Literary analysis on the Death of a salesman

Literary analysis on the Death of a salesman

Arthur miller uses Death of a salesman to address the underlying reality of life in America. Despite the widespread campaign of American dream, different experiences as exhibited in the life of the main character, Willy, exposes the skewed distribution of opportunities and the need for individual effort. As Sinclair says, “The boom of the late 1940s, however, didn’t bring prosperity to everyone”pg.6 .A critical analysis of this works shows the creativity and sensitivity of the author in presentation of facts through literary tools. The plot of the play is built around one household but the diversity of literary tools, themes, and characters brings out the true picture of American promised dream. Miller seems to reconcile the myths associated with prosperity in the United States with the reality of uneven success among several people. Thematic emphasis of this work ridicules the success rhetoric that has since revolution become synonymous with America.

Most of other literary scholars have questioned the sincerity of the dream. In that respect, the Willy family and other characters reveals the complex social factors that does not make everybody amass wealth and live to expectations as portrayed by media. Miller’s mode of addressing the frustration that some people go through in pursuit of American dream is precise. In fact, the play setting is relevant and reflects social dynamics that America presents to different generations. While most other literary scholars seem to be in support of Miller’s approach, there is much lesson to be learned on the composition and structure of the work.

Miller delivers a timeless message through literature that emphasizes the deception that has lured people to believe American dream blindly. The play is developed from the pressure exerted by American society on individuals to conform to flashy lifestyle, freedom of mind, democracy, and self-actualization. The play reflects Miller’s creativity, wit, and foresightedness in literary writing. Although the themes addressed are wide and deep, a few characters have been used to emphasize underlying socio-economic construct of American society. This play illuminates the present generation’s experience in America where realities of inequality and other social ills affect the population. A creative and critical evaluation of this work reveals the ideal, realities, and complex societal structure that steadily breed inequality.

The overwhelming disconnects existing between reality and appearance in the case of American dream is evidently repeated in the play. In an effort to promote literary techniques and exude scholarly prowess, Miller produce this work in form of play which brings the taste of first person experience. The play is drafted using one family that is symbolic of several others within the larger America. The disillusions of people that have failed to realize the promise of American dream outweigh expectations derived from the tradition of success envisaged by the founding fathers. Miller uses Willy as the major character who is surrounded with controversies, self-denials, and frustrations of a failed life.

Character analysis of the play explores contemporary realities of American society that outweigh the long standing myth of American dream. Willy, Linda, Biff, Ben, Happy, among other, play their roles to exhibit the patterns of interpersonal relationships in the modern American family and the creativity deviations that make success an individual effort. “The most important casting, of course was, for the roles of Willy and Linda” (Murphy pg.15).Miller portrays Willy as an old sales man who makes efforts to reconcile his present predicaments with the failure of the past through fantasy… “But you are sixty years old. They can’t expect you to keep travelling every week” (Miller, act 1, line 3, pg.4). Willy’s numerous appearances in the work emphasize the pressure of conformity and its contribution to disillusionment of many who took the promise at face value… “Why do you get American when I like Swiss?” (Miller ,act 1, line 2, pg.6).Willy fantasizes about his past that apparently went to waste as he can’t show any progress at his twilight age. His diminishing sales career with nothing to show for the years of toil makes him anxious and depressed, compelling him to attempt suicide in several occasions. In this case, Miller uses wily to emphasize the non-guarantee of success despite hard work in America despite the exaggerations of the success dream.

Miller unveils the past of Willy as reflecting betrayal to his family. This theme of betrayal is supported by the fact that Willy had an illicit affair with another woman with whom Biff discovered. The play exposes Willy’s constant fantasy in which his encounter with the woman is repeated. Willy is even confusing his wife, Linda, with the woman in his fantasy. The theme of betrayal builds the plot to reinforce the fact that American success is doom to those that can’t cope. The nostalgic experience of past goods moments offer temporary psychological relief to Willy against the reality of today. In fact, Biff has since discovering his father’s extramarital affair, concealed his guilt while holding Willy with contempt. The strained relationship between Willy and Biff is representative of the intergeneration gap challenges that characterize contemporary society.

Willy is a character that embodies the frustrations and regrets of those that fail to accomplish the American dream. By bringing Ben into the picture, Miller offer an example of the input of shear hard work, multiple exploration of opportunities, and open-mindedness as the reality behind success in America. Although Ben is a brother to Willy, their diametrically opposite fortune is silent recipe to the latter’s disappointment and suicidal attempts. Difficulty in acknowledging fantasy and reality causes a cycle of self-denial, frustrations and disillusionment on Willy.As an exhausted salesman who is fast aging, Willy a manifestation of the misleading and deceptive presentation of American dream. Despite the reality of his wasted and fruitless efforts, Willy can’t afford to accept, hence wades in denial.

American social stratification is not dictated by ascribed status but rather acquired one. This means that individual effort is the direct result of success. However, the effort applied must equally be blended with creativity like in the case of Ben. While Willy shared childhood experiences with Ben, he was reluctant to follow him to Alaska where he later became a wealthy miner and explored to Africa. The underlying social construct of American society is heterogeneous and success is a relative achievement. Fantasy is a tool that Miller uses to revisit Willy’s past and use it to inform the audience of the excesses of American dream.

Linda is the wife of Willy who makes frantic efforts to cover up his denials. In that regard, she is representative of American patriarchal society in which home making remain a central role of womenfolk. Despite her knowledge of Willy’s imminent mental breakdown, she takes it upon herself to maintain family bonds by encouraging the sons to listen to the father. For instance Linda says, “Be careful on the stairs, dear! The cheese is on the middle shelf! (Miller ,act 1, line 4, pg.8) She partakes in Willy’s internal frustration and denial by concealing his condition. This play recalls the post-World War II baby boom that culminates to the present focus of women in creating and maintaining the delicate family union.

Linda is portrayed as a submissive, responsible, and a loyal woman. Her faithfulness and commitment to the family is an illumination of modern American societal construct that place moral burden on women. While the play was written long time ago, it relives the past generation and focusses on the present generation in different aspects of the society. As Sterling says,  “Linda does have a significant narrative ‘job’ in Miller’s play” pg.28. In essence, Linda is also in constant self-destructive denial by nursing the husband even in a condition that exposes him to death. Miller uses Linda’s character to emphasize the overriding influence of family love over moral responsibility to stand for truth.

Willy is fake in the eyes of Biff, but the entire family is not aware. Miller exhibits a pattern of behavior among the family members to reveal Linda’s unconscious participation in Willy’s misrepresentation. In this case, the play offers an insight into the inevitable responsibility of women to carry the ills and other problems of the family. Contemporary social dynamics that defy the tradition of respect is noted in this play as Biff openly resents his father, Willy.

The experience of Biff with his father in an illicit affair makes him a central character in the play. Miller brings Biff into the conflict to emphasize the irresponsibility and personal inadequacies of Willy.As Bloom says, “ The relationship between Biff and his father revolves around misunderstanding and guilt that between Willy and his father takes place wholly in the realm of fantasy”pg.13. Although, Biff is engulfed in guilt of concealing his father’s past extramarital affair, his disappointment is there for the reader to see. Besides, Biff is in the process of self-discovery. Such a process is a reflection of the struggles of young people to determine self-identity in this age of social media revolution and redefinition of success.

Miller has written a play that will outlive generations in its vivid description of the phenomenal changes in American society. It conveys a clear message on the deceptive nature of American dream and gives examples of the cases of failure among individuals that live in fantasy instead of working hard. This play stand out as mirror to the society on the underlying reality of American two sides, that is failure and success, depending on the path pursued.


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