Death of a Salesman': Literary Criticism

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“Suicide as a deviant way of success: A study of Psychosocial approach in the Death of a Salesmen”

Arthur Miller’s ”Death of a Salesman” portrays the miserable conditions inflicting the lives between lower-class people and upper-class people during the 1940s in America. The story setting takes back to the ‘financial depression’ when the USA is held between the great world wars, by that time most Americans were optimistic about a renewed vision of the ‘American Dream’ meaning that anyone can achieve financial success and material comfort that lies at the heart of ‘Death of Salesman’. Though Miller achieved success by portraying an ordinary salesman (Willy Loman) as the Protagonist who is struggling to rise to the social ladder in a capitalistic society, who is very much betrayed by ‘American Dreams’ and moves on to the relentless pursuit of happiness that eventually brings his tragic end. Henceforth, this drama not only expresses the character’s psychological and subjective world but also shows the harsh social situation. It is important to analyze Willy Loman’s suicidal death.

The goal of this paper manages to analyze the cause of Willy Loman’s death from a societal and psychoanalytical perspective creating a link: between a social tragedy, Willy’s obsession with the American Dream, and his family’s tragedy.

Willy’s livelihood is quite familiar in our present era, people are facing similar problems to the way Willy had at that time. We discover that his life revealed some social problems veiled within personal and family tragedy, clustered with ethnic and money-oriented society causing our reflection on the current time.

As some critics claim that Death of a Salesman uses flashbacks to present Wily’s memory during reality “the more he indulges in the illusions, the harder it is for him to face reality” (Koon, Helene).

Willy Loman dreams that he would be a successful businessman like Dave Singleman, someone with money and status. Willy’s idea of having a successful life is to stand out to society and to be well-liked, and his frequent flashbacks show that he could measure happiness with money and popularity.

One analyst states that “society tries to teach that if people are rich and well-liked, they will be happy/../Because of this, Willy thought that he would be happy. He was never bothered to be happy for what he had” (Sarkar, Saurav. The American Dream in Context of The Death of Salesman, Academia).

Discussion

Willy Loman’s death as a social tragedy is influenced by the concept of Darwin’s Theory “the survival of the fittest”; portraying how the real society is not fair to everyone, especially to those middle-lower class people. According to Georgy Luckas, leading critic and theorist in the sociology of arts and literature states that “within a capitalistic society everything keeps up for its own price, the search for a protagonist for values is to come across some defeat, that is the depth of currency merits and triumph for currency”(Fatemah P. Sahari, pg-83). Unfortunately, that is how Willy slowly became the victim of the capitalistic society that had first used and that discarded him.

Howard: Oh, I could understand that, Willy. But you’re a roadman/../We’ve only got half a dozen of salesmen on the floor here.

Willy: Howard, all I need to set my table is fifty dollars a week.

Howard: No, it’s a business kid, and everybody is gonna pull their own weight.

Willy: I put thirty-four years in this firm/./ I can’t pay for my insurance!

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You can’t eat the orange and throw that peels away- a man is not a piece of fruit.

(Arthur Miller, The Death of a Salesman, Act-2, pg.83)

Explaining from the above line mentioned, Willy, who has been under the influence of money worship and various desire, the capitalistic-minded people would like to try by all means to ensure their survival and success in society. Howard seems not to bother how men like Willy may survive because he has his own business to be succeeded. He also views his employee as a leftover fruit, easily eaten, and throws the peel away. Regardless, of how hard work Willy had to go through for the company, Howard merely cared about his worth of struggle and refused to provide him one more chance.

