The Influences of Tragedy in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
“A salesman has got to dream” (Miller ). That sums up Willy Loman’s life in just one sentence. Willy is a sixty-three year old salesman with two son, Biff and Happy, and loving, supportive wife, Linda. In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy tries to provide for his family while struggling with financial, emotional, psychological, and suicidal issues. Willy commits suicide at the end of the play, with the help of his dead brother Ben, in believing that the action is the only way he could provide for his family one last time. Willy was not the only one to suffer disillusionment over his life; his sons follow in step (Loos 2). Biff is lost through most of the play, but he finds himself. He achieves a sense of personal dignity and comes to understanding his rightful place in society” (Nienhuis 95). In this classic American play, Miller uses the themes of chasing the wrong dream and identity crises to influence the overall theme of tragedy.
The death of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman deems the play a tragedy. But Biff’s comment in the end that Willy never knew himself, critics took that statement to not seeing much of tragic insight in its hero, which takes from the play’s tragic claim. Supporting this furthermore, Nienhuis states that all deaths are not truly tragic (3-4). But Biff’s comment and Nienhuis’ statement is not quite accurate. “Willy did struggle against self-knowledge—trying not to know ‘what’ he was; but he had always a superb consciousness of his own individual strength as a ‘who’ (Nienhuis 4). With Willy being lost and getting fired from a job he put his whole life into, he’s death really did live up to its tragic claim.
Written in the beginning of the play, it says that it is about dreams; “They are conceptions as old as America” (Eisinger 1). Willy dreams of being a successful businessman that his sons could look up to; though his confusion of being a father is mixed with “wealth and prestige,” and “…related commitment to the economic delusion known as ‘the American Dream’…” (Nienhuis 4). Most of Miller’s tragedies are about men “…not at one with society…” because they cannot seem to find that right fit in society. Willy Loman comes up short in trying to find or understand himself and “…esteems a career path that goes against who he truly is…” (Loos 1). Loos also explains Miller’s thoughts on Willy: to make way in the world he dreams of conquering, he makes another personality. To make a living, “Willy…must split himself in two between his job and who he actually is… as it causes him to misunderstand himself and his family by defining success solely on business terms and…forcing this definition upon his sons” (1).
Now following this split, wanting Biff to become a successful businessman, Willy enforces an unrealistic “vision” that goes against Biff’s “nature” and throws him in the opposite direction in society. Linda’s involvement with the kids “add to the...