Marxism and the Fall of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman

In post-Depression America, the United States endured internal battles in political ideologies between capitalists and Marxists, which is the focus of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. According to Helge Normann Nilsen, author of “From Honors At Dawn to Death of a Salesman: Marxism and the Early Plays of Arthur Miller,” the Great Depression had a profound impact in forming the political identity of Arthur Miller: “The Great Depression created in him a lasting and traumatic impression of the devastating power of economic forces in the shaping of peoples’ lives” (146). This lasting effect on Miller is embodied in the character of Willy Loman, an unsuccessful salesman whose life collapses from the strain of his competition for wealth, demonstrated by Nilsen as she claims the fault lies in the “Impairment of [Willy’s] conscience and sanity by intolerable economic pressures” (155). Because of his focus on material success, which Marxists view as a critical flaw in capitalism, Willy loses his sanity battling the corruption within himself and the American free market system. I believe, however, that while Miller embraced and promoted Marxist values and that the messages in Death of a Salesman are directed at capitalists, Miller was not condemning all aspects of capitalism. Although his portrayal of Willy may seem politically biased, Miller’s portrayal of Charley as a generous and kind man contradicts the notion that Death of a Salesman is purely Marxist propaganda. Miller, therefore, was not denouncing capitalism, but calling instead for reforms within the existing system.

The Great Depression can arguably be attributed to the avarice of a society engrossed with the attainment of wealth in the early 20th Century. Nil...

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... Salesman?” Koon 34-40.

Koon, Helene Wichkam, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Death of a Salesman. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983. Print.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Eds. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 2128-2193. Print.

Miller, Arthur. Miller on America. Literary Review: An International Journal of Contemporary Writing 47.1 (2003): 13-16. EBSCO. Web. 8 Feb. 2013.

Nilsen, Helge Normann. “From Honors at Dawn to Death of a Salesman: Marxism and the Early Plays of Arthur Miller.” English Studies. 1994, 2, pp. 146-156. Web. 27 January, 2013.

Sell, Mike. “Arthur Miller and the Drama of American Liberalism.” Arthur Miller's America : Theater & Culture In A Time Of Change. Ed. Enoch Brater. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005. 23-30. Print.

Welland, Dennis. “Death of a Salesman.” Koon 21-24.
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