How Women are portrayed in Death of a Salesman Essay
How Women are portrayed in Death of a Salesman
Linda Lowman is a woman who seemed to be taken for granted in the Lowman household but that did not mean she was powerless. “The Great Depression reinforced female domesticity”, which was clearly shown in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller through Linda (Koenig 1). In the time period that this play took place women did not know any other life than to stay at home and tend to their families. This being the case, Linda took care of the home but was not at all powerless because she dealt with all of Willy’s problems and held the family together. Miller portrays Linda as a woman who is submissive to her husband, which exemplifies that he is an anti feminist. The ‘other woman’ in the play is also negatively portrayed as a stereotypical bimbo.
Throughout the play, Miller depicts Linda as powerless and highly dependent on Willy but by digging deeper into her actions, one can see is the backbone to the family. “…bore the cross of reality for them all, supporting her husband, keeping up her calm, enthusiastic smile…” (Bigsby viii). Linda is portrayed by Miller as a very weak individual mainly by how Willy speaks to her. In one particular example Willy loses his temper at Linda and says, “Shut up!…shut up!…there’s nothing wrong with him!’, which leaves Linda in tears (Miller 27). The abuse that Willy exerts on Linda is not to be taken as a representation of how he actually views women. But rather, Miller makes statements which show how highly he thinks of Linda such as:
“Linda is tough. She is a fighter. Willy is prone to bully her, cut off her sentences…this is a woman who has sustained the family when Willy has allowed fantasy to replace truth, who has lived with the knowledge of his suicidal intent, who sees through her sons’ bluster and demands their support” (Bigsby xix). The description that Miller just gave of Linda exemplifies her as a very independent, strong, loving woman who will do anything to keep her family together. Although Miller depicts Linda as a strong woman in the play; the movie, shows otherwise. During the movie it seems that Willy is not only emotionally, but physically abusive to Linda.
This may be the reason that Linda is so loyal to Willy; out of fear instead of love (Schlondorf). By Linda staying with Willy even throughout physical abuse is showing that Miller feels as though women aren’t independent or strong enough to leave their husbands and the men receive a sense of empowerment through dominion over women, “The woman makes him feel he is an important salesman and powerful man” (Ribkoff 123). This negative connotation towards women shows that Miller is an anti feminist.
Aside from Linda Lowman, another woman in the play is depicted in a negative, stereotypical way. Towards the end of the play we discover that Willy has been cheating on Linda with the ‘other woman’. Stereotypically, the ‘other woman’ is considered a whore and usually dumb or ditzy. The woman laughing gaily constantly represents the idea that she is considered to be dumb, for example: [The WOMAN enters, laughing…] Willy: “Will you stop laughing? Will you?” (Miller 91). The movie shows this woman as a young, blonde, attractive woman who seems very ditzy and carefree. This portrayal of the woman is very stereotypical of ‘bimbos’ and women who would sleep with a married man. Miller is creating a picture of this woman through the play and movie, which is quite negative towards women. The way he views women is clear; stupid, dependent, and promiscuous, although at times he seems to depict the women in the play as strong individuals.
It is surprising that Willy engages in this verbal abuse towards Linda in the company of others. On many occasions Biff and Happy have been present to hear Willy put down and yell at their mother. After repeatedly being told to stop by Biff it seems Willy will eventually give in and the attacks will subside. Out of the two brothers Biff is the only one who says anything to Willy and stands up for his mother. When Wily finds out that Biff is going to try and start a business he is overjoyed until Linda chimes in as well and tries to put in her two sense. “Don’t yell at her, Pop, will ya?…I don’t like you yelling at her all the time, and I’m tellin’ you, that’s all. Stop yelling at her!” is an example of how Biff stands up for Linda and is bothered by how she is treated. Biff can differentiate between what his father thinks is the right thing to do, and what is actually the right thing to do. He knows he isn’t perfect, but he admits to his mistakes and learns form then, unlike his father, Willy, “But unlike his father, he faces, and learns from his shame” (Ribkoff 124).
