Exploring the Jagged Edges of a Shattered Dream in Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman tells the story of a man confronting failure in a success-driven society. Willy Loman represents all American men that have striven for success but, instead, have reaped failure in its most bitter form. Arthur Miller's tragic drama is a probing portrait of the typical American male psyche portraying an extreme craving for success and superior status. Death of Salesman follows the decline of a man into lunacy and the subsequent effect this has on those around him, particularly his family.
Miller amalgamates the archetypal tragic hero with the mundane American citizen. The result is the anti-hero, Willy Loman. He is a simple salesman who constantly aspires to become 'great'. Nevertheless, Willy has a waning career as a salesman and is an aging man who considers himself to be a failure but is incapable of consciously admitting it. As a result, the drama of the play lies not so much in its events, but in Willy's deluded perception and recollection of them as the audience gradually witness the tragic demise of a helpless man.
In creating Willy Loman, Miller presents the audience with a tragic figure of human proportions. Miller characterises the ordinary man (the 'low man') and ennobles his achievements. Willy's son, Biff, calls his father a 'prince', evoking a possible comparison with Shakespeare's Hamlet, prince of Denmark.. Thus, the play appeals greatly to the audience because it elevates an ordinary American to heroic status. Death of a Salesman seems to conform to the 'tragic' tradition that there is an anti-hero whose state of hamartia causes him to suffer. The audience is compelled to genuinely sympathise with Willy's demise largely because he is an ordinary man who is subject to the same temptations as the rest of us.
Miller uses many characters to contrast the difference between success and failure in the American system. Willy Loman is a deluded salesman whose vivid imagination is far greater than his sales ability. Linda, Willy's wife, honorably stands by her husband even in the absence of fundamental realism. To some extent she acknowledges Willy's aspirations but, naively, she also accepts them. Consequently, Linda is not part of the solution but rather part of the problem with this dysfunctional family and their inability to face reality. In restraining Willy from his quest for wealth in the Alaska, the 'New Continent', ironically the only realm where the "dream" can be fulfilled, Linda destroys any hope the family has of achieving 'greatness'. Even so, Linda symbolically embodies the play's ultimate value: love. In her innocent love of Willy, Linda accepts her husband's falsehood, his dream, but, in her admiration of his dream, she is lethal. Linda encourages Willy and, in doing so, allows her sons, Biff and Happy, to follow their father's fallacious direction in life.
Willy's close friend Charlie on the other hand,...