Death of a Salesman Essay
Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller clearly adopted the approach of a classical Greek tragedy by asserting that Willy Loman is ‘as appropriate as a subject for tragedy as Kings are’. Miller portrays Willy as a hardworking man struggling to reach the intangible American dream by challenging Aristotelian convention and by using time as a structural motif to successfully portray the lead up to his demise. This ultimately portrays him as a modern tragic hero. The mobile concurrency repeatedly used is of a great importance to the play.
They serve as a recollection of his past memories, a dream world offering to escape the harsh reality of what he is facing at the current moment in time. Leah Hadomi, in “Fantasy and Reality: Dramatic Rhythm in Death of a Salesman” said :’When reality becomes too painful, Willy retreats into a dream world, consisting of his recollections of the past and of fantasies in which he ful? lls the aspirations, the attainment of which has eluded him in life”.
This statement is, to some extent, true as the ‘dream sequence’ seems perfect, with a repetition of ‘We’ll’ by Willy and Happy, when they discuss ‘carrying bags’, an ultimate perception of Willy’s dream world. However, even within this ordered dream world, Bernard pops the bubble in which order was maintained, as he asks Biff to ‘study’. The use of the word ‘anaemic’ is interesting, as it can mean a lack of colour on the skin. Perhaps Miller is saying how Bernard doesn’t fit into Willy’s category of ‘normal’, as normal means you have to be ‘well liked’, something that Willy maintained which ultimately lead up to his demise.
We see in this mobile concurrency how Willy is trying to maintain order by ‘dreaming’ yet this order subtly becomes disorder as the world doesn’t exist as a ‘floating balloon’, there needs to be someone to anchor us, and in this case, it is Bernard. Disorder and order are part of Aristotelian convention: the fact that in a tragedy, disorder is after the catastrophe, yet order will try to be maintained (e. g. in Othello, Lodovico will try to maintain order in society after the death of the moor).
The catastrophe here can represent the delusional present state he is living in, and the ‘order’ can be maintained financially as Linda is now ‘free’. So even in his mind, there is disorder which arouses sympathy from the audience as we realise how minds are so complex. The use of place and atmosphere also brings out an Aristotelian convention. There is a cyclical quality in the play: the fact that the stage directions at the start promote an heavenly quality and towards the end there is some spiritual sense. Miller here challenges the classical tragedy approach by using long stage directions, whereas in a play like Othello, there wasn’t any.
The “dream rising out of reality” sharply contrasts with ‘we’re free’ which Linda repeats. This reflects on the idea of the mass of the souls of the dead, and the freedom in movement. Miller clearly uses this cyclical ability as a structural time motif to reinforce the message of faith. The requiem serves to be concentrated, and allows us to make a comparison between faith as a spiritual guidance, and Willy’s tragedy. In classical Greek tragedy, there was some ‘guidance’ in one way or the other: Othello being a Christian so he would look to god, or others having ‘kings’ to look up to.
However here, there is no religious grounding within the Loman home, so we understand how a lack of religion and grounding can lead to irreversible consequences. The stage directions at the start of the play also show oppressive urbanisation in the sense that the buildings are “towering, angular shapes”, which represent the limiting power of individualism. This backdrop against the city shows how the Loman home is insignificant. Andy Warhol’s paintings express the express the fragility of the American dream through his ‘paintings’, yet in this play, we see the disastrous effects of how the capitalist society leads to his demise.
The fact that Miller manipulated this to allow these long stage directions be at the start portray how he wanted emphasis the corruption the capitalist society brings onto us, and this is reinforced by Howards inhumane treatment towards him: “You didn’t crack up again, did you? “. The ‘actual time’ period is also an important factor. The play was written at around the time of the 1940’s, after the ‘great boom’ in the 1920’s had occurred, so Miller must have used the idea of the ‘boom’ and how the American dream was an endless hope where one would dream of ‘possibility and a high social status’.
As the Wall Street crash occurred in 1929, we see that perhaps Miller wrote this play to underline the theme that the American dream was always intangible without religion, or some grounding force, yet the Loman family didn’t realise this, and this was their hamartia. One may say that because Miller himself was involved in communist activities (Arthur miller: a critical study), he had a Marxist attraction, and perhaps wants to show how Willy was completely destroyed by the capitalist society which was “grappling with a much superior force” (Tragedy and the Common Man).
His social comment made at the start of the play that Willy was “past 60years of age” shows how Miller is not economically viable, as in the American post war society, he is redundant. This shows how the society is mainly utilitarian, and how people can be disposed when they are out of ‘value’. Miller enforces our knowledge on the post war American society and allows us to make our decision, on whether or not his demise was due to the grappling society, or the fact that he ‘had the wrong dreams’. Miller carefully took a risk by carefully casting aside dramatic convention by focusing on overlooked people in society.
He built salesman around the accumulation of small and discomforting details and discoveries such as the rubber tubing which Biff finds (“draws out a length of rubber tubing”). It is only the time of when this is taking place is when these small details discomfort us a lot. For example, Biff finds the rubber tubing at night, before the end of act 1, which traumatises not only the characters, but us too. This breaks the linear narrative convention and allows us to dwell on the concept that Biff exists in the way he is, (e. g. not respecting him by saying “what the hell is the matter with him”).
Biff had no grounding from the start as we can see in the mobile concurrency (Willy leading him along by “stealing”), so the next act serves as false hope to the Loman family, the hope that Biff will understand his father, in which the audience play the supporting role which Linda usually plays. It also helps the audience feel cathartic, a sign of relief, before the major catastrophe of his death occurs. Miller successfully manipulated the time in order to show a recurring death image towards the end, and to show skewed ideas on life The use of ‘time’ literally slowing down the text on the page is quite significant too in act 2.
Willy’s lines are very much fragmented, and portray the sense of Willy slowing down time. This portrays some sense of hope in the sense that the family will be normal again and the house will be argument free. The pastoral elements such as the time of the day, the ‘coffee’ and the ‘saccharine’ emphasis the outward appearance as some sort of synaesthesia and artifice. Perhaps it portrays how even though Willy wants to slow down time, he is more ambitious from his ‘rest’, and therefore it prepares us for his downfall later on in the play.
Willy’s downfall is also due to ‘the woman’ and ‘Linda’, and in the time the play was written, women were treated as sexual objectification, also known as the ‘Madonna Syndrome’. The repetition of the ‘woman laughing’ throughout the play emphasises the fragmented state of mind Willy has and the ‘guilt’ he has, associated with the woman. With Linda, we do not see any social life associated with her; all we see is that she is merely Willy’s supporter as she always “makes excuses” up for him, and the dishonesty that she knows his flaws lead to his downfall.
The fact that Linda leaves Willy responsible (I can’t understand it, Willy) shows incapability to guide her, and we see her character disintegrate. We therefore see, as a modern audience, how women are imprisoned, and clearly we could see that the woman was imprisoned in Willy’s mind (through mobile concurrency), and Linda being physically imprisoned. Miller again manipulated time to echo a social comment about women being imprisoned, so do we therefore see Linda as a tragic victim, more than Willy in society?
To conclude, Miller effectively manipulates time through many ways such as mobile concurrency. Willy’s demise was merely his obstructions from the past which stopped him from leading on his delusional present. Miller effectively portrayed how he fell from a mediocre man to a state even lower than that on the hierarchy scale. On a personal level, the cyclical quality Miller presents in the fact that there was no religious grounding shows how nothing can be possible without faith; the cyclical quality reinforced it by using time at the start, and at the end, to see what message Miller was reinforcing.