Alienation and loneliness are two of the frequently explored themes in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Yet they can also cause other effects which are just as harmful, if not more so. In Death of a Salesman, two of these other results are dehumanization and a loss of individual freedom. This is a very complex web of emotions, but as Miller said, “Death of a Salesman is not, of course, in the realistic tradition, having broken out into quite a new synthesis of psychological and social dimensions” (Eight vii). It did indeed “break out” in the modernist direction. It is a wonderful example of the way modernist writers expressed their beliefs. They believed that the industrialization of society caused people to lose their individuality. Willy’s seniority at his advertising firm means very little in the larger scheme of things. He is just one of the many workers. He begins to wear out and be of little use. Therefore, he is discarded and presumably replaced with someone who will do the job more efficiently. He is not treated as a human being but as a part of a larger mechanism, a larger machine. This crushes what little self-esteem he has left.
This mechanized society can also lead to a loss of individual freedom. In order to survive, one must be a part of the competitiveness. This may mean giving up having the freedom to choose a pleasing occupation. Biff wants to find his own way and do what he wants; he is looked down upon because of his wish. Happy, his brother, wants to be financially successful. He knows that in order to do that, he needs to join the work force and persevere where his father failed. In this society, one can either do what he ch...
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...g the Loman family, Miller relates the larger, all encompassing themes of the modernists to a common American family. Miller relates them, specifically Willy Loman, to society as a whole and to the smaller societal unit of the family. He then goes on to show the psychological responses to and results of societal conditions. Specifically, he demonstrates that interaction with modern society without some understanding of what is occurring can lead to alienation and loneliness. These, in turn, can lead to dehumanization and a loss of freedom for the individual.
Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.
Florio, Thomas A., ed. “Miller’s Tales.” The New Yorker. 70 (1994): 35-36.
---. Eight Plays. New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1981.
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