Death Of Salesman Arthur Miller is one of the most renowned and important American playwrights to ever live. His works include, among others, The Crucible and A View from the Bridge. The plays he has written have been criticized for many things, but have been praised for much more, including his magical development of the characters and how his plays provide “good theater”. In his plays, Miller rarely says anything about his home life, but there are at least some autobiographical”hints” in his plays. Arthur Miller is most noted for his continuing efforts to devise suitable new ways to express new and different themes.
His play Death of a Salesman, a modern tragedy, follows along these lines. The themes in this play are described and unfurled mostly through Willy Lomans, the main character in the play, thoughts and experiences. The story takes place mainly in Brooklyn, New York, and it also has some “flashback” scenes occurring in a hotel room in Boston. Willy lives with his wife Linda and their two sons, Biff and Happy in a small house, crowded and boxed in by large apartment buildings. The three most important parts of Death of a Salesman are the characters and how they develop throughout the play; the conflicts, with the most important ones revolving around Willy; and the masterful use of symbolism and other literary techniques which lead into the themes that Miller is trying to reveal. Arthur Miller was born in Manhattan on October 17, 1915 to Isidore and Augusta Barnett Miller. His father was a ladies coat manufacturer.
Arthur Miller went to grammar school in Harlem but then moved to Brooklyn because of his fathers losses in the depression. In Brooklyn he went to James Madison and Abraham Lincoln High Schools and was an average student there, but did not get accepted to college. After high school, he worked for 2 years at an auto supply warehouse where he saved $13 of his $15 a week paycheck. He began to read such classics as Dostoevski and his growing knowledge led him to the University of Michigan. While at the University of Michigan, Miller worked many jobs such as a mouse tender at the University laboratory and as a night editor at the newspaper Michigan Daily. He began to write plays at college and won 2 of the $500 Hopwood Playwriting Awards. One of the two awarded plays No Villain (1936) won the Theaters Guild Award for 1938 and the prize of $1250 encouraged him to become engaged with Mary Grace Slattery, whom he married in 1940.
Miller briefly worked with the Federal Theater Project and in 1944 he traveled to Army Camps across Europe to gather material for a play he was doing. His first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, opened in 1944. Since then he has written 13 award winning plays and more than 23 different noted books. He had two children with Mary Grace Slattery, Jane and Robert, but divorced her and in 1956 married Marilyn Monroe. He then divorced her later that decade, and, in 1962, married Ingeborg Morath and had one child with her, named Rebecca. He now lives on 400 acres of land in Connecticut and spends his time gardening, mowing, planting evergreens, and working as a carpenter. He still writes each day for four to six hours.
His father always told him to read. He once said, “Until the age of seventeen, I can safely say that I never read a book weightier than Tom Swift and the Rover Boys, but my father brought me into literature with Dickens”(Nelson, Pg. 59). His fathers good-natured joking was used to invent the character of Joe Kellers genial side. After the Fall (1947) is a play written by Miller where he sneaks in some small autobiographical notes.
The character traits exhibited by the main woman in the play indicate his mothers early encouragement to his literary promise. The Depression still troubles him today, especially for the hard times that he went through as a child. In an interview, he once said, It seems easy to tell how it was to live in those years, but I have made several attempts to tell it and when I do try I know I cannot quite touch that mysterious underwater, vile thing. (Welland, Pg. 38) His parents could not afford college for him, so the Depression affected his life in many ways.
Miller hated the McCarthy Witch-hunt trials of the early 1950s, and once was called before that tribunal but was acquitted of all charges. His play, The Crucible, is a very powerful allegory to the McCarthy trials. He has used the American industry many times in his works and criticizes such social aspects of American society as its bad moral values and people who put too much importance on material wealth. Miller especially admired Henrik Ibsen, the great Norwegian master of the “well-made”, or tightly constructed, ordered play. Miller was familiar with the works of Eugene ONeill, Clifford Odets, and Thornton Wilder as well as that of such European Experimentalists as Bertholdt Brecht. All My Sons, Millers first drama to receive critical acclaim seemed to largely follow Ibsens style and form, the theme and even plot are based on some of Ibsens greatest works. Millers plays received a broad audience and made the dialogue as plain as possible for the “common man” to understand.
