Death Of A Salesman

Death Of A Salesman

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In 1949 a play that was to influence the views of many about the American Dream and its realities was published. Death of a Salesman was written by Arthur Miller and eventually went on to earn him the prestigious Pulitzer prize. This play was predominantly set in the 1920s-30s and gives a deep insight into how the great depression affected working families during this period in time. Miller based this dramatic play solely around the American dream. The American dream was a far fetched belief that if u migrated to America with a little money and an amount of self belief, through hard work you could become prosperous and be able to provide for your family. Arthur Miller himself had been a victim of the American dream, his Austrian father had owned a thriving clothing manufacturing company when in 1929 the stock market crashed and left him with no business.
Death of a Salesman is about a salesman who has long passed his "sell by date", and after being a salesman for thirty-four years, is being pushed to one side by his employer. Miller shows how his whole life has been based on lies and stories that he has led his naive family to believe. However this all changed when Willy Loman was caught with another woman by his son Biff. I believe that Miller is trying to convey his views through Willy Loman as a character.
Throughout the play, Miller uses various methods or devices to portray Willy Loman as a failing salesman. One of these dramatic scenes is the card game between Willy and Charley. This scene is very cleverly set, for example Willy Loman's house is "surrounded by towering buildings on all of its sides". When Willy has flashbacks to the past, we are allowed to see that his house was once a pleasant place that was surrounded by trees and fields and not skyscrapers. These skyscrapers give us the impression that even Willy's home is being enclosed and downgraded, and also provide a similar comparison to Willy's life itself. This is a fair comparison because Willy views himself as a failure in all aspects of life, even as a father! Near the end of the play when Biff confronts Willy, Biff starts to cry. "He cried! Cried to me." This quotation shows us that Willy is surprised by Biff's emotional actions and is overwhelmed that Biff embraces him as a father.

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It acts as a relief to Willy that Biff still does feel enough respect for his father to embrace him in such a manner, as Miller shows how he thinks he has failed his family.
The opening sequence to this scene involves Charley entering into Willy's household. Charley is described using very effective language; "He is a large man, slow of speech, laconic, immovable. In all he says, despite what he says, there is pity, and now, trepidation. He has a robe over his pyjamas, slippers on his feet." The fact that Charley is being described as slow of speech, laconic and immovable allows us to believe that he is a very relaxed man who is successful and seen a lot. This description is an incredibly obvious contrast to Willy, who twitters and mutters to himself, and he moves very slowly and in a tentative way. He appears to be on his ‘last legs' and could even be described as slightly senile, although stage directions just describe him as with "exhaustion", he "thankfully lets his burden down".
After Charley enters the scene he offers a game of cards to Willy, "Come on, let's shoot. Tire you out a little." I believe Charley does this because he thinks that it will calm Willy down and will reduce the overwrought sensation that Willy is emitting. He also does this because Willy has a very explosive temper. For example he always interrupts Linda, his wife, and tells her to be quiet. He also becomes angry suddenly when Charley offers Willy a job, "I got a job, I told you that. (After a slight pause.) What the hell are you offering me a job for?" This manner in which Willy becomes apparently very angry shows us that even though he failed miserably in his career he still has a great amount of pride that is not easily quashed. His anger may also be a result of the incredible pressure that he is undergoing in this period of his life, as he is realising that he can no longer provide for his family. I believe another reason that Willy rejects the job is not just because of his pride but because he is incredibly jealous of Charley because he has been very successful in comparison to Willy, as Miller's contrast of the two characters shows.
Later on during this scene Willy has flashbacks which involve his late brother Ben, who was an incredibly successful businessman who made a great deal of money. I think that Ben was used in this play by Miller to attack a particular point of American society; Ben became wealthy and rich solely because he was ruthless and merciless. This shows the audience that the American Dream can come true, but you have to be brutal to make it. You have to be able to use and discard people as if they were a mere tool to your success. All of the successful businessmen in this play are incredibly ruthless, for example Howard, who fires Willy even after he has worked for Howard and his father for thirty-four years. During this flashback he talks to what he believes is Ben and he also talks to Charley, which confuses Charley deeply because he is not able to see Ben. When Charley voices his concerns to Willy, Willy starts to describe his brother to him. He remarks that he too had the opportunity to go to Alaska and become rich like his more successful sibling. "Sure, sure! If I'd gone with him Alaska that time, everything would've been totally different". However he did not take this opportunity as he believed that the only life to lead was that of a salesman. This also reflects on the American Dream; it shows how naïve and ‘blind' people were when they tried to follow this, for most, an unreachable dream.
During the flashback, Ben appears to frequently consult his watch as if to check the time."(looking at his watch) William, it's half past eight!" This I believe reveals to us that Ben still feels hardly any loving and caring emotion to his brother Willy. It appears to us that he has no time for his brother and that his business comes first even over his own family. "Yes my dear. But I've only got a few minutes." This again discloses more of his ruthless side. Also throughout the flashback Willy repeatedly asks Ben about his father and his mother. "Where is dad? Didn't you follow him? How did you get started?" I believe he does this because he still is engrossed in his past which shows a less unbeaten Willy Loman instead of the decrepit and fragile Willy we see now. I also think he is searching for some sort of salvation in the past. While the whole flashback with Ben makes very clear contrasts between the two brothers.
This important scene finishes with Charley leaving Willy alone in the Kitchen, as a result of Willy being caught cheating at the card game. The fact that Willy cheats in this scene is another way of portraying that he is desperate to win or succeed in anything, even if it is a game of cards.
In conclusion I think that this dramatic, powerful and fascinating play is a very good representation by Miller of the American Dream. I think it draws attention to the fact that to succeed in life and become wealthy and profitable you need to be incredibly ruthless and merciless. It shows us the ironies, the false pretences that people made about success and most of all how it can devastate people's lives.
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