Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller: Introduction

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949) is considered to be both the playwright's masterpiece and a cornerstone of contemporary American drama. This play gained a number of honors and awards including, the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. When Arthur Miller finished writing this play, he entitled it as The Inside of His Head.

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)

Later on he became dissatisfied with this title. Then he conferred second title of the play. This second title is Death of a Salesman. From the first title we get a profound insight into the psychological make-up of the protagonist who is a salesman.

In this play, the protagonist is a salesman by occupation. He harbored a tremendous ambition. But this ambitious dream of the protagonist never got accomplished. No matter how hard Willy worked, his dream remained unattainable. As a result, he became gradually sick and miserable. He became mentally dichotomous. He became a split personality. In the course of his life he was completely smitten with a scorching flame of frustration. Finally, he committed suicide. The playwright wants to show the inflicting effects of the American dream in the middle class people who regards the material gain is the absolute happiness.

Death of a Salesman is such a popular play that it has remained at the center of the modern American plays. This play is an experiment in the theatre. It is the best example of expressionism in modern American play. As an expressionistic modern American play, it uses a cross section of a house as a metaphor for an entire house and an entire life. The death in Death of a Salesman implies the destruction of a family holding certain beliefs that have been wrong from the start.

Death of a Salesman has been given a privileged position in American drama because it is a modern tragedy. Aristotle felt that only characters of noble birth could be tragic heroes, but Miller confounds this theory, as Eugene O'Neill did, by showing the human integrity in even the most humble characters. Miller's Willy Loman is not a peasant, nor is he noble. In fact, Miller took a frightening risk in producing a figure that we find hard to like. Willy wants to be well liked, but as an audience, we find it difficult to like a person who whines, complains and accepts petty immorality as a normal way of life. Despite his character, we are awed by his fate.

Willy stands as an aspect of our culture, commercial and otherwise that is at the center of our reflection of ourselves. Perhaps we react so strongly to Willy because we are afraid that we might easily become a Willy Loman if we are not vigilant about our moral views, our psychological well-being, and the limits of our commitment to success. Willy Loman has mesmerized audiences in America in many different economic circumstances: prosperity, recession, rapid growth, and cautions development. No matter what those circumstances we have looked at the play as if looking in a mirror. What we have seen has always involved us, although it has not always made us pleased with ourselves.

Death of a Salesman Study Center

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