death of a salesman
overview


      Death of a salesman is viewed as a social commentary, a Freudian analysis of family structure, an
anti-established portrait of capitalism and religion and a documentary on sales.  But, according to
Miller, its origin and meaning are of much simpler stuff.
      The play grew from observations from ordinary life: a simple frame house surrounded by others
almost identical to it; it’s a house filled with children who will grow up and leave; a house which will one
day be filled with strangers.  It’s a book filled with the fabric of family life; the day to day banter among
family members, as well as intense moments of joy and sorrow.  It’s a play about agony, about a boy’s
belief in his father, and a fathers dream for his sons and himself.  Although the play deals with failure
and disillusionment, it also celebrates humanity and the love between a father and a son.
      Miller contends that art must balance truth.  It is distinct from one-sided propaganda with
masquerades as art because it encompasses the full spectrum of life.  Inevitably, art contains seed’s of
the author’s philosophy, his political economical and psychological biases, but it must go beyond the
author’s bias, to achieve its full stature as art.
      The play is about Willy’s search rather than the socio-economic government in which his searching
takes place.  To that end, the play’s setting is scrupulously devoid of detailed reminders of place and
time.  The Loman house is suggested but there are no boundaries between stone and New York or
between past and present.  The play takes with large measure in Willy’s mind.
      Ben, the flute music, and the voice of the woman enhance Miller’s concept that everything exists at
the same time-at least within the human mind.  Normally the concept that stories are told
chronologically, meaning events occurring in logical sequence.  But sometimes one is jolted out of the
ordinary sequence of things.  Then life experiences may seem to intermingle, disturbing the local flow of
reality.  Willy has under gone such a jolt.  As he tries to evaluate and justify his life, the past becomes a
part of his present.  While talking to charley, Willy is also talking to Ben; while sitting in the restaurant
with Happy and Biff.  Willy is also in Boston cheating on Linda and reading the disbelief and
disillusionment in Biff's eyes.  Willy views his life with totality.  Conventions of time and place do not
pertain.

                                      Is Death of a Salesman a tragedy?
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      Perhaps the greatest debate about the play centers not around philosophy but around genre.  
Critics applying the Aristotelian standards of art argue that Willy Loman is not a tragic figure.  Tragedy
is limited by classical definition to art which depicts the fall of the noble or heroic character.  In
traditional sense, Willy is neither noble nor heroic.
      Miller has argues that tragedy is not restricted to kings and queens.  The common man is capable
of heroism or tragedy.  As defined by Miller, tragedy is the result of a person’s quest for personal
dignity.  It stems from the effort to evaluate ones self justly.  An unwillingness to submit passively to the
established order and values constitutes a tragic flaw.
      Willy has high ideals-perhaps unattained ideas.  He wants to be loved by all; he wants to succeed
by terms that do not fit his nature; he wants to leave his mark upon the world.  His struggle to achieve
these ideals causes him to fly in the face of the codes of normal behavior.  When he finally evaluates
his performance, Willy realizes that he has fallen far short of his goals.  Willy searched for dignity, love
and success.  Miller believes that his search is heroic.  That judgment must, finally, be made by each
reader.
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