The Theme of Society in “The Crucible” and “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller
Two plays by Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, both contend that society is the indifferent, sometimes brutal, force that crushes an individual. Although the plays take place in different time periods, they each convey the force of society through setting and conflict. They particularly show this theme through the formation of masses or of opposing sides, as with the girls and townsfolk of The Crucible and the company values in Death of a Salesman. The use of scapegoats like Tituba and Willy further develop the theme. Finally, the sacrifices of Proctor and Willy show the pressure that society places on men to be honorable. Society contributes a great amount to the plight of a protagonist, and Miller portrays this theme through his characters and their interaction with one another.
The two plays exhibit the theme of society’s power by showing a development of opposing sides, or enemies. For example, in The Crucible, the townspeople and the young girls take sides against the older women of the town. The Putnams are the primary adult offenders in the town. They fear what they do not understand, so they fear the supernatural connection between witchcraft and the deaths of their newborn children. Their position in society causes them to fear, so they oppose the sages of the group who do not have fear. Likewise, the children form sides against the older women of the group, but for different reasons. The children are completely restricted in their actions, particularly by the elderly, who represent their authorities. Thus, they react by unleashing their imaginations on the older townspeople.
Similarly, Death of a Salesman is plagued with the formation of sides. This time, however, the conflict arises between Willy and the ethics of the new salesman. According to Richard J. Foster, “The values that seem to be represented in Willy, the ‘good’ values that function in the play as implicit criticisms of society’s ‘bad’ values, are the familiar romantic ones: nature, freedom, and the body; free self-expression and self-realization; individualism and the simple life…” (Foster 3). Willy’s nostalgic, almost quixotic ethics contrast with those of society, Howard, and modern business. It is evident in Willy’s scene with Howard, in which he is fired, that the sides are clearly defined, and Willy’s morals are no longer valuable to the company. As Miller writes,
WILLY. In those days there was personality in it, Howard. There was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it. Today, it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance of bringing friendship to bear—or personality. You see what I mean? They don’t know me anymore.
HOWARD. That’s just the thing, Willy.
Thus, the forces of society crush Willy as an individual by making everything he has ever known obsolete.
Furthermore, both The Crucible and Death of a Salesman portray the enormous power of society through the use of scapegoats. The difference, however, is that Death of a Salesman has a single person as a scapegoat, whereas the people of Salem blame an idea before individuals. The people of Salem blame witchcraft for all of their problems, whether Sarah Good and the death of a neighbor’s pig, or Rebecca Nurse and the Putnam babies. Because the people fear what they do not understand, anything out of the ordinary is automatically supernatural in their eyes. Thus, Tituba, the slave from Barbados, is blamed for her “conjuring” and is hanged, along with many others. The people of Salem blame their problems on the “witches”.
Scapegoats are used quite differently in Death of a Salesman. Biff blames his father, Willy, for not leading him correctly and trying to shield him from the real world. Willy’s overprotectiveness only puts off Biff’s coming of age, which occurs during his discovery of his father’s licentiousness with the anonymous woman. According to P.P. Sharma, “In the traumatic experience in the hotel room, however, [Biff] achieves an insight. With the realization that his father is a fraud comes his deliverance…By trying to make a hero out of [Willy] Biff realizes Willy was only obscuring his identity and to that extent not exactly helping. He lays the blame squarely on Willy for filling his mind with exaggerated self-conceit…” (Sharma 370). Thus, through the masses and their use of scapegoats, society has the brutal power to crush the individual.
Finally, the societal pressure placed on honor is strong enough to break a man, as shown by John Proctor and Willy Loman. Using the definition of tragedy of Richard J. Foster, both men were tragic heroes, because both were willing to give their life up for their honor. John Proctor, the hero of The Crucible, is forced to sacrifice his honor by admitting to lechery in order to save his wife, who, ironically, lies to save him, destroying them both. His puritan beliefs hold honor to oneself in very high esteem, and this causes the his death. He chooses death over the stain of the family name by not signing the document, as portrayed in the following lines:
PROCTOR. I have three children- how may I teach them to walk like men in the world, and I sold my friends?… Beguile me not! I blacken all of them when this is nailed to the church the very day they hang for silence.
DANFORTH. Then explain to me, Mr. Proctor, why you will not let [allow me to post your confession]-
PROCTOR. …How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
Thus, Proctor rejects the societal pressure and does not give in. Willy, however, succumbs to honor and hides his cowardice behind suicide, which gives his family insurance money. He commits suicide, but by Foster’s definition, which states that the tragic hero must be willing to give up his life, he is still a tragic hero.
Thus, the plays Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, each exhibit the theme of society as the indifferent, sometimes brutal, force that crushes an individual through the formation of sides, the assignment of scapegoats, and the value of honor. In each case the individuals were crushed, either physically or mentally. Society contributes a great amount to the plight of a protagonist, and Miller portrays this theme through his characters and their interaction with one another.
Condolence for Willy Loman
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is a domestic tragedy that centres around the dysfunctional Loman family, most notably Willy Loman – a failed salesman so captivated by the American Dream and his desire to be a good father that it ultimately leads to his suicide. However, Miller’s tragic character is quite different from the idea of the tragedy that Aristotle put forward. Aristotle claimed that tragic figures had to be noble and high-achieving, which Willy is most certainly not. Despite this definition of a tragic hero, Miller himself says, “The common man is as apt a subject for tragedy as a great man,”, an echo of Linda’s words towards the middle of the play.
The decision to make Willy an everyday man instead of somebody of a higher status, as Aristotle suggested, means many people, particularly those who can draw on aspects of Willy’s life, can easily relate to Willy and, therefore, it is much easier to feel sympathy for him. Furthermore, Miller identifies the villain, not as a person, but the society the tragic hero is a part of. To say that Willy is a “congenital madman”, however, is untrue. Miller never introduces the audience to any relations of Willy’s during the course of the play with the exception of Ben, and even then, he is a figment of Willy’s imagination and consequently an unreliable source. Genetics, therefore, is not to blame; rather, as David Calder says, “the system that has exhausted this man,”. Miller’s view, which went against the typical American view at the time, was that capitalism and the American Dream could harm a person despite the great image it projected. This idea was seen as radical at the time of publication – so much so that the first movie adaption of the play characterized Willy as psychotic. People simply could not see that someone could be against capitalism, or at least find faults within it.
