Death of a Salesman tells the story of a man confronting failure in a success-driven society. Willy Loman represents all American men that have striven for success but, instead, have reaped failure in its most bitter form. Arthur Miller's tragic drama is a probing portrait of the typical American male psyche portraying an extreme craving for success and superior status. Death of Salesman follows the decline of a man into lunacy and the subsequent effect this has on those around him, particularly his family.
Miller amalgamates the archetypal tragic hero with the mundane American citizen. The result is the anti-hero, Willy Loman. He is a simple salesman who constantly aspires to become 'great'. Nevertheless, Willy has a waning career as a salesman and is an aging man who considers himself to be a failure but is incapable of consciously admitting it. As a result, the drama of the play lies not so much in its events, but in Willy's deluded perception and recollection of them as the audience gradually witness the tragic demise of a helpless man.
In creating Willy Loman, Miller presents the audience with a tragic figure of human proportions. Miller characterises the ordinary man (the 'low man') and ennobles his achievements. Willy's son, Biff, calls his father a 'prince', evoking a possible comparison with Shakespeare's Hamlet, prince of Denmark.. Thus, the play appeals greatly to the audience because it elevates an ordinary American to heroic status. Death of a Salesman seems to conform to the 'tragic' tradition that there is an anti-hero whose state of hamartia causes him to suffer. The audience is compelled to genuinely sympathise with Willy's ...
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...ion of American Society and the nature of individuality. Death of a Salesman may be interpreted as being solely a play about the failing America and the jagged edges of a shattered dream but it does, nevertheless, engage Miller's belief that 'the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy as kings are'.
Works Cited and Consulted
Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.
Eisinger, Chester E. "Focus on Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman': The Wrong Dreams," in American Dreams, American Nightmares,
(1970 rpt In clc. Detroit: Gale Research. 1976 vol. 6:331
Hayashi, Tetsumaro. Arthur Miller Criticism. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1969.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking, 1965.
---. Eight Plays. New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1981.
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