Death Of A Salesman Annotated Bibliography


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Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" reflects the numerous issues post-war United States was dealing with during the late 1940's when it was written. Death of a Salesman was written and published in 1949, when the United States was booming with new economic capabilities and new found power, resulting in a golden age regardless of the growing tensions of the threat of communist invasion. Racial violence and the escalating issues regarding the deluded American dream that was turning out to be quite different than that which our founding fathers had originally idealized. During the time "Death of a Salesman" was created, Post-War United States was undergoing a metamorphosis into a new era of prosperity, communist paranoia, and social/philosophical change.

World War II had left the United States into an economic nightmare, but its resilient nature allowed a hasty return to glory. The United States entered the late 1940's as the strongest, most stable and powerful economy in the world (Wikipedia). Trade surplus and booming business's engulfed the country as the nation initiated into a new period of economic miracle. The deciding factors in this were the record breaking trade surpluses and the raising real income and investments into foreign business. Rising productivity and lowering unemployment allowed the nation to conjure a time where confidence in business and government reigned supreme. in business and government grew greatly, as large industrial corporations accounted for vast portions of the national income.
Nevertheless, the Yalta conference did make USSR the second leading superpower after Nazi Germany's fall in 1945 (The American Pageant). The Communist machine led a monstrous influence to countless countries and possible allies to the democratic United States. Such neighboring nations to the staggeringly huge Soviet led nation succumbed quickly to its humungous size and sheer military strength. The result of this was a terrifying internal attack on the United States by alleged communist enthusiasts. Led by the brainwashed and borderline insane Joseph McCarthy, the Red Scare during the 1950's led to a new concept of warfare dictated by the drawn out Cold War (Wikipeida).

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The balancing influence between the free democratic countries and allies of the United States and the communist controlled soviet states was the beginning of something the world has never seen before.
Following the end of the threat of fascism to the world, the United States converged into a new sense of prosperity and social reform. Conflicts arose between traditional cultural ideals such as segregation and a new generation of writers and artists arose from the darkness to battle for self-realization and pursue personal meaning (Sparknotes). Post war artists and writers like Arthur Miller became captivated by older notions of existentialism and ideas of human subconscious by psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. What came to be so disturbing was that the majority of Americans centered their lives too much on material possession. This triggered many writers to criticize the loss of American national values.
Needless to say, the time period when Death of a Salesman was born, was a time of extreme change for the entire world. The changes that led to the book influenced not only Arthur Miller but his work as well. Like Miller, The writers of the time were heavily influenced by the severe changes that were taking place in history. These changes brought about a new sense of lifestyle by the social and political changes, the communist scare, and the economic golden age which led the United States into an age of tense uncertainty.

Criticism #1: Benets' Readers Encyclopedia
Benet's Encyclopedia defines Miller's work in several different ways. It's main description of his style; characterized in one sentence. It states that his exploration of the relationship between public and private morality, becomes a man's attempt to "evaluate himself justly". Miller has struggled a great deal in order to compensate for all the 20th century American experience. Described as the best play ever written by an American, Death of a Salesman shows the incredible fusion of the ideas and formal problems that Miller had been wrestling with. The play fuses the traditional naturalism with expressionistic techniques that enable him to explore life to conventional form. The focus of Death of a Salesman is upon the interior life of a single character producing a distorted perspective. Although with intense concentration and rationalization. In conclusion though, the social and psychological levels of the work are imperfectly related.

Criticism #2: The Oxford Companion to 20th century Literature

Death of a Salesman deals with an epic theme in American drama. The play deals with a common yet epic theme in American drama. The capacity for opportunity for the little man to achieve the widely desired American dream. Death of a Salesman is heavily criticized as being simply put; a morality play. The main character's name is Loman, hence being a "low man", along with other comparisons to the son's of Willy Loman in the play. In contradiction to this view, however, Death of a Salesman shows more individualism than simply a morality play because of it's naturalistic revelation about the atmosphere of the world's society. Stating that society simply is a pit of traps and deceit, aimed intentionally for Loman, or the little man in America's commercial workforce. One may also be led to believe that the play could be seen as a tragedy; being said because the main character may be seen as unimportant from the beginning. Nevertheless, Death of a Salesman shows adept theatrical device and incorporated thought into the workings of such a play.

Criticism #3: American Writers: A collection of Literary Biographies

Death of a Salesman's theme's invoiced deeply around the points of money, morality and individual responsibility. However, man's social and individual responsibilities are not to be confused. The particular individual the play is based on is an old and near retired Salesman, Willy Loman. Since Death of a Salesman can be put as a simple fable regarding one man's moral differences, it is criticized as a work of a immature playwright. Miller stated in one interview, "…I had to seek cause and effect, hard actions, facts, the geometry of relationships, and to hold back any tendency to express an idea in itself unless it was out a character's mouth…" . Arthur Miller attempts to fuse the sides of factual conflict, with those of psychological conflict to allow it to incase wonder into the reader's mind. Along with that, Miller advocates a deep involved sense of self into his work. Many of his characters are related to his life in some way or another. Death of a Salesman shows that individualism can be pushed to definition, and then to irreversible and sometimes self destructive action.

Criticism #4: Contemporary Literary Criticism

Only once, did Arthur Miller compose a work of literature that incased a representative image of an aspect of experience. That work was Death of a Salesman. Before publishing his greatest play, Miller was criticized as a narrow realist with a hopeless aspiration and inadequate projection of moral complexity. Death of a Salesman is defined as highly integrated. The exposition of the play and its theme seem to flow well and are always relevant to one another. Arthur Miller's steady developing sophistication are revealed through the uses of irony in the play as well. Although, the thematic unity portrays a very neutral way of thinking. Miller is criticized for overtly trying to "prove the theme". As well as being too "realistic" when writing his play. The play's oversimplified approach emphasizes neither just social necessity nor individual responsibility. The theme of freedom versus determinism is seen as an ultimate dead end in his work. Although this is a great flaw in Death of a Salesman, the play manages to disguise it so that the reader can manage with both.

Criticism #5: Sparknotes: Death of a Salesman

Willy Loman strives to become the "personally-likeable" man in business and achieve the American Dream. Although, the play seems to imply that the key to success of the American lies in hard work without complaint. Death of a Salesman's' Willy Loman's desperation to reach this discombobulates him to the point where he cannot discern between the dream and his own life. The theme of betrayal also has its focus, as it involves Willy Loman's accusation that his son, Biff, betrayed his ambitions for him. Willy's intake of Biff's actions shows that he receives it as an insult out of spite. When Biff finds out that Willy had an affair with another woman, betraying Linda, this caused him to feel betrayed as well. Willy's never ending streak of lies caused this chain of dissent and betrayal. Abandonment also, is criticized in Death of a Salesman, as Willy's father leaves him early in his childhood. Willy's inability to understand reality is shown in his ill fated attempt to raise perfect sons. This fear of abandonment also caused Willy to conform to the need of reaching the idea of the American Dream.


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