Throughout the play itself, Willy’s character is one that evokes sympathy but also pity and anger. Some of his actions are hard to justify, and he does not have the typical stature of a tragic figure like Othello. Despite Willy not being a high achieving, noble figure, Miller still gets his audience to feel for him, despite his “mercurial nature, his temper,” and his failure to admit the truth to himself.
From the beginning of the play, Miller describes Willy as exhausted. He is going mad, yet denies this vehemently and is encouraged by his devoted wife Linda that there is nothing overly wrong with him: “Maybe it’s your glasses”, she says, and “Your mind is over-active”. Within the first few lines of the play, Miller exposes capitalism through the voice of Willy: “the way they boxed us in” and the stage directions of the house: “towering angular shapes … surrounding it on all sides” which suggests isolation, especially when it is taken into account that Willy is quite a small man both physically and in comparison to society. By writing this, Miller implies that it is not Willy himself, but the pressure the American Dream puts on people and the corrupt American society that has driven Willy mad. He is trapped in a system where the most important things in life are money and luxurious possessions, and Willy firmly believes that being liked is synonymous with success. His madness, therefore, is definitely not inherited, but the product of the country in which he lives.
Willy’s ability (or lack thereof), however, is something that is quite hard to define. It is easy to argue that he has less than average ability in many aspects, which contrasts quite considerably to Aristotle’s view of a tragic figure who is very capable. Willy’s career certainly fails completely when he gets fired: “there just is no spot here for you”, and Miller presents Willy as a failed salesman well before he is fired by Howard – he does not earn much and his family is very poor, as proved by their lack of material possessions (again linking to the fragility of the American Dream), and we are reminded that for some to be fabulously wealthy there must be some who are correspondingly poor. Willy’s continuous protests that he is a “big shot” in the business world prove false at the dénouement of the play: his own funeral, where instead of the hundreds of people Willy imagined, there are only five. As Miller says in his essay, Willy has a “need for immortality” which he never quite achieves. The audience is left feeling sympathetic towards Willy because of this – he has “destroyed the boundaries between now and then”, and is truly convinced he is well loved and remembered when in fact the opposite is true.
As well as his failure in the working world, Willy also fails in the personal one – his paternal qualities are deficient, although it is obvious at the end of the play that a motivating factor in his suicide is to get a large sum of money for his family. Despite this, he encourages Biff to steal in his younger years with complete disregard for moral guidelines: “Coach’ll probably congratulate you on your initiative” which leads to a huge flaw in his son that climaxes with Biff confesses that he “stole a suit in Kansas city” which resulted in him being sent to prison for three months. He also pushes Biff to follow not his own dreams, but the dreams society thrusts upon him: “How can he find himself on a farm?” – and although this can be seen as Willy wanting the best for Biff, which he obviously does, it is still not the right thing to do. The audience loses sympathy for Willy because of this, as he puts forward the good of material success he has followed in vain. Happy, on the other hand, is relatively ignored by Willy in comparison to Biff. He frequently tries to get his father’s attention (“I’m losing weight, you notice, Pop?”) yet never succeeds as he wishes to. The audience, therefore, lose some sympathy for Willy because of his failing abilities as a father, and it is a great skill of Miller’s to evoke it in other ways.
The way other characters think about and react to Willy is key to Miller’s evocation of sympathy for him. The only person who truly loves him throughout the entire course of the play is Linda: “Willy is the dearest man in the world to me’. Despite this, however, Willy is often intolerant of her, and his anger towards her is wholly unjustified: “Why am I always being contradicted?” It could be argued, however, that Willy is so overcome with guilt because of his affair that the negative reaction towards his wife is a reflection of the guilt he feels for abandoning her. In addition, the relationship between Willy and his children is arguably the most important one of the play. Biff and Happy do not appreciate Willy and are frequently embarrassed by him: “No, that’s not my father”. This complete disregard of their father increases the sympathy the audience feel for Willy – he tries hard, especially in the case of Biff, to make sure his sons succeed in a materialistic society: “never leave a job till you’re finished”, and instead of being concerned and helping Willy, they abandon him in his times of need – most notably in a restaurant “babbling in a toilet”.
A key character that Miller uses to evoke sympathy for Willy is Linda. Throughout the play, she is the only character that is consistent in her feelings for Willy – she loves him unconditionally, and the anger she expresses when her sons are unkind to their father is key in allowing the audience to sympathise with Willy. Linda insists that “a small man can be just as exhausted as a great man”, which is a quotation that truly defines the idea Miller is trying to portray: no matter what your status, you are susceptible to the pressure your government and society places on you.
As the play progresses, it becomes clear that Miller is presenting contrasting sides of Willy throughout, with neither the positive nor the negative side being truly dominant in the end. It seems that Miller wants the individual to make up their mind, though the attack on Capitalism is quite clear: “those bastards!” However, many different interpretations have been made of Willy over the years that blame not just Capitalism but attribute the failure of Willy to Willy’s lack of ability. Wolcott Gibbs, for example, describes Willy as “a failure of a man”. Similarly, some critics argue that Willy’s tragedy is completely of his own making – he alone makes his decisions (“if I could take home … sixty-five dollars a week”) and has the dreams he does. These people are therefore much less sympathetic at the climax of the play, as they see Willy’s suicide as cowardly as opposed to an act of heroism that some other audience members see it to be. This is possibly because Willy’s suicide aims to gain insurance money for his family, yet Miller deliberately leaves it unclear as to whether this reward is achieved.
Willy Loman is a very complex character, and Miller has definitely not made it simple to define him easily. It is unarguable that Arthur Miller’s characterization of Willy can be seen in a variety of different ways – yet no matter what opinion the individual has of Willy Loman, it is undeniable that Death of a Salesman is a tragedy about a tragic character and his desperate fight against a system that refuses to accept him. As Miller writes in his essay “Tragedy and the “Common Man”: “I believe that the common man is as apt a subject for tragedy in its highest sense as kings were.”
