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By Doris  Treece

The play “Death of a Salesman” was written in 1949. In this play, A. Miller unmasks contradiction arisen in the urban industrial society and criticizes the values upon which this society is based. The main character of the play, Willy Loman, tries to persuade himself and others that he and his sons, Biff  and Happy are successful in life, but in the end, Willy is unable to live up to his own expectations. Social ideology has a crucial impact on values of the Loman family, their dreams and ideals, but most of these values play a negative role in lives of the main characters. Thesis If the American family is a desperate effort in the face of social loneliness … its very desperation provides the facts for an analysis of man in America and elsewhere.

The family can promote the health of its members by instilling upon its members the fundamental values regarding lifestyles and ideals. Moreover, the family can promote the social stereotypes and traditions. Miller creates the total picture of gains and losses as a complex problem caused by a role of middle classes in the society. Indifference of the society to its members results in self-absorption, and attempts to escape from life troubles. Miller blames poor attitude towards Willy but unmasks his false dreams. Following Bloom:

“Linked to this is a progressive discrediting of the salesman-figure; from the salesman who is assumed to be the integrating force in society, the “life of the party” (although the reverse is in fact shown to be true), through the salesman as an individual alienated from society and himself, to the salesman as the force that makes it possible for an anti-social and alienated society to exist” (Bloom 1988, p. 72-73).

Miller portrays that the links between levels are looser and the causal flow can go in various directions: from economic position to consciousness and action. The conflict arises in family relations and inability to understand position, inner world and desires of each member. It is possible to say that there is a struggle between men and women which shows social conflict between values, traditions and different background. Linda Loman is a loving mother who cares much about her family, but Willy does not understand the importance of her role seeing his wife as a light-minded person and squanderer (Phelps 1995). Through the chanarcter of Linda, Miller shows that the difference between the men and women includes both conscious and unconscious values, ideas and social attitudes that shape behavior. Miller blames male attitudes towards their wives, and inability to understand hopes and life expectations of women. Through the male characters, Miller depicts total ignorance and negligent of the men, and probably indifference towards the whole society (Heinz, 1999; Klinghoffer, 1999)

The exhausted, idealistic man who had visions of a great future for his sons does not in the end come to terms with reality, but retains his hopes. To Willy, death is the only answer. Finally, some mention needs to be made of Willy’s self-deception. And when he says to Bernard (p.72) that Oliver is interested in Biff for a big financial deal, we see again this need to keep up a facade. Willy is self-deceived since he refuses to face up to the truth about himself and about his family. Despite this, Willy is liked by the characters in the play. Charley, although laughed at by Willy earlier, frequently lends him money; Bernard tries to talk to him.’ Moreover, his sons still show some affection for him, and Linda admires him. He never attains the heights to which he aspires, but, despite his weaknesses, his friends and family attempt to understand and help him. Biff’s comment that ‘he never really knew who he was’ (p.Ill) is apt, but as Charley adds ‘Nobody dast blame this man’.

Miller shows that American family was isolated from society by its class location and traditions. Through the characters of Biff and Happy he shows fundamental solitude and his coincident propensity to interact with people, to make human contact. Miller, however, has shown the speed with which American families moved to a high valuation of the conjugal system. When the family became disrupted under the post-World War II pressures of urban isolation, discrimination, unemployment, and clumsy welfare practices, society ties became important for the survival of many families. The individual is neither solely a member of a family nor solely autonomous but a being-in-relation. Any view that individuals are constituted by and responsible to their systemic environments can hardly be accused of fostering individualism. The moral imperative is to act responsibly toward self and others and thus to sustain connection. To move to this more integrated stage of moral development that recognizes the mutual interdependency of self and other, women often require a powerful moment of choice such as meaningful productive work or authority in reproductive decisions to offset their propensity toward self-loss. “The traditional relationship between fathers and sons which lies at the heart of share sports activities and rhetoric is in “Death of a Salesman” symptomatic of the madness which dominates the Loman family” (Ardolino 2004, p. 32).

During 1950s, popular culture was permeated with images of the “consumer family” as the ideal family: parents and children surrounded by automobiles, gas stoves, and other icons of mass consumption. Women were the linchpin of this imagery. On the one hand, they were to be in charge of the domestic sphere and were, therefore, the chief consumers. The culture of consumerism both disrupted and intensified the patriarchal character of family life. It disrupted patriarchy by encouraging women to enter the paid labor force; it intensified patriarchy because women still had the primary responsibility in the domestic sphere. Consumerism, some believe, cripples the ability to delay gratification and to evaluate life’s ends beyond the satisfaction of immediate impulses (Dovring, 1999). Consumer products become the “drug” that families use to hide from themselves the disappointments and frustrations that are rooted in impoverished relationships, both in the family and in civil society at large. Although consumerism summarizes the felt-experience of a market society, the theory of the market has cultural implications for the family as well, especially for those who turn to the market both to understand family changes and to find solutions.

Miller expresses individualism in the areas of sexual experimentation, career decisions, consumer choice, and emotional satisfaction but not regarding certain collective obligations to the state. For him, the dilemma is this: although left to itself, expressive individualism is a dead end, returning to traditional family structure is both impossible and undesirable (Siebold, 1997)). Their idea of family structure is an effort to give public support to expressive individualism yet provide means by which persons can be connected to a larger social purpose. “The word square, an image of an enclosed area, and root, a plant image, refer to Willy’s paradisiacal garden and the two trees representing Biff and Happy which grew there, and the condition of his mind which is imprisoned in insanity, the root of his and his family’s problems” (Ardolino 2002, p. 174).

