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A 3 pages term paper on Death of a Sales Person

               Arthur Miller was born in New York, in 1915, to middle class parents. His father was an Austrian Jewish manufacturer and his mother was a schoolteacher. The Great Depression of 1929 brought the family's opulence to an end. During the Depression, Miller recalls the family house in Brooklyn being constantly visited by boastful salesman uncles. Far from being a brilliant student, the young Miller was more of an athlete, but he worked several menial jobs to pay for his college education. While at the University of Michigan, Miller began to write plays and afterward made his living writing scripts for radio.

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“A number of awards for his stage plays followed but the enormous success of Death of a Salesman in 1949 established him as a major dramatist. “(Robert W. Corrigan, Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays, New York, 1969, pg 22)

               He was married briefly to Marilyn Monroe in the 50's and wrote the screenplay for the film The Misfits, in which she starred. A realist, Miller wrote plays chiefly concerned with social issues, family relationships and the place of the individual in society.

Death of a Sales Person
               Willy Loman is, for Miller, the antithesis of the classic tragic hero. As his name implies, he is a low man, an ordinary man, whose dreams and expectations have been shattered by the false values of the society he has put his faith in. Unlike the heroes of classical tragedy, he is not a man of stature or noble purpose but he commands our respect and pity because he pursues his dream with a passionate intensity that makes him unique and gives him a heroic quality.

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“Willy was flawed in many ways, it is not simply this, but the social forces beyond his control that lead to his downfall.” (Steve Centola, The Achievement of Arthur Miller: New Essays, Texas, 1995, pg 55.)

               In Death of a Salesman, Miller is not so much calling into question the pursuit of the American Dream, but the dream itself. For Willy, his adventurer / explorer brother, Ben, and his salesman hero, Dave Single man, are images of success, but the character of Ben is fantastical and the achievements of Dave are idealized and embellished. Using these as his benchmarks, Willy can never achieve the success he so desperately craves. Through a series of flashbacks in the play, where we witness Willy's persistent efforts to make the American Dream a reality for himself and his family, Miller launches a scathing attack on the very notion of the dream. He questions the values upon which American society is based and the way in which these contribute to the destruction of a man such as Loman.

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               Unable to achieve the desired success in his own career, he becomes preoccupied with ensuring the success of his two sons, in particular that of Biff who, he is convinced, is destined for greatness in his sporting, professional and social life. Sadly, his over zealous attempts serve only to reinforce Biff's sense of inadequacy and lack of identity. Willy realizes toward the end of the play that he doesn't need to sell himself to his family, who loves him despite his failings. His suicide, an act in defiance of the system, which until now has defeated him, is also a tragic attempt to salvage something of his dream.

"I was convinced only that if I could make him remember enough he would kill himself, and the structure of the play was determined by what was needed to draw up his memories like a mass of tangled roots without end or beginning." (Gerald Clifford Weales, Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman Text and Criticism, New York, 995, pg 84)

               According to Miller, “it is this readiness to lay down his life to secure his dream that makes Willy a tragic yet heroic figure and one to whom, in Linda's words, attention must be finally paid.” (Helene Wickham Koon, Twentieth Century Interpretations of Death of a Salesman, Edinburgh, 1983, pg 127)

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               Linda his loyal and loving wife supports him in both his fantasies and failures and her life seems to be entirely absorbed into his. Linda is not part of the solution but rather part of the problem with this dysfunctional family and their lack of ability to see things for what they really are. Louis Gordon is in harmony stating, Linda, as the eternal wife and mother, the fixed point of affection both given and received, the woman who suffers and endures, is in many ways, the earth mother who embodies the play's ultimate moral value, love. But in the beautiful, ironic complexity of her creation, she is also Willy's and their sons' destroyer. In her love Linda has accepted Willy's Greatness and his dream, but while in her admiration for Willy her love is powerful and moving, in her admiration for his dreams, it is lethal. She encourages Willy's dream, yet she will not let him leave her for the New Continent, the only realm where the dream can be fulfilled. She wants to reconcile father and son, but she attempts this in the context of Willy's false values. She cannot allow her sons to achieve that selfhood that involves denial of these values. Linda is also caught up in Willy's lies and therefore does nothing but help fuel the fire in the inferno of their dreams and ambitions. She lets this whole masquerade continue right in front of her instead of doing something to stop their out of control lies.



References



Helene Wickham Koon, Twentieth Century Interpretations of Death of a Salesman, Edinburgh, 1983, pg 127.

Robert W. Corrigan, Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays, New York, 1969, pg 22.

Steve Centola, The Achievement of Arthur Miller: New Essays, Texas, 1995, pg 55.

Gerald Clifford Weales, Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman Text and Criticism, New York, 995, pg 84.

http://www.montana.edu/wwwpb/univ/deathsalesman.html

http://www.death-of-a-salesman-essays.com/links.html

http://www.nv.cc.va.us/home/aryan/English242/miller.htm

http://www.canoe.ca/TheatreReviews/death_salesman.html
 
 


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