- 1, 3, 4 Arthur Miller – “An Introduction to the Play” from “Arthur Miller Collected Plays” (2006)
- 2 David Calder speaking in a BBC clip on the Learning Zone (http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/death-of-a-salesman-willy-lomans-character/5300.html)
- Credited source: Corbis, ‘Death of a Salesman 1985’ provided by Castle Hill Productions Inc.
- 5 Arthur Miller – “Tragedy and the Common Man” (1949)
Research of How the Tragedy of a Salesman Could Be the Same Nowadays
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman can be measured against Aristotle’s notions of tragedy expressed in his Poetics, involving a fall caused by hamartia and hubris, and an eventual recognition and reversal of fortune, culminating in the audience experience of catharsis. Despite this enduring model for tragedy, Willy Loman, the central character of the play, is not necessarily a tragic hero in this sense, and does not fulfill all the above criteria. Arguably then, Miller is presenting a modern society in which tragedy has no place, and indeed, is not possible. On the other hand, this classical concept of tragedy is not appropriate for modern society, and other measures of the Tragic, or a reinterpretation of tragedy may be what Miller is presenting.
A fundamental feature of Aristotelean tragedy is a tragic hero of high standing, who makes a mistake, hamartia, causing a fall from grace. It can be argued that Miller’s drama asserts this improbability of attaining high status in his plays Death of a Salesman and All My Sons, as neither protagonist comes from a particularly elevated background. In Death of a Salesman, Linda makes clear Willy’s inability to meet this requirement: ‘I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being (…) Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person’ Whilst this isn’t tragic in the Aristotelean sense, Death of a Salesman can be seen as a more ‘democratic tragedy’. Willy may be nothing special, but he is a human being, and thus the tragedy is our humanity and our ultimate insignificance. The failure of ‘attention (…) paid to such a person’ in the play, culminating in Willy’s suicide reveals the craving for ‘attention’ in the socioeconomic capitalist system in which monetary wealth measures the ‘greatness’ of a person. Miller asserts the improbability of reaching a high status, and the precarious, and indeed, ultimately unfulfilling and irrelevant, status financial authority gives; this can be seen in Willy’s suicide at the end of the play, despite the family having paid off the mortgage. Nevertheless, the tragedy of the loss of selfhood and therefore inability to meet Aristotelean criteria for tragedy is tragic in itself. Miller reimagines tragedy in a more complex modern form, shifting between person and culture and examining their influences on each other (imitating the tensions of democracy), thus reflecting the perils of capitalism. Feminist critic Linda Kintz has noted that Death of a Salesman offers ‘a nostalgic view of the plot of the universalized masculine protagonist of the Poetics’, critiquing both the treatment of women in the play, and the notion of Aristotelean tragedy itself as an inherently flawed and limiting concept. Linda is marginalized from the capitalist power systems, which give value and status, and thus devaluing her. Furthermore, Linda is characterized as a subservient housewife, as elucidated in Happy’s response to her hanging his washing, ‘What a woman! They broke the mould when they made her.’ The mold of Aristotelean tragedy has been broken, yet both society and Miller still inadvertently assert the improbability of a truly ‘democratic’ Tragedy in modernity via the application of male value systems.
The hamartia, or mistake, required in Greek Tragedy, is frequently caused by hubris, excessive pride or confidence. Willy’s character teeters on the edge between self-delusional and self-assured, making assertions such as, ‘I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!’ This self-confidence is undermined by his use of an economic metaphor, highlighting the fact that he is indeed, ‘a dime a dozen’, used and discarded by the capitalist system, and rendering his insistence baseless. Whilst the process of naming is often a moment of self-definition and power, such as in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ‘This is I, Hamlet the Dane’, the gradual fragmentation of Willy’s mind and diminishing sense of self and grip on reality, causes these words of attempted self-definition to be meaningless. As Miller himself has commented: ‘But he was agonised by his awareness of being in a false position, so constantly haunted by the hollowness of all he had placed his faith in, so aware, in short, that he must somehow be filled in his spirit or fly apart, that he staked his very life on the ultimate assertion.’Willy’s ‘false position’ is conveyed through fantasy narrative, including his stories of his brother and father, claiming ‘we’ve got quite a little streak of self-reliance in our family’. Willy is thus telling an approving narration of his life. In some ways, Willy can be seen as lacking hubris, as a self-delusional and pitiful character. Alternatively his blindness and folly can also be viewed as a major character flaw. In some ways, Willy is depicted as a modern day King Lear, with his blindness to reality causing him to be flung into madness. Nevertheless, his appeal to his boss, Howard, reveals an insightful critique of capitalism, ‘You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away- a man is not a piece of fruit!’ This declaration comes across as strangely pathetic due to the tension between Willy’s assertions and desperate begging for a job. Likewise, Willy’s egotistical image of his financial success and hero-worshipping sons in the first act reveals his insecurity of failing to achieve the ‘American Dream’. Schlöndorff’s presentation of this scene in bright, garish colors in his 1985 film production of Death of a Salesman conveys the constructed and false nature of this daydream. Perhaps it is this ongoing tension between failed potential and reality, and refusal to face the obvious truth, that is the source of Willy’s hamartia as he embodies the word’s literal translation of ‘missing the mark.’ This consequently causes the discretization of his character and his downfall. Indeed, Willy is literally fallen, often found slumped over, on his knees, and ‘beaten down’. Matthew Roudané comments that ‘Miller presents no fewer than twenty-five scenes in which Willy’s body language and dialogue create images of the fall, the falling, or the fallen.’ It is in flashback, at the end of the scene when Biff discovers Willy’s affair that we are given the stage direction ‘Willy is left on the floor on his knees’, a movement that is prophetic of the downfall the Willy will later suffer.
