Individual Choice and Failure in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

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Individual Choice and Failure in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

It could be argued that Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is a tragic play that represents the failures of a system, but from an existentialist point of view, however, the play solely represents the failures of an individual. By looking at the many distasteful characteristics of the societal system embodied by the Loman's family values and dreams, and by then arguing these points from an existentialist point of view, this essay will confirm that the play represents the failures of an individual instead of casting blame on a socially constructed system.

Existentialists claim that to live is to be faced with the necessity of choice, and in the making of these choices we define ourselves and influence for good or evil the lives of others around us. The existentialist claims that there are no moral absolutes, and there is also no basis for knowing the consequences of our acts, but we must act, so we must choose and this is known as the existential dilemma. The truth of our existential dilemma reduces us to a state of anguish, as no matter what we choose we cannot escape responsibility for our choice and guilt for the consequences. Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre states, "we are condemned to be free" (Arts 1000 Lecture, 43), and by this he means that we are free to choose, free to define our being, and free to accept our moral responsibility; humans, however, do not want to face this freedom so they are constantly trying to escape from this freedom by inventing pretentious scientific and social theories, or by making up superstitions about Gods, all in an attempt to convince ourselves that we are not ultimately free to choose and that we are not responsible...

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...standards are the result of individual choice.

The existentialist would argue that to emphasize Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman as a play that focuses on the failures of a system, as opposed to the failures of an individual, as responsible for the family's unpleasant behavior and lack of moral values, would be to attempt to escape from moral responsibility; Willy and his sons have the choice whether or not to abdicate their freedom for conformity or for the ideologies of a capitalist system, as in the end the choice is always our own, and we bear the responsibility alone (Arts 1000 Lecture, 43).

Works Cited

Donaldson, Dr. Wayne. "Existentialism." Arts 1000 Lecture #43. University of New Brunswick. Fredericton. March 18, 2003.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism. Ed. Gerald Weales. Viking Critical Library. New York: Penguin, 1996.
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