A family tragedy is led by a man who does not have a true sense of himself and is blinded by the realization of what a terrible life he is leading. He does not even realize how much his family loved and cared for him. Willy is angry at one of his sons named Bliff who has failed in life in front of his father and Willy represses his current memories quite often the time when he had a happier relationship with his sons. In Fraued’s perspective, this is called the ‘pleasure principle’ meaning when an individual seeks pleasure and forgets the pain. Thus, Willy is the perfect example of a person who is affected badly by the repression of his pleasure principle, and Arthur Miller wanted to use Willie as an example for America displaying how a working salesman has drastically aided his own repression. Willy has been educated by the principle of the ‘American Dream’, that to work hard and reach one’s goal. He admired his father and Ben, whose adventure in Alaska and success in the jungle, gave Willy some hope that he may find success in the city. He did have ambition but could able to understand the business world and his real needs. So, he wanted his son to live a wealthy and decent life; surprisingly, their dreams collide as they hit down to throat, city to country, reality to idealism, and so did their idea of reality.

Biff is this idealistic boy, who knew that the business world is not for him and he is disgusted by the business community and prefers country life because he finds city life quite ‘dead’. Hence, he returns home to readjust his path, and Willy finds it a failure.

Biff (with rising agitation): Hap, I’ve had twenty or thirty different kinds of jobs since I left home before the war/../This farm I work on, it’s spring there now see? And. They’ve got fifteen new colts. There is nothing new inspiring or beautiful.

( The Death of a Salesman, Act-1, pg.16)

Biff finds it a pleasure to work on that farm and he admits how he wasted his life by working in other jobs, and he does not want to repeat the same regret. However, it seems Happy is an attention-seeking child who wanted to continue his father’s legacy, to be a successful salesman. On the other hand, Linda is an obedient wife. Although, Willy cheated on her by having a secret affair to seek his “pleasure principle”. Linda and Willy never had a conflict, but on a deeper level, their miscommunication created their family falls down. Thus, Freud would agree with the psychoanalysis of Willie that he likes to seek pleasure, and that way he can run away from the problems of his home, and his family, and losing his touch with reality.

Willy’s obsession with American Dream establishes an odd belief that a ‘well-liked and ‘personally attractive’ man like his brother Ben, who undoubtedly and deservedly acquire the material comfort offered by the American Dream in the business world; as Ben mentioned to the Lomans that, “I discovered after a few days that I was heading due south, so instead of Alaska, I ended up in Africa/../Principally diamond mines”. (The Death of Salesman, Act-1, pg. 37).

We can also see how various character achieved their own Dreams in many, such as Howard Wagner who inherited his father’s company. As well for Bernard who used to be this studious child and “not well-liked” as Willy mentioned to his son (Biff), “Bernard can get the best marks in school, I understand, when he gets out in the business world, you are going to be five times ahead of him” (The Death of a Salesman, Act-1, pg.25). Eventually, Bernard did end up being a successful Lawyer through his hard work. Overall, Willy’s vision of the Dream, which is influenced by Ben’s success, believes that any man who is manly, and charismatic, deserves success and will naturally achieve it. In the end, Willy and his sons fail to achieve that Dream, not because Will is unable to achieve financial success, but rather because he is consumed in the dream so deeply that he ignores the tangible things around him, sinking in his subconscious mind. This marks Willy’s tragic fall when he is fully detached from his wife and sons, the love for his family, and following after hope that someday he will bring security to his family. This psychological instability of Willy is the actual result that society is imposing on him, drifting him further to escape into the world of thoughts, as it is the safest shelter he could find. At the end of the play, Willy sacrifices himself in order to get his family the money from his life insurance policy. Literally, Willy kills himself for money, which demonstrates a strong meaning that American Dream is a powerful inspiration but it can turn any human into a living product whose sole value is his own worth.

Conclusion

Willy’s twisted picture of dreams and values ruined his life, as well as his family. He never realized that he lived in a world of dreams and illusions, leading it to fetal tragedy. Arthur Miller wanted his reader to understand there is intense competition in this current society, and we must strive to know ourselves better, be dedicated to our goals, and move on forward with our life while keeping pace with the rapid society.

Work Cited

  1. Arthur Miller, The Death of a Salesman, published by Penguin Classic (2000).
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Death of a Salesman’: Literary Criticism. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/death-of-a-salesman-literary-criticism/
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Death of a Salesman’: Literary Criticism. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/death-of-a-salesman-literary-criticism/> [Accessed 19 May 2024].
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