The ‘improbable possibility of tragedy’ is most clear in Death of a Salesman due to the lack of obvious anagnorisis, and Willy appears to have no moment of true recognition or revelation. Whilst there is the inevitable realization that his dreams of success will not materialize, Willy remains delusional throughout. In the last scene, the apparition of Ben appears, representing Willy’s misconceptions of his worth and purpose, and culminates in the misguided sacrifice of his own life. Willy’s had an overtly sentimentalized view of his own death: ‘Can you imagine that magnificence with twenty thousand dollars in his pocket? (…) It’s very smart, you realise that, don’t you, sweetheart?’ In actuality, Willy represents the inhuman, hollow, and perverse logic of the American Dream. A failure to sell his products has resulted in his failure to ‘sell himself’, yet his suicide for life insurance money is ultimately a delusional disregard for what he did have- the love of his family. His perceived ‘magnificence’ of monetary wealth is a result of his self-value being placed in a capitalist framework. If anything, the epiphany of the play comes from Biff, who comments that Willy ‘never knew who he was.’ This insight exposes Willy’s continual under appreciation of himself, including his erroneous motives for suicide. Thus, Willy has no anagnorisis, and does not even succeed in the individual’s quest for personal dignity and integrity that can be said to be characteristic of the modern tragic hero. Willy remains until his death ‘a man distracted from human necessities by public myths’, ignoring the true love and care of his family in order to chase the illusion of the American Dream.
It can be said, however, that catharsis is present in Death of a Salesman. The last lines of the play, in the Requiem, are Linda’s ‘We’re free… we’re free…’ This ‘freedom’ perfectly expresses the purging of emotions felt at the end of the play, and even the characters themselves feel the relief of the pressure of Willy’s ideals, failures and expectations. Parallel to this is the pity and fear evoked by Willy’s suicide. Willy’s struggle to find himself is universalized, as Miller comments: ‘I think Willy Loman is seeking for a kind of ecstasy in life which the machine civilisation deprives people of. He is looking for his selfhood, for his immortal soul’ The sympathy for Willy’s suffering, combined with the audience’s acute fear of the possibility of experiencing this themselves, leave a collected feeling of both pathos and a determination to avoid the same fate as the characters. The meta-theatrics of Willy’s bad performance as a character in the role of a salesman that both society and he has constructed, urges the audience to not live in bad faith. This aligns with Yeats assertion that ‘tragedy must always be a drowning and breaking of the dykes that separate man from man’. Thus, the catharsis has a unifying effect, which is necessary in a modern, individualistic society, and technological ‘machine civilisation’ which has an isolating effect. All the same, as Leech points out, Willy is not tragic in the Aristotelian sense, as ‘he is the victim of the American dream rather than of the human condition’. Whilst the themes of family cohesion and death are universal, the specific causes of Willy’s tragedy, and the audience’s feelings of catharsis, rely on an understanding of a specific, geographically located, socio-cultural and economic situation. Therefore, through catharsis, Miller asserts the ability and need for tragedy in modern society, but a tragedy that is not Aristotelian in genre, rather a re-imagined modern style of tragedy.
Ultimately, Death of a Salesman does not render tragedy implausible. Instead, Miller encompasses both ancient and contemporary ideas of tragedy and of tragic heroism. Whilst ‘the play embodies, for many, the peripeteia, hamartia, and hubris that Aristotle found essential for all great tragedies’, this can also be contested. Miller undoubtedly, does not find these ‘essential’: Willy Loman is a ‘low man’ and his anagnorisis and peripeteia are delusions, not genuine realizations of his mistakes or of larger truths. Death of a Salesman is a descent into artificial constructions and performance, continued even after Willy’s death with Linda preserving this falsehood in her questioning of why no one attended his funeral. Thus, the characters remained unmoved, and it is the audience who experience the ‘afterwash of the tragic’, a ‘false consciousness (…) being broken into by real consciousness’. This effect of Death of a Salesman reflects the influence and primary aim of Tragedy in both its ancient and modern contexts, to evoke response in the audience and consumer.
- Aristotle, ‘Poetics’ in Classical Literary Criticism, T Dorsch, ed., trans., (London: Penguin, 1965)
- Miller, Arthur, Death of a Salesman, (London: Penguin Modern Classics, 1961), p. 40, 52, 61-62, 65, 107, 111, 112, 121.
- Shakespeare, King Lear, R.A.Foakes, ed., (London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 1997).
- Bigsby, C. W. E., Modern American Drama, 1945-2000, (Cambridge University Press, 21 Dec 2000), Online resource: Google Books, last accessed 15 Feb 2015, p. 86.
- Death of a Salesman, dir. Volker Schlöndorff, perf. Dustin Hoffman, (CBS, 1985). Film.
- Kintz, Linda, “The Sociosymbolic Work of Family in Death of a Salesman” in Matthew C. Roudane (ed.)
- Approaches to Teaching Miller’s Death of a Salesman (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1995), p. 106.
- Leech, Clifford, Tragedy, (Routledge: 1969), p.38.
- Miller, Arthur, Conversations with Arthur Miller, Matthew Roudane, ed., Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1 Jan 1987, Online resource: Google Books, last accessed 15 Feb 2015, p.38.
- Miller, Arthur, Introduction to Collected Plays, (New York and London: 1958), pp. 31-6.
- Roudané, Matthew, ‘Death of a Salesman and the Poetics of Arthur Miller’ in The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller, ed. Christopher Bigsby, Cambridge University Press, London: 22 Apr 2010, Online resource: Google Books, last accessed 15 Feb 2015.
- Yeats, ‘The Tragic Theatre (1910)’, in Essays and Explorations (London: Macmillan 1961), pp.238-45.
Arthur Miller’s Depiction of Willy Loman as a Heroic Figure as Illustrated in His Play, Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller chose a Low-Man as his hero, because the queens and the kings don’t live anymore and writers can’t write about them. I think it’s great that Miller chose a person like Lowman to be his hero. Lowman is a regular person, he doesn’t have a high social status, and he’s just like anybody else.