Even after Willy has lost his job, he still takes consolation in the possibility of Biff regaining a lucrative position with Bill Oliver. Willy has forgotten that Biff never did have such a position—he was merely a shipping clerk. Willy does not listen to Biff: he is not interested in the truth, merely in confirming what he suspects and hopes Biff to be: he asks and expects to be told that Oliver gave him a warm welcome, that he gave him drinks, that he accepted the ideas which Biff had. As Biff says (p. 86), ‘Dad, you’re not letting me tell you what I want to tell you’. Biff is trying to impress reality upon Willy, but Willy is simply interested in the dream.

Miler depicts it as tough and cruel world full of false ideals and morals. Willy is at the bottom of line in a capitalistic world. He owns nothing, and he makes nothing, so he has no sense of accomplishment. “Business is business” says Howard to Willy underlining the nature of capitalistic system. Willy develops the theory that if a person is well liked and has a great deal of personal attractiveness, then all doors will automatically be opened for him. The main feature of industrial society was taken to be its dedication to material produc­tion. Society depicted in the novel distinguished by its characteristic modes of production and economic life. “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates a personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want (Miller, 1999). Material production and materialism dominates under spiritual world of the main characters. True, Willy is deranged at this point, but his action is not a single moment of madness. It is the culmin­ation of all that has happened during the play—and, remember, the action goes back several years. Following Bigsby: “Certainly Depression haunts his plays” (Bigsby 1997, p. 1).

I am from white collar family. My family differs greatly from Miller’s description where a man dominated in the family. Both of my parents have similar rights and their decisions are equally important for the children. In contrast to the previous age, Personal relations between parents and children is one of the most social issues all periods if time. There is a generation gap between my parents and me, but we always try to understand each other. The theme of generation gap, based on different views shared by parents and children and changing social values, unveils a lot of different views on this problem. Today, many women work full time and have no time for home duties and children. My mother is also works much she always tries to find time for the family. My family helps me to understand that while living together people are bound by mutual agreement and free to decide whether to stay with a partner or leave, in marriage people are bound by a number of obligations they have to fulfill.

My family values are based on cultural traditions which helps us to find way out from every difficult situation. The family also provides the basic necessities to supply the economic demands of the society. The economists’ points of view see the family as a production and consumption unit. The family is also a ritual unit and as such reflects the values, belief and culture of the society and thus, the society becomes a reflection of changes in the families and vice versa.

The death of Willy at the end of the play is a dramatic act, which emphasizes how impossible it was for him to fight. In spite of oppression, Linda loves her husband. Love and sympathy are natural feelings for every women, and the quality that Linda possesses is sympathy. “Willy Loman is thought to embody a certain species of American ambition and idealism–so the poor schmuck had to commit suicide” (Kimball 2005, p. 27). It relates to concern and respect for others and the environment. It is often expressed by the word ‘love’ used in a broad sense (Novick, 2003). Love as care does not refer to an emotion or a state of mind so much as to a human faculty of identification with others, sympathy with all beings. On the other hand, in the play the Women is depicted as dull-witted person. She becomes a victim of her own unmoral behavior. Bloom states: “The question as to whether drama can change society is an old one, and the traditional answer is no” (Bloom 1988, p. 59).

In sum, Miller criticizes the basic elements of the American family showing that people like Willy Loman live socially limited by their class and values created by the society. He is unable to evaluate and predict possible consequences of their actions or inactions. To some extent, an economic system determines human existence, and personalities like Willy and his sons are unable to change the world around them. It order to survive they had to adapt their ideas to the system instead of trying to adjust the system to their values and aspirations. It is possible to conclude that in the play “The Death of a Salesman” Miller depicts two different worlds: family and society. The theme of a family represented through the character of Willy is used to portray strong traditions existing in the society. Keeping false traditions and values helps Miller to underline the role of family unity and self-identity.


  1. Ardolino, F. Like Father, like Sons: Miller’s Negative Use of Sports Imagery in Death of a Salesman. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, Vol. 25, 2004, p. 32.
  2. Ardolino, F. I’m Not a Dime a Dozen! I Am Willy Loman!”: The Significance of Names and Numbers in Death of a Salesman. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 2002, p. 174.
  3. 3. Bigsby, The Cambridge Companion to Arthur Miller. Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  4. Bloom, H. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Chelsea House, 1988.
  5. Dovring, F. Inequality: The Political Economy of Income Distribution. Praeger Publishers, 1991.
  6. Heinz, D. The Last Passage: Recovering a Death of Our Own. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  7. Kimball, R. Death of a Liberal God: Reacting to Arthur Miller. National Review, Vol. 57, March 14, 2005, p. 27.
  8. 8. Klinghoffer, D. Undying Salesman. National Review, Vol. 51, March 8, 1999, p. 54.
  9. Miller, A. Death of a Salesman: 50th Anniversary Edition, Penguin Books; 50th Annni edition, 1999.
  10. Novick, J.  Death of a Salesman: Deracination and Its Discontents; American Jewish History, Vol. 91, 2003, p. 97.
  11. Phelps, H.C. Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The Explicator, Vol. 53, 1995, p. 239.
  12. Siebold, Th. Readings on Arthur Miller. Greenhaven Press. 1997.

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