Death of a Salesman Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"

Perhaps no other play in American history has captured the essence of the nation's collective consciousness during a particular era than Arthur Miller's 1949 drama Death of a Salesman. Presented predominately from the perspective of aging salesman Willy Loman, this contribution to dramatic literature is at once absurd and tragic, with Miller employing several distinct authorial styles to tell the story of an increasingly senile Loman, who wavers between states of lucidity and fantasy throughout the narrative. Several members of Loman's family play central roles in Death of a Salesman, including Willy's loyal wife Linda, his failed sons Biff and Happy, and each character is an extension of the protagonist himself, representing the overall ordinary nature of his life despite delusions to the contrary (Koon 31). The reason that this play has come to encapsulate the prevailing American identity during the era in which it was published stems from Miller's uncanny ability to imbue Loman with a disturbing feeling of familiarity, because when one reads the play in textual form, or views an enactment on stage, it becomes immediately clear that Willy Loman represents the failed ambitions of an entire nation.

Even the character's seemingly common name is used to announce his station in life, as the surname "Loman" evokes thoughts of the "low man" on the social ladder that the audience comes to know him as, while "Willy" is intentionally childish in nature, suggesting the salesman's inherent immaturity as well as his reversion to a childlike state as his mind deteriorates. Loman's occupation as a travelling salesman -- wandering from place to place hoping to sell strangers products that he didn't have a hand in creating -- is also positioned by Miller as a symbolic extension of American capitalism, and one of the primary rhetorical functions of Death of a Salesman is to cast an uncompressing light on the consequences of unrepentant avarice and aimless ambition. The fact that the audience never learns exactly what commodity Loman has spent his life selling is another exquisite touch by Miller, as the audience slowly comes to discover the tragic truth that Loman has been selling himself all the while. As a modern observer of Miller's work concluded within a dramatic review published by The New York Times in 1999 asks "the salesman's goods, whether his valise holds hardware or underwear, turns out to…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Goodman, Walter. "Death of a Salesman: Review." New York Times 28 Apr 1999, E1. Print.

Koon, Helene, ed. Twentieth century interpretations of Death of a salesman: a collection of critical essays. Simon & Schuster, 1983.

Miller, Arthur. "Death of a Salesman. 1949." The Portable Arthur Miller (1976): 3-133.

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