Willie Loman was an unsuccessful salesman, nobody liked him and he was a disappointment to his sons. After the affair with another women, from admiring him and looking up to him, his son Biff turned his back on him and never saw him as a role model. This story is different from Shakespeare and other stories, because in those stories the characters were all high class, kings, and queens and in this story, the man is unrecognizable, unsuccessful man who lost all respect from everyone around him. Miller’s tragic hero Willie Loman causes his own downfall. Willie was making a mistake by being ignorant and ignoring the facts that everything was not okay when he thought it was. He was never been a successful salesman, but he saw an image of somebody else that he looked up to when he was growing up and he thought he was that person by putting false thoughts in his mind about himself. He was never that person, but he stayed ignorant and his delusions lead him to take his own life away.
Willie Loman is a modern common man. It’s very hard to compare Loman to Hamlet or Oedipus because the times are very different, but some comparisons can be made. Oedipus was delusional man just like Willie Loman. They both follow ‘’Wrong Dreams’’ and live in an image that they created themselves. Hamlet thinks that revenge will do something for his life, but his wrong thoughts end up killing him and nothing is achieved. I like how Willie Loman still tries to be positive, even though that ‘’positivity’’ kills him, but he still works and tries to provide for his family and pay off the mortgage. People don’t like him for his foolish pride. What really killed Willie was his foolish pride. When Charley offered him a steady paying job, Willie refuses, because he that would hurt his pride.
To be a hero today is not very easy. For some people, a hero is your father, like Willie Loman was a hero for Biff before he had an affair. My father is my hero, because he is a perfect example how a person should live a life. Even though nobody is perfect in this world, but I admire how my father is trying to teach me how to be a good person by trying. All the people make mistake and show you their bad side, but a hero to me is somebody who can learn from their mistakes and admit that they did it. Whatever it takes, you must be able to learn from them and not do them again. In the story ‘’Death of a Salesman’’ the delusion that Loman had ended up really bad for him. He didn’t wanted to admit that he was making mistakes and didn’t wanted to accept the change that was necessary to his life. A hero is somebody that tries to make people around you better and show them a good example by doing good things.
Arthur Miller’s Depiction of the Personality of Willy Loman As Shown In His Play, Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, is a tragic play focusing on the common man during the late 1940’s. Much of the story is told by flashbacks of Willy Loman’s past, including him cheating on Linda, his wife. His older son, Biff, witnessed the affair and has not been the same ever since. Happy, the younger son, is not actually happy but he enjoys lying in order to get ahead. Willy teaches his sons that being popular and “well liked” is more important than having skills. A tragic hero is a literary character who makes a judgement error that inevitably leads to his/her own destruction. The character Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is an example of a tragic hero.
An example of a characteristic of a tragic hero is that the character must have a weakness. This applies to Willy Loman because he has several weaknesses, pride being the most evident. He has a false sense of his own importance and believes that he will die “the death of a salesman” with a crowded funeral, but instead dies pretty much alone (Miller 55). When Charley offers him a job, Willy turns it down because he feels that it may compromise his dignity. He is fine with getting hand outs but is too proud to accept Charley’s offer (Miller 26). He also constantly talks about being “well liked” and having friends (Miller 17).
Willy Loman represents the common working American man. Although he cheats on his wife and ruins his relationship with his sons, Willy suffers more than he deserves. Committing suicide is the way that he wants to redeem himself in their eyes, considering that his life insurance will leave them with twenty thousand dollars (Miller 39). His punishment, death, exceeds his crimes. Another way he suffers is when Howard refuses to move his work closer to home and then eventually fires him. Willy tells him that he “can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit” (Miller 55). By this, he means that the company cannot just fire its employees when they are too old and worn out to be of value to them. Willy has been with the company since the beginning, working for Howard’s father. The only reason that Howard kept him around was for his father.
This story definitely arouses fear and empathy from the audience. Willy’s biggest desire is to be noble and “well liked”, but he clearly never reaches that status. Throughout the play, it seems that he truly believes that he is popular, His death should raise fear in the common man, whom Willy symbolizes, because we can recognize similar possibilities of error in ourselves. He is a “low man”, struggling to succeed in the wrong way. His dream was never to be a businessman; that idea was planted into his head by his father. Being a salesman was wrong for him; he was always skilled at building things (Miller 26). The audience can understand Willy’s desire to be successful, well liked, and the value he sees in appearances (Miller 18). After all, “well liked” is probably the most common phrase in the entire play.
Willy discovers his fate by his own actions, not by things happening to him. He was essentially a product of society, chasing after material goods and the “American Dream”. Not only did Willy want to be rich, he also wanted to be popular among others. He lives in the past, which is characterized by the conversations between Willy and his deceased brother, Ben (Miller 27). Willy smashing up the car is mentioned several times throughout the play, leading the reader to believe that he has tried committing suicide before (Miller 7). He also inhales gas from a gas pipe, in an attempt to slowly kill himself (Miller 39). In the end, it is Willy’s own actions that lead to his death.
Finally, a tragic hero must be physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in death. Spiritually, Willy’s affair with The Woman plays a huge role in his downfall. He loves Linda, but The Woman plays along with Willy’s belief that he is more important than he really is. When Biff finds out about the affair, he is destroyed. While he used to be the star football player at his school, he has given that up and does not graduate from high school (Miller 84). Willy knows that the affair has caused a drift in his relationship with his family, and he even feels guilty that he can provide stockings for The Woman but not for his wife. Each time that Willy crashes his car or inhales gas, he is physically hurting himself. Eventually, the car leads to his death (Miller 98).
In conclusion, Willy’s main flaw is having too much pride. He suffers more than he deserves, his own actions lead to his downfall, and his story arouses fear and empathy. Due to all of these and his death, Willy is able to meet the criteria of Aristotle’s tragic hero. The character Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is an example of a tragic hero.
Plot Analysis of Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
On the surface, the plot in Death of a salesman seems rather simple. This is in fact not the case, when you dig deeper into the themes and motives of the novel. It deals with the core value of modern American society, The American Dream. This is put in relation to the painful conflicts of a working class family in New York, who throughout their life has struggled to make a decent living and fulfil the American dream. The story revolves around the protagonist Willy Loman, a travelling salesman, and the rest of his family. It consists of his wife Linda and his two sons Happy and Biff. After a long life on the road, Willy is exhausted and has started to hallucinate about the past. This makes the novel quite difficult to read, as there are very few distinctions to when Willy is hallucinating, and when it is reality.The main theme in Death of a salesman is without a doubt the American dream. This dream has been the basis of Willys life, and he has a fundamental belief in it, that almost reach religious proportions. He has passed this trust in the American dream on to his two sons, which has quite dramatic consequences for them both.
