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Mar 31, 2011

Death of Salesman: Miller

Death of the Salesman is a personal and social tragedy which shows the cultural change. It may be viewed as a tragedy of a middle class neurotic caught up in a large city by his dreams. Miller’s concept of tragedy is quite different from that of Shaw and Galsworthy. His view of tragedy is different even from the classical view. The Greek heroes are destined to suffer but Miller takes man as a tragic product of dark surroundings. Unlike the Greeks, Miller considers the common man the most suitable subject for the tragedy.

Miller concentrates on a single subject--- the struggle of the individual attempting to gain his rightful position in the society and in his family. In Death of the Salesman, Miller deals with the longings and the dreams of the American salesman who is alter the illusion of success. The play revolves round Willy, who is a tragic character represents the blind faith for success is doing to the every sensitive soul. As a young American salesman, he dreamt: “Some day I will have my own business and I will never have to leave my home any more.”


The play presents a dramatic clash between dream and reality. Willy is far away of realities and advises his son “Be liked and you will never want”. At first Willy is not aware of painful fact that the changed circumstances have taken away the human element from salesmanship. When he comes close to ugly realities of life, he cries “woods are burning”. At first, Willy and Biff idealize each other. Biff takes his father as a good companion, a hardworking prince and a loyal husband. He remarks with pride that his father is always for his boys. Biff loses all respect for his father when he noticed a naked woman in his room of the hotel. He calls his father a “phony little fake”.

Willy laments the withering sense of family in the modern age. The following words reflect the irony of the human situation: “Work a life time to pay off a house. You finally own it and there is nobody to live in it”. Miller is mainly concerned with the social injustice and on the impact on the lives of characters. In Death of the Salesman Miller shows how the common man is crushed by the uncontrolled external forces and false ideals. The American society is brutalized and competitive. The responsibility of Willy’s tragedy lies partly on the American society which is stronghold on him.

Willy’s interview with Howard shows the cruelty of the competitive society. When he requests Howard to keep him in New York he declines his request, and keeps playing on the tape recorder. Willy cries when he is dismissed:
“You can’t eat orange and throw peel away.
Man is not a piece of fruit”.
Even, this touching argument doesn’t soften the stone-hearted employer. Here, Willy reflects the inhuman cruelty of the society of America. Miller has condemned the profit motive which doesn’t recognize human wants and need. It is, indeed, very sad that a man should think of committing suicide in order to help his son with the insurance money badly needed by him. The playwright suggests that only the long-legged persons can survive in the American society. The ordinary persons like Willy usually break down in the race and die an unnoticed death.

In this play Miller brings us close to the conflict between man and society. Dennis has rightly remarked: “The central theme of Miller has always been the integrity of the individual towards himself and towards his fellows, but the cost integrity for the most of his character has been life itself”. According to Miller tragedy is the result of man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly. The words of Linda describes the tragedy of Willy: “He drives too miles, and when he gets there, no one knows him anymore, no one welcomes him, and what to goes through a man’s mind driving too miles home without having earned a cent”.

Willy fails not only as a salesman but also as a father. When he finds that Biff loosing respect for him, he gets frustrated. In his great tragedy Death of the Salesman, Miller suggests that the young as well as the old finds themselves compelled to live by illusion in the modern age. Willy is a helpless victim of callous world where the worth of a person is tasted by the amount of money he is able to produce. Willy realizes at last it is not because of one’s charming personality but because of money that one is liked in the society.

To conclude, in modern drama, the commoners suffers as king and queens used to suffer in the drama, which followed by Aristotelian concept of tragedy. Although Willy is broken hearted, he gets some consolation from the awareness that Biff still loves him. The realizations that Biff really loves him in spite of his weaknesses makes him help his son through the ending of his life.

One may put forward the point, in Death of the Salesman Miller has denounced the modern commercial civilization. Thousands of Lomans are becoming its victim everyday. In maddening competition, one wants to override another. Miller suggests that the commercial society has created only tiresomeness and nervous breakdown for the common man. This great tragedy ends with an implied call on action rather than with feeling of catharsis. The tragedy of Willy could be understood, in the words of Linda:
“A terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid.
 He is not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog.”


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