Death of a Salesman as a Play about American Tragedy

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is set against post war America. The play examines the assumptions which ultimately led Willy and his family to their state of desperation. These are the assumptions that many American business people held then.

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)

Capitalism and commercialization were the two evils that had engulfed the America of that time. The psychological disturbance experienced by Willy Loman was a common experience of many Americans. Willy Loman doesn't stand alone; he represents the Americans of that period paralyzed by war and depression. The problem arises not because of one particular family because of America itself as it was then.

Willy Loman rides on the waves of illusion and doesn't open his eyes to his present reality. His failure is the failure of the American myth of success. According to this myth being well liked was what one needed for going ahead. Another assumption examined by the play is that petty crimes like adultery and stealing are evidence of high spirit. Another assumption examined was that being an athlete brings glory and privilege, but being studious leads nowhere. Willy Loman is guided by these false values and has a tragic fall. He tried to include wrong values to his sons, and they failed as a result. He cannot face the reality of his present life and goes back to the past which represents illusion. His brother Ben is a symbol for the American myth of success. He went into the jungle at 17 and when he came out of it at 21 he was a rich man. It signifies easy economic gain. His story is the story of all Americans. Willy doesn't support the idea of working hard. Had he worked hard he would have been economically secure. Neither did he encourage his sons to study and work hard. So, it is a false myth of success that brings about his tragedy. This is a myth of all Americans so his tragedy reflects the American tragedy as a whole.

Death of a Salesman Study Center

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