Dreams and Escapism within Death of a Salesman and Road Essay
Dreams and Escapism within Death of a Salesman and Road
Death of a Salesman was written in 1949 in New York, right on the brink of a consumerist explosion. The American Dream that people had spent his life in pursuit of was suddenly altered and became highly materialistic. This left people, such as the character of Willy Loman, questioning their life and feeling secluded from this new wave of materialistic dream and the abandonment of self sufficiency. Along with this, other plays such as Cartwright’s Road was written and set in eighties Britain, in a northern Lancashire town.
This was a time of high unemployment, particularly in the North, under Thatcher’s conservative power. The working class were hit hard and many declined into poverty, any dreams at this point would appear hopeless faced with recession and a government that showed no remorse to the characters depicted in Road. Both were faced with times of dramatic change that both sets of characters could not adjust to cope with, which is where escapism is used. In the introduction of the play, Miller proves to his audience that dreaming is evident in Death of a Salesman.
“An air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality”. By using the phrase “rising out” this indicates that this dream is a way of escaping, this sets the scene and tone of the whole play and how Willy is in a constant dream, unable to acknowledge the reality of his existence. The structure of the play is constructed like a stream of consciousness throughout, adding to the overall theme. Parallel to this, the structure within road is fragmented to emphasise the state of life within Road and also to represent the broken relationships.
The characters within Road make no effort to disguise the misery and reality apparent in their lives and portray it at face value through various monologues, which although are not structurally reality orientated the messages within them are. They are full of hopelessness and failed dreams and so for many; escapism is taking refuge in sex and alcohol to numb the despair and even starvation in an extreme case, as being a way out. However, some characters experience escapism through hallucination and Skin-Lad turned to religion to resolve his despair. Another form of escapism used is taking refuge in the past.
Willy constantly encloses himself in past situation, re-living them and even having conversations with characters that are only apparent in his own mentality. The positioning of scenes such as these let the imagined characters break all boundaries by entering or leaving rooms through “walls”. This further represents the fragile psychological state of Willy and how his mind has no restrictions and is unable to differentiate reality from creations of his own mind. Willy constantly refers to the past as more desirable, the first time Willy is seen lapsing off into the past is when he encounters Biff after arriving home.
The conversation between Willy and Linda reflects Willy’s disappointment in Biff and what he has become. After failing to deal adequately with his feelings, he escapes into a time when things were better for his family. The fact he is more engrossed with memories than the present day, shows his willingness to escape to the past; where his life was once idyllic, and his lack of compassion to stay in reality. This type of escapism can also be identified within Road, particularly in Jerry’s monologue where the opening line states “I can’t get over it. I can’t get over the past, how it was. I just can’t”.
He goes on to further reveal to the audience about the time he spent in the RAF on national service. Similar to Willy, as he is reminiscing, his dream enters into reality. As he describes certain objects he reaches out to touch them as if they are still there. This device is used to create a link between past and present and dream and reality. It is obvious both characters use the past to cover the present reality. The language within Road, particularly within the monologues, does not provide a realistic representation of the characters typical vernacular which is usually gutter language.
This is used to create a contrast against themselves and their lives, another way to separate themselves from their reality. The text adapts a poetic resonance which seems unfitting for the topics being covered. “I’ve been done by them, it, the crushing sky of ignorance” it has a strange beauty, just like road itself. Humour is also present throughout to divert away from what would be considered tragic occurrences however this is occasionally interrupted by graphic realism, such as Claire and Joey’s untimely death through starvation.
But true to the structure of the play, it is quickly overlooked by the narrator, Scullery who simply states “Hey, we’s gonna miss last orders” which would not be considered a realistic reaction. However, within Death of a Salesman the language which is used is typical of the characters. It is the context in which it is presented that provides the difference, particularly Willy’s conversations with characters which are not present. The end of Road depicts a group of characters chanting together “Somehow a somehow a somehow – Might escape”.
This is an unrealistic technique used to restore the hope and dreams that had been diminished throughout the entirety of the play. It also re-assures the audience that there might be someway out of this squalid existence that has been portrayed, and that even after everything, there is underlying hope. However, in complete contrast to this Death of a Salesman’s closing scenes portrays Willy’s funeral. His constant dream-like existence is finally exposed to show Willy for who he really was.
The reality is enforced and everything dream-related has died with Willy, leaving the harsh truth. In both plays, dreams and escapism are used thoroughly to uplift the tragic reality of the era in which the plays are set. Although, different strategies in both are used to cope with harsh realities they both provide a form of escapism for the characters and audience alike. Whether this is the humour, drink, sex and drugs present in Road or the constant reliance on the past and denial of present reality featured in Death of a Salesman.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 July 2017
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