When Miller adds parts where men stand up for women it in unclear how he feels about feminism. From this example of Biff standing up for Linda it seems he is pro feminist but on the other hand, the way he describes the women in the play makes one think otherwise. Happy on the other hand does not say anything throughout this argument or others like it. Even though Willy yells at Linda quite often she does not defend herself. Maybe the reason she is not fighting back when being verbally abused is not because she is a doormat but because she is so exhausted from caring for everything else. This is an example of how Linda can be seen as powerless. In the introduction Rhoda Koenig describes Linda Lowman as “a dumb and useful doormat” and does not stand up for herself (Bigsby xix).
Linda has a lot on her plate between her husband losing touch with reality, her son’s not having solid jobs and the lack of money in their household. She deals with all these tough situations very well and does not even put up a fight when she is yelled at by her husband. Linda manages to stay collected for the most part even though she holds very heavy burdens. She decides to release one of her burdens on Biff when she tells him about his father:
“He’s been trying to kill himself…the insurance inspector came…all those [car] accidents in the last year weren’t accidents…I went down to the cellar. And behind the fuse box- it just happened to fall out- was a length of rubber pipe- just short. And sure enough, on the bottom of the water heater there’s a new little nipple on the gas pipe” (Miller 43).
Knowing your husband has plans or had plans to kill himself can obviously take a large toll on someone but Linda keeps it together. She has so much love for Willy that she puts up with everything that is going on. She tells him he can be the best and tells him she believes in him, whether she believes it or not. Aside from her husband, Linda has to deal with Biff not having a job and Willy and Biff arguing all the time. Biff does not want to become a salesman because he would rather be outdoors and this causes a lot of conflict between him and his father. Although he was not getting as many perks as he would being a salesman he was still doing what he loved. “To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors, with your shirt off” (Miller 11). Willy cannot understand why Biff would not want to be a salesman and resents the fact that he has not been very successful.
Laundry, mending stockings, worrying about bills, and groceries are a few of the things Linda Lowman does on a daily basis. These tasks are assumed to be the role of a housewife, which is another example of how Miller sees women. It is clear that in the Lowman household, Linda is responsible for all the household responsibilities, which at that time became quite common: “As men’s share in domestic activity began to disappear, housework truly became ‘women’s work'” (Leonard 307). Willy Lowman does go out and work throughout the day, but barely, while Linda is taking care of many responsibilities. It is clear that Miller feels the woman should be staying at home and taking care of the entire house as well as tending to her husband’s needs.
Linda is always trying to please Willy by saying things like; “I’ll make you a sandwich…the cheese is on the middle shelf!” and making sure he is completely satisfied. During the play, Linda always seems to be mending stockings, which is also stereotypical behavior of a housewife. Willy gets very angry when he sees her mending stockings because he feels so guilty about the ‘other woman’. When him and the woman have their encounters he always seems to give her a pair of stockings, “…and thanks for the stockings”, which has occurred twice in the play (Miller 26). Willy goes off to work and Linda takes care of the house, worries about the money and makes sure she is completely devoted to Willy when he gets home. Miller seems to have a traditional view when dealing with the roles of women and men in the family.
It seems like Miller is a closet pro feminist from time to time throughout the play. Although most of his portrayals of women are negative and very stereotypical, there are certain instances where he leans in the opposite direction. For example, when Biff stood up for Linda as Willy was yelling at her; that showed that Miller felt Linda should have been stood up for. The negative connotations towards women in this book do not equate to the pro feminism examples throughout the book. It is tough to evaluate how Miller really feels about women and their place in the household, workplace and their general personalities.
Bigsby, Christopher. “Introduction”. New York: Penguin Group, 1998
Koenig, Rhoda. “Seduced by Salesman’s Patter”. The Sunday Times. London, October 26, 1996, 10.4.
Leonard, Eileen B. “Household Labor and Technology in a Consumer Culture”. Composing Gender. Boston: Bedford, 2009.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin Group, 1976
Schlondorf, Volker, dir. Dofas. Perf. Dustin Hoffman, Kate Reid, John Malkovich. VHS. Lorimar Home Video, 1986.