In the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the playwright focuses on the theme of failure in a success oriented society. Willy Lowman, a failed salesman, is the central character. Willy’s downfall is caused by his belief in the propaganda of a society that only has room for winners. The significance of this theme, still very relevant today, is heightened by Miller's skilful use of a range of key techniques, including setting, characterization and symbolism.
The drama focuses on the life of a middle aged salesman, Willy Lowman, who, at the outset of the play is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He lives with his adoring but over protective wife, Linda, who acts as a buffer between her husband and their two adult sons, Biff and Happy, whose relationship with their father is permanently under tension. The play plots the tragic collapse of a man who cannot face up to his moral responsibilities in a society whose false values attach a dangerous importance to success as measured in such transient terms as income and material possessions. Living according to these values means that failure is likewise defined in economic terms.
The play's setting contributes to our understanding of the significance of this theme. Willy Lowman's home is presented as 'small and fragile-seeming', dwarfed by a wall of apartment blocks whose presence contributes to the trapped, claustrophobic atmosphere. He makes reference to a time before the build up of this area when there were 'two beautiful elm trees', now cut down by the builder and a garden in which scented wisteria and lilacs bloomed in profusion.Willy complains of the airless quality within his apartment, despite...
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...ary society. For today's audience, Willy Lowman remains a poignant figure of failure, partly as a result of society's false value system but partly because of Willy's own inability to confront life with integrity.
Works Cited and Consulted
Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.
Corrigan, Robert W., ed. Arthur Miller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
Florio, Thomas A., ed. “Miller’s Tales.” The New Yorker. 70 (1994): 35-36.
Hayashi, Tetsumaro. Arthur Miller Criticism. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1969.
Martin, Robert A., ed. Arthur Miller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982.
Miller, Arthur. The Archbishop’s Ceiling/The American Clock. New York: Grove Press, 1989.
---. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking, 1965.
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