Arthur Miller, the author of Death of a Salesman, is a well-known American playwright of the twentieth century. Through his works, he depicted characters that showed certain personal weaknesses due to their awareness of social realities. Death of a Salesman (1949) is considered one of his best works. It presents a tragic hero, who does not succeed in fulfilling his American dreams and, therefore, lives peculiarly in thoughts about his past. The play won him international fame and came to be counted as a real achievement.
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Willy Loman, the protagonist of the play, is strange because he does not realize that he has failed in life and conveniently continues to live in lies. He lies to everyone including his family and to himself. It was his dream to fulfill his American dreams and thus act as an example to his sons, whom he wished would succeed the same way. Ultimately, he fails in it but finds it impossible to accept this fact. He does not realize what his condition as reality is, and entertains delusions in his mind. “I’m the New England man. I’m vital in New England.” (Death of a Salesman, Act I, Scene I). He, in his mind, also believes that he is still a very good salesman, successful and important. This way, he deceives himself and his wife by telling her that it is impossible for them to shift from New York because he is inevitable in his company. The reality is that he is financially not at all stable and the family’s condition is pitiable.
Due to his problems, his mind works in an erratic manner and often he talks contrasting ideas. There are occasions in the play when he makes a certain comment and then no sooner, he contradicts it. His confused mind is presented through this behavior. His mind decides what he must say according to the psychological feelings at that very instant. He changes his opinions with his unstable thoughts. “There’s one thing about Biff-he’s not lazy.” (Death of a Salesman, Act I, Scene II). This is an example of his unstable mind. At first, he says sadly that Biff, his elder son is lazy and that is one big problem with him. A few minutes later, he changes his comment and says that Biff works hard. Similarly, he tells Linda that his car is the best one, but immediately contrasts it by saying that the manufacture of the car must be banned from making any more automobiles. This again shows his state of mind and how he always makes statements that contradict one another.
Willy keeps having hallucinations and he constantly talks to himself. Often, his mind wanders from one illusion to another, which are as deceiving as any other, yet he believes in them. He lives thinking about his past and ironically tells Biff that he has not grown up yet. In fact, it is Willy, who refuses to move on with his present life, recognizing its realities, and holds on to his past. In the play, Willy frequently talks about his rich brother, Ben. “The man knew what he wanted and went out and got it! Walked into a jungle, and comes out, the age of twenty-one, and he’s rich!.” (Death of a Salesman, Act I, Scene III). It is not clear if such a brother actually existed. This might be another image of his hallucinating mind. It is probably due to his failed dream of becoming rich that makes him think that he has a brother who is very rich. Similarly, he still thinks of Biff as a great basketball star and talks to him about sports and his coach.
Besides, Willy attempts suicide because of his desperation. He comes to know about the insurance money which his family would receive on his death. He even mentions it in the play. He says that it would be beneficial to Biff, who, like him, is on the verge of failing in life. He purposefully creates accidents in his attempts to suicide. He rather acts as a tragic hero, though all his character traits are not good. He has never remained loyal to his wife throughout his life. In the past, he had another affair, and thoughts about that irritate him. His attempt at suicide, however, proves that he loves his family and especially his son, Biff. The play makes the audience think about the lost, unfulfilled dreams of thousands of people in America, who find it difficult to cope with the realities of life and accept failure.
Death of a Salesman. Act I, Scene I.
Death of a Salesman. Act I, Scene II.
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Death of a Salesman. Act I, Scene III.