One critic, Euphemia Wyatt, once said, “I think the closest parallel to Death of a Salesman is Ibsens The Wild Duck, where every action in the present works toward revelation of the past” (Welland, Pg. 38). Miller believed that an ordinary person is able to serve well as a tragic hero if he gives up everything in the pursuit of something he wants intensely. Millers tragic heroes are usually confused. For example, Willy is confused about success and happiness.
His “solution” to these problems of committing suicide is a highly questionable one, at the least. But, Willy is planning on committing suicide for the betterment of his family, which is an admirable objective. He is willing to sacrifice everything he has, specifically his life, for his convictions, which makes him, with using Millers definition, the epitome of a perfect tragic hero. Miller used very creative and original formats in almost all of his works. For example, he has Willy holding two conversations at the same time, which shows the problems going on inside of his head. When Willy is reminded of the Boston hotel room incident, he relives the event and feels all the pain like it had just happened. “His language is sometimes considered banal and lacking emotional power” (Moss, 125).
Some critics believe that Miller has been too negative towards American society by showing mostly only the worst of what people can do. Also, he has been criticized by saying that he only shows the inhumane, mechanical workings of a business, never the loyalty that a company shows to its hardest workers. Some critics say his”common man” heroes are “little” and in the worst case, just common people. It has also been said that his heroes are not genuinely human enough to qualify as tragic figures at all. He has also been criticized for using untraditional techniques like the Act One “Overture” in The Crucible and the “Requiem” in Death of a Salesman. Miller always tries to find new forms of style to explore new and different themes.
Among these themes Miller takes into effect the vital contemporary issues of his time. Even those who disagree with his literary, political, or social views say that he does care about society and tries to tie in morals with his works. Many also say his plays provide “good theater”, that his stories effect them emotionally, as well as mentally, and that they “stir the heart”. A critic who, while working for The New York Times, once called Death of a Salesman “one of the finest dramas in the whole range of the American theater” (Corrigan, Pg. 94) and John Gassner saw it as”one of the triumphs of American stage” (MacNicholas, Pg.
106). So, it can be stated that Millers works command attention. Death of a Salesman won the Pulitzer Prize, the Drama Critics Circle Award and many others when it opened in 1949. Symbolism, foreshadowing and conflict are 3 of the many things that Miller does best. All of these literary techniques have added a tremendous amount to Death of a Salesman and many others of his works.
The play begins when Willy Loman, a salesman over 60, enters his house unexpectedly, and tells his worried wife, Linda, that, on his way to appointments in New England, he kept losing control of his car. She urges him to ask Howard Wagner, Willys young boss, for easier work in town so he will not have to drive as far anymore, “Willy, dear. Talk to them again. Theres no reason why you cant work in New York” (Miller, Act 1, Scene 1). She also happily states that their two grown sons, Biff and Happy, are upstairs and sharing their old room.
Willy is concerned that Biff, 34 years old, just quit another job out west. The entire conflict between Biff and Willy can be proven as starting at their meeting in Boston. When Biff saw his father, the man he idolized, with another woman, Biff’s faith in him was shattered. To Biff, Willy was a hero, but after this scene, he denounces him as a fraud. When Biff gets home, he burns his University of Virginia shoes, which represented all of Biff’s hopes and dreams. Biff no longer has feelings for Willy as Linda says, “Biff, dear, if you don’t have any feeling for him, then you can’t have any feeling for me”(Act 1, Scene 9).