For Biff his fathers belief in him has caused him to become a philandering bum, unable to keep a regular job and fulfil his fathers and his own ambitions. Furthermore, he has also become a kleptomaniac because of Willys poor fathering skills and his inability to set boundaries throughout his childhood. Happy, on the other hand shares his fathers belief in the American dream, and this has led to him conceiving himself, just like Willy does. He doesnt want to face the miserable reality of his life, and instead lies and cheats his way through life. He has inherited all of the worst traits from Willy, and doesnt even share his noble dream of making something of himself and his family. Instead he just wants to become rich, so that he can prove to his superiors that he is in fact worth something.The tragedy in all of this is that Willy has misunderstood the basic concept of the American dream. He believes that if you are just well liked, and is served a certain helping of luck by fate, you will make it big in life. This is wrong, because the essential message in the American dream is that if you, and only you, work hard enough for your dreams, only then will they come through. This means that you can rely on anyone elses help if you want to make it. This misunderstanding is what leads to Willys suicide, because he thinks he can give his boys a head start in life, by granting them his death, and the 20.000 $ that tags along. This could be right of him, but it would demand that the boys in fact had the abilities and ambitions to push through, which neither of them has.
Even though Death of a salesman probably wasnt intended to be a commentary on social inheritance, it is obvious throughout the story that Willy, Biff and Happy has been very affected by their childhood: Willy was abandoned by his father and brother, and has therefore sought to be well liked throughout his life. Biff was over-encouraged by his father who believed to much in him, and is therefore unable to keep a job in the present. Happy wasnt given enough attention, and always stood in the shadow of his older brother and therefore seeks attention from the ladies and his superiors, even though this forces him to lie and cheat. Freedom from want, by Norman Rockwell is painted in the same period as Death of a salesman. It expresses, as Death of a salesman does too, the American dream.
The main difference in this case, is that Rockwell is far from critical, while Arthur Millers novel deals with the consequences of this dream. In the painting, the main focus is the giant turkey in the middle of the picture. This focus is further emphasised by the fact that light is shining on it from the window in the background. This forms a sort of halo around the turkey, and the grandparents serving it. The painting is an expression of the American Dream comes true: Nobody is suffering, and the whole family is gathered around a delicate and plentiful meal. A symbol of the fact that no one is starving or suffering is that it is only a few of the participants in the meal, who are actually looking at the turkey being served. The rest are looking at each other and conversing. Another remarkable thing in the painting is that all of the youngsters in the painting are looking towards the front. This can be interpreted as them looking forward into the future and furthering the American dream. Freedom from want exemplifies the dream that Willy has, and shares with many Americans, in its purest form. It also states the ideal of the core family, which is prosperous, generous and harmonic. These are three traits that the Loman family has a severe lack of. The West in Death of a salesman symbolises the potential that Biff possess, in spite of his failed education and career. He has realised what he is good at in life, and has gained at least some self-knowledge. That is why he journeys west, just like the 18th century pioneers did.
The Theme of Lie in “The Crucible”, a Play by Arthur Miller
Lies In The Crucible
It is a golden rule in our society that honesty is the best policy. Throughout childhood we are taught that in all situations, it is best to tell the truth. This rule of honesty in all circumstances is seldom followed for one reason or another. In the play, The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, there is a story about a town in Massachusetts called Salem during the era of the Witch Trials in the 1600s, where there are many characters that spiral out of control because of one lie that continues to grow. According to The Crucible, and many of my experiences in life, people lie for many reasons including the thirst for power and authority, jealousy, and the need to protect one’s self and others.
In the play, when some of the characters get a taste of power and authority, they abuse it and the whole town of Salem gets wrapped up in these lies. Abigail and Betty, two young girls in the town begin to get attention when they say they have come in contact with the devil. When they realize the “powers that be” in the town are believing everything they say, the two girls are exhilarated by this power they have and continue to lie about the “witches” they know about. ‘“I saw Goody Sibber with the Devil!’-Abigail, ‘I saw Alice Barrow with the Devil’-Betty, ‘I saw Goody Hawkins with the Devil!’-Abigail” (Miller 48). The girls continue to accuse people of witchcraft because the unusual power and authority they have over the town excite them. Instead of being seen as ignorant children, people are trusting them, and listening to them. In my experience, I have found it is easy to lie in a situation such as this one. When I was younger, I had a neighborhood full of children younger than me. I remember a time when I was in charge and I wanted to go on a hike and none of the kids did. I abused my authority by telling all the kids that there was a treasure/prize at the end of the hike that they could all have so they would believe me and come on the hike. In this situation, I experienced the ability to abuse authority to get what I wanted. The girls in the novel also abused their power to get what they wanted, attention. This was a reason for me to lie in my experience and for Abigail and Betty to lie in theirs.
Throughout the book, there are characters that feel they have to lie to protect themselves or to protect others. In The Crucible, Elizabeth is being questioned at trial regarding why she and her husband had decided to fire Abigail. Elizabeth knows it is because Abigail and Her husband had an affair, but she lies to save her husband’s honor. “I came to think he fancied her. And so one night I lost my wits, I think, and put her out on the highroad.’-Elizabeth. ‘Then he did not turn from you.’-Danforth. ‘No, sir”’(113). Elizabeth is lying in this situation so that she can keep her husband’s honor safe. She is trying to protect him and believes that this is a good reason to lie. I have also experienced lying for the reason of protecting myself or someone else. A few years ago, my parents were upset because the lamp in my living room was broken. I knew my brother had knocked the lamp over but I lied and told them I did not know what had happened so my brother would not get in trouble. This lie was what I believed was right because I was protecting my brother as Elizabeth did for her husband in the novel. Both Elizabeth and I lied because of the need to protect someone we care about.
