior because he had overlooked the chance. Also, Willy faced the bitter truth when he got fired from his job. Although, he had worked for the company for thirty-four years, he received no sympathy when he asked to stay and work in the town he lived in and be paid a small amount of salary. Consequently, he was worried that his sons won’t think of him good and nobody will remember him. “…Because he thinks I am nothing, see, and so he spites me. But the funeral, Ben, that funeral will be massive! They’ll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont… -I am known, Ben, and he’ll see it with his eyes once and for all…” The feminist critic would observe the behavior and the status of Linda who is the wife of Willy and how she was portrayed. She is caring and patient with Willy. All through the play, she takes the side of her husband and encourages him. She is also presented as humble and tolerable towards their financial and social status. The only thing she dreams of is paying off the house mortgage and the bills so they can enjoy a free life. Despite these ‘perfect’ traits, Linda is passive in her actions and lacks of understanding some situations and her husband’s behavior. After the suicide of Willy, she says, “Why did you do it? I search and search …I can’t understand it. I made the last payment on the house today…We are free and clear…” Possibly, Willy’s suicide is part of the consequence of her character.
In this play, Arthur Miller introduces a society by developing a story about a salesman and involving several other people. Ironically, those people have some impact on Willy’s fate and his family. Biff loses his self-confidence and drive when he discovers his father with ‘the woman’. He fails math class which becomes the foundation of his future failures and career choices. There is also Willy’s neighbor and his son Bernard who is a friend to Biff and a foil to Willy. However, nothing is told about Bernard’s life until Willy loses his job and meets Bernard on his way to borrow some money from his father. The author lines the scenes and the actions in a way that support in showing the psychological and emotional effects on Willy and Biff. Willy wonders how Bernard became successful, but his son is still
struggling and they were childhood friends. Here Bernard ‘reminds’ him of the math class which Biff failed and refused to continue after discovering his father with another woman. Although Uncle Ben is Willy’s brother who shows up in his imagination and gets into a conversation with him, his replies to Willy are more likely Willy’s own answers and opinions about himself. The fact that he could not become more than a traveling salesman and be known and respected is haunting Willy throughout his life. The author tries to show that Willy’s desires and attitude towards life had an effect on those around him and the other way around; the people around him had an impact on his actions and fate. Consequently, this is how a society behaves.