Linda believes that, since she loves Willy, Biff cannot come and just see her because it would hurt Willy too much. Biff had believed in his father as being a great man, and he realizes that he was wrong. When Linda asks Biff what is wrong between him and his father, Biff recoils and says that it is not his fault. Biff does not want to tell Linda that the whole problem is because of Willy’s betrayal of her, so he just keeps it to himself and becomes the object of her anger. Willy’s problem with society is that modern business is impersonal. Even though “business is business”(Act 2, Scene 2), Willy should have been treated like a human being, not just a faceless employee. Howard, the owner of the business that Willy works for, believes that if an employee does not bring in profits, than that they are expendable.
He takes no interest whatsoever in Willy’s past selling records, his association with his father, or with pledges made years ago. Howard’s only concern is with the efficient operation of his firm, and he represents the cold, practical impersonality of modern business. Charley tries to tell Willy about this, “Willy, when’re you gonna realize that them things don’t mean anything? You named him Howard, but you can’t sell that. The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you’re a salesman, and you don’t know that”(Act 2, Scene 6).
It was hard for Willy to hang onto his personal dignity and to live with himself as being such a poor supplier of his family’s needs. He was trapped in a situation and saw himself as a failure. Society forgot Willy Loman existed and did not help him when he needed it, and his mental state made it impossible for him to help himself. Willy believed that he had to sell himself more than he had to sell his products. His whole outlook on life was wrong; he believed in attributes that a good salesman would be attractive, a good storyteller, well liked and that when he died everyone from far and wide would go to his funeral.
He got this idea from the story of Dave Singleton, who represented, to Willy, the epitome of success as a salesman. Willy is having mental problems, delusions of his long-dead brother Ben, whom he has many advice-searching conversations with. Ben represented success to Willy by Ben’s dignity, status and wealth, not his attributes, “There was a man started with the clothes on his back and ended up with diamond mines”(Act 1, Scene 4). The lies he keeps telling other people and the dreams he has for success actually begin to convince Willy that he was a great salesman who was known everywhere he went, “..’cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England and the cops protect it like their own”(Act 1, Scene 3). His deteriorating condition is exposed many times, but is most prominent when he is talking with both Charlie and Ben at the same time.
Another example of the conflict inside of Willy is his repeated references to suicide. In Charley’s office, Willy says, “Funny, y’know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive”(Act 2, Scene 6). Willy has already been contemplating suicide, but this is the first, straight-out mention of it. He takes suicide to be an honorable thing, something that would help his family greatly. His mental condition makes him forget the fact that suicide is a cowardly option for getting out of his responsibilities.
The climax of the story is after Happy and Biff return home from the dinner with Willy and the whole family has a big argument. Biff tells Willy that he is sorry for hurting him and says, “If I strike oil Ill send you a check. Meantime, forget Im alive” (Act 2, Scene 14). The father-son conflict between them ends in this conversation. It is the most emotional part of the play and where Willy is relieved of some guilt.
The denouement of the play is when Willy realizes that Biff loves him and has always loved him. Willy also believes that Biff could one day be a very wealthy man, if only he had some money to start with. Willy believes that the twenty thousand dollars that his life insurance policy is worth is enough. With these thoughts, and his mental problems affecting his thinking, he takes his car and commits suicide. The conclusion to Death of a Salesman takes place at Willys funeral where only his closest friends show up. This only proves even more so that Willys dreams were unrealistic.
Biff offers Happy a chance to break away from their fathers far-fetched dreams, but Happy does not take the offer. Charley tries to comfort Linda, but she wants to be alone with Willy. They all leave and Linda tells Willys grave that the mortgage on their house is finally paid off and that she is hurting that he wont be there to share it with him. The right term for the language in Death of a Salesman is probably describing it as “Modern American”. The speech is in the relaxed talking language of modern America, “Gee, Id love to go with you sometime, dad” (Act 1, Scene 3).
The Lomans live in Brooklyn, but the famous “Noo Yawka” accent is barely heard. The characters use the common speaking slang of conversation. But, when Happy tries to impress the two prostitutes at the restaurant, he speaks in a more formal tone, “Why dont you bring-excuse me miss, do you mind? I sell champag …