A third reason people lie as portrayed in, The Crucible, is out of jealousy and envy of another person. In the novel, Abigail is still in love with Proctor, Elizabeth’s wife, even after their affair is over. Therefore, Elizabeth believes that Abigail is jealous of her, and wants her to be killed. “Spoke or silent, a promise is surely made. And she may dote on it now-I am sure she does- and thinks to kill me, then to take my place” (Miller 61). Abigail is jealous because she wants to fill Elizabeth’s shoes as proctor’s wife, and with the power she has over the town, she wants to get rid of Elizabeth. Proctor also believes that Abigail’s lies are driven by her envy and her thirst for revenge, “We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law! This warrant is vengeance! I’ll not give my wife to vengeance!” (77). Proctor believes that Abigail is also seeking revenge over Elizabeth and is envious of his wife. The lies Abigail tells are out of jealousy and envy and anger toward Elizabeth.
People lie for many different reasons. People lie out of fear of a punishment. People lie because they believe it is the best way to protect themselves or their family or friends. People also lie for personal gain and out of self interest. Throughout The Crucible, lies are continually spreading and growing and they turn this story and the entire time period into a time of strife and conflict. Honesty is considered the best policy in our society, but when placed in a situation of personal loss or gain individuals resort to lying. The lies build on each other and turn and twist until the individual finds himself or herself in a situation similar to the ending of The Crucible. A situation where lies become the norm, no one knows who to trust, and the whole community is in a state of chaos.
How Pride is Willy’s Tragic Flaw in Death of a Salesman and How It is the Central Theme of the Play
There is a reason why Willy Loman is considered as a tragic hero where a great deal of it has to with his pride. As a matter of fact, through the character of Willy, Arthur Miller is able to build the theme of pride around him with pride coming out as the main theme. The same theme of pride also helps in establishing other smaller themes such as the theme of legacy, change, and identity. In Death of a Salesman, pride as a way of self-deception as well as using it as a coping mechanism. Willy Loman comes out as being extremely pride despite the fact that the source of his pride is not in any way founded in reality. Steven Centola also demonstrates the theme of pride in Willy’s denial of reality and inability to accept the changes within himself and in the society. Looking at the two works, one can easily see that the identity that Willy ends up assuming is heavily built upon his false sense of pride which plays a huge role in almost all the decision that he takes. His unjustified pride goes a long way in preventing him from being able to learn from his mistakes and the changes taking place around him, an event that leads to his downfall.
While it is a good thing that Willy is a dreamer, part of his excessive arrogance and pride comes as a result of his unrelenting belief in his dreams. To him, his dreams are not only pristine but also absolute where they are free from any defects where nothing can be done to change his stand on his country or his dreams of what he wants to accomplish. As a matter of fact, will never excise any form of introspection of reflection in a bid to see things as they are and not how they ought to be. This state alone builds the premise for his pride. To start with, will never take the time to questions some of his beliefs and dreams. A good example is when he was having a conversation with Linda about the failures of Biff. It becomes clear that his belief in the American dream is unrelenting where he believes that the American dream is superior. Believing that there is nothing wrong with the American dream, will demonstrate a great sense of pride in America as being, “the greatest country in the world.” A country that is full of “beautiful towns and fine, upstanding people (Miller 126).” Willy completely fails to see how people are suffering which makes his exceptionalism in this context to reflect his false sense of pride where he simply fails to see the truth.
At the same time, at this time will is terribly falling as a salesman where he has very little to be proud of his financial situation. But despite this fact, Willy uses his unrelenting pride as a coping mechanism where he believes that things will be okay with time. This false sense of pride makes Willy live in a world full of delusion where reality no longer makes any sense to him. Whether or not he simply chose to ignore the reality, his false sense of pride lay the foundation for his downfall. What is even worse is the fact that he passes his delusions sense of pride to innocent parties. (Centola 32) perfectly captured this aspect where he observed that “Willy fails to see the folly of his dream and ends up passing on not only his dream but also his confusion to Biff and Happy.”
Willy’s believed that “the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interests, is the man who gets ahead” (Centola 26) makes him be so keen about his look and appearance at the expense of doing what is right to change his personal financial problems. He has a self-sense of pride where he is so convinced that he is destined for success that leads him to “constantly dress the part” (Centola 26).Willy’s false sense of pride also surfaces where he selfishly believes that the values associated with one’s family have a way of opening doors for success. His pride in his family leads him to look down manual labor arguing that it cannot translate to success. When Biff confronted him that since their situation was bad, they should work as carpenters. Full of arrogance and undue pride, Willy quickly asserts that “even your grandfather was better than a carpenter…Go back to the West! Be a carpenter, a cowboy, enjoy yourself!” (Miller 222). He is simply too proud to accept that he is financially dwarfed and that he can change his fate by doing manual works. His unfound sense of pride even leads him to accept a job offer from Charley who he categorized as his inferior. He then decides to accept loans that he is no position to pay. He simply has a false sense of pride coming out as being extremely proud when in reality he nothing real to be proud of.
As established above, it is Willy’s false sense of pride that leads him to believe that he is successful as a businessman and as a father. While he may have been successful in the past, his pride blinds him from accepting his current situation. His dreams and ambitions are baseless where to him it only makes sense that he is fated for greatness. He fails to accept that he is both failing as a salesman and as a father choosing to be proud when he has nothing really to be proud of. It is this false sense of pride that eventually leads to his downfall.
A Critique of a View from the Bridge, a Play by Arthur Miller
Eddie Carbone who is the main protagonist of Arthur Miller’s play A View From The Bridge’ has a very stereotypical view of how a ‘real man’ should be. As can be evidenced with is attitude towards Rodolpho, Eddie is intolerant and even hostile towards those who do not follow the traditional image of a man. Threats to his honour or the image of his masculinity, in the form of hostility and aggression, is what causes the conflicts that appear throughout the play. The three themes entwine together and have importance towards the unfolding events of the play.
