Published in 1949, Arthur Miller’s Death of Salesman is a post Second World War American drama that highlights the plight of isolation and desolation experienced by the common man, as symbolized by Willy. The play deals with the society, life’s absurdity, various internal and external conflicts, death and above all, the tragedy of existence. It is located in the industrial society of the twentieth century where the pressure to succeed and the financial difficulties seem insurmountable. The play depicts America as the land of opportunity as well as a place where the society has acquired a new set of values that threatens to destroy those who cannot abide by new changes. This paper discusses the importance of self-image in the Loman family and how the conceptions of self-image fuel the destruction of the characters.
To begin with, the plot structure of the play does not follow a logical sense of development; rather the progression has an aesthetic appeal, which is similar to the concept of the “stream of consciousness” as propounded by Virginia Woolf. The main protagonist, Willy, is shown in a state of mind where time does not exist and his memories come in the ebb and flow of consciousness. The perception of facts, life, ideas, hopes, dreams and ambitions are shown personified in its characters whose maturity and immaturity determine the course of their lives. The protagonist is a deranged and disillusioned character who cannot come into terms with his life’s failures, compounded with the unstable life of his sons, Biff and Happy.
This is a play which shows how the self perception of a character not only develops misleading self image in the mind of the character but influences how other characters perceive them. Firstly, Willy Loman is a character in whom Miller has attempted to exemplify the cruel paradox of human existence in the twentieth century. As the head of the family, Willy seeks to control the family construct and give it a meaning which does not merit the reality (Murphy 95). His perception of life as a totality is a hazy cloud where his past, present and future mingle together and obstruct reality. He is an idealistic person which makes him a tragic character. Various critics suggest that Willy Loman is the tragic hero of the American drama. Willy wants to be highly successful and wants to be loved by all; and his definition of success borders on material acquisitions without facing the reality that his financial conditions makes it impossible for him to lead the life he desires. His character foil, Ben, who is a ruthless businessman and an adventurer with unlimited wealth, complicates the condition of Willy. He wants the same success as enjoyed by Ben but cannot attain it. His self image is a make-believe/fictional world which when collapses leaves suicide as the only option to retain his false sense of valor.
Moreover, the minor characters too play an important role. Biff resembles his father, Willy, in the way he...