The play is set in the mid 1950’s and therefore takes place in a patriarchal society where gender inequality was seen to be a norm amongst local communities. Eddie believes that a man should provide for his family, much like a breadwinner, and be the head of the household. When Eddie first meets Marco, he approves of his role as a father which can be interpreted by the stage directions as Eddie mainly directs his speech towards Marco during the immigrants first conversation with the Carbone family. Also, when Eddie describes Marco by saying ‘They leave him alone, he would load the whole ship by himself’ it highlights Eddie’s views of masculinity which is a man who is responsible, who has a sense of duty but is also hard-working. Eddie obviously values these traits, however, the most important aspect of a man to him is the physical strength of an individual. When Marco is described to be a ‘regular bull’, Eddie is not only complementing his dedication, but also his stability.
As seen by Eddie’s likeness towards Marco’s strength, he believes that a man needs to be able to defend themselves if needs be. Additionally, loyalty is one of the qualities of a ‘real man’ to Eddie. This can be evidenced by the plays cultural background as the Red Hook community consisted of tightly- knit Italian immigrants. The quotation ‘blood is thicker than water’ illustrates how important honesty and faithfulness is to the Carbone family. Additionally, the community have its own ‘unwritten law’ which suggests that they have a specific honour code that is crucial to be respected. It highlights the fact that one does not meddle in another’s business in the Red Hook community, they turn a blind eye to complicated situations as shown in the quote ‘you don’t see nothing, you don’t know nothing’.
However, Rodolpho doesn’t confirm to Eddie’s image of an ideal man, and therefore he becomes incredibly angry when he discovers that Catherine has formed a relationship with the immigrant. The reason that he puts forth is that Rodolpho is only declaring his love for Catherine as a way of becoming an American Citizen, saying this is the ‘oldest trick in the book’. However, the reader can sense that Eddie dislikes Rodolpho’s feminine qualities as evidenced when he insults his hair by saying ‘he’s practically blond’ and ‘I just hope it’s real hair’. Additionally, Rodolpho’s has fantastic cooking, sewing and singing skills, however these qualities are more suited to a women by Eddie’s standards. Rodolpho’s talents generate spiteful names from Eddie and the other longshoremen such as ‘paper doll’ and ‘canary’ that are used to impair his courage and masculinity. Eddie insults the immigrant as Rodolpho is threatening Eddie’s masculinity by enriching on his ‘territory’, Catherine. Eddie want’s to tests Rodolpho’s “manliness” and prove his own superiority by teaching Rodolpho to box. There is definitely hostility on Eddie’s part in this scene, and it escalates to aggression when he makes Rodolpho “mildly stagger” with a blow. Eddie goes even further by suggesting that Rodolpho is homosexual. The conflict climaxes as ‘Eddie pins his arms, laughing, and suddenly kisses him’. By kissing Rodolpho on the lips, Eddie puts Rodolpho in a position where he is not a man. The purpose of this would be to humiliate and insult Rodolpho, and also to show Catherine that Rodolpho is not a ‘real man’. Some critics argue that the scene illustrates Eddie’s homosexual feelings, however, Arthur Miller never reveals Rodolpho or Eddie’s sexual preferences.
Eddie is very protective of his niece, Catherine, and when he says ‘I don’t like the looks they’re giving you in the candy store’ it highlights the fact that Eddie is uncomfortable of the idea of Catherine being attractive to other men. He disapproves of her new femininity as proven when he asks her to remove ‘them new heels’. The high heels can be interpreted as a symbol of womanhood which Catherine has just started growing into. We feel she enjoys the male attention they bring her, when she argues with Eddie about her new style “but those guys look at all the girls, you know that.” This brings out hostility in Eddie “You ain’t “all the girls”. Additionally, we see how women were seen to be of less importance that men in the 1950’s society when Eddie comes out with a passive aggressive mark at dinner ‘Do me a favour will ya’. The hidden message here is not only an order for her to remove her heels, but Eddie is also reminding Catherine that she must please and obey him as he is head of the household and demands obedience and respect.
During the ending of the play, Eddie goes against the masculine quality of honour by alerting the immigration bureau of the location of illegal immigrants, his own relatives. In his own eyes, this should make him less of a man. However, the incident isn’t a shock to the audience as they tale of Vinny Bolzano, that’s told by Beatrice, foreshadows Eddie’s acts of betrayal. Marco denounces Eddie for his crime against the unwritten law, disgracing him in front of the neighbours by saying “That one! I accuse that one!”, “ He killed my children!” This
accusation disgraces Eddie. It could cause him to become an outcast, ostracized from the community as his actions break the Red Hook’s code of honour. Eddie’s death by the hands of Marco was a result of huge aggression that was caused by built up hostilities, which were in turn provoked by the importance of honour, and other “manly” traits, to the characters of the novel.
Why Linda is Weak in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
I believe that Linda is weak for several reasons. Looking into perspective, I realize that a woman in this era would have to deal with the fact that their husband is cheating on her in order to keep the support that he provides for the entire family. During this time period, divorced women were looked down on because they had left their home and were considered failures. Linda continued to ignore the reality that Willy was cheating; she would not admit it to herself. This led to her pretending that everything was fine.
Linda’s biggest struggle is that she believes everything her husband says and does not think twice about it. She is optimistic and thinks that the future will be better, even though she is aware of Willy’s suicide attempts but does not confront him. Throughout the play, she conveys how she wants Biff and Happy to show a little more respect to Willy so that they could have perfect family.
If I was in Linda’s position, I would question Willy the minute I had any suspicions. And if it was confirmed that he was cheating on me? I would leave him right away. There is no point in staying with someone who doesn’t love you, because if he really did love Linda, he wouldn’t have even thought about cheating on her. Someone who cheats is a liar, and no matter how many times you forgive them, they will somehow find a way to do it again. I have not only lost respect for people who cheat, but also for people who stay with their cheating partner.
I know that it is easier said than done, but I hope to be stronger than Linda was. She claimed that she loved Willy, but she knew about his suicide attempts and did nothing. It does not matter if you hate someone or love them. If you know that someone is suicidal, how can you just sit there and do nothing. It is your fault just as much as it is theirs. You might as well put a bullet to their head and do it yourself.
Overall, I strongly support my opinion that Linda is weak. Not only is she weak, she is also naive. She actually thinks that she is helping Willy by believing his lies, but in reality, she is the one killing him.