Analyzing Theme In Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman (Essay Sample)
Some critics argue that Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is a tragedy of the common man—a point of view to which Miller contributed in the essay he published along with the play, called “Tragedy and the Common Man,” which you are asked to read along with the play. In his essay, Miller challenged the Aristotelian concept of the hero being “highly placed,” calling it “archaic.” Miller argued the “very same mental processes” are to be found in the “lowly,” in particular, “the underlying fear of being displaced, the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in the world.”
Certainly, in Miller's protagonist, Willie Loman, note the play on words—low man—the audience watches and listens to Willie's fears of being “nobody” opposite his desire to be “well liked.” As Miller asserts, the audience witnesses Willie experience “the fateful wound from which the inevitable events spiral,” the “wound of indignity, and its dominant force is indignation.” “Tragedy,” Miller argues, is the “consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.”
Compare Miller's point of view with that of David Mamet, who argues that Miller's Death of a Salesman is a “great American domestic tragedy.” Mamet asserts the play is a tragedy because we recognize in the play's characters “our own dilemmas” and we are “freed, at the end” not because the dramatist has “arrived at a solution,” but because the dramatist “has reconciled us to the notion that there is no solution—that it is the human lot to try and fail, and that no one is immune from self-deception.” Mamet argues that Miller's play asks us to set aside “the delusion that we are powerful and wise,” and that we leave the play better off.
You are asked in your graded writing assignment for this module to analyze what you see as a major theme in Miller's Death of a Salesman, especially as you witness the protagonist become overwhelmed by guilt and isolated from his family, a conflict that only escalates as Willie Loman re-experiences more and more painful memories from the past combined with more and more disappointments in his present life.
First, re-read Miller's Acts I & II of Death of a Salesman. Use the module notes and assigned readings to further guide your analysis of the play's theme. Clearly, the play grapples with the theme of self-awareness and family values (think “Barn Burning”) and what it means to pursue the “American Dream” among other possible themes. You also should review the two (2) New York Times articles related to Miller's play and its themes, so ensure you review all of the following for this assignment:
Death of a Salesman.
Miller, Arthur (1949) Death of a Salesman. ACTS I & II. Retrieved from http://www(dot)pelister(dot)org/literature/ArthurMiller/Miller_Salesman.pdf
“Attention Must Be Paid.”
Mamet, David (February 13, 2005). Attention Must Be Paid. [Op-Ed Contributor]. New York Times. NY: NY. Retrieved from http://www(dot)nytimes(dot)com/2005/02/13/opinion/13Mamet.html
Tragedy and the Common Man.
Miller, Arthur (February 27, 1949). Tragedy and the Common Man. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www(dot)nytimes(dot)com/books/00/11/12/specials/miller-common.html
Write an essay of 500 words minimum analyzing what you see as the primary theme of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and assert why you think “attention must be paid.”
You should provide at least two (2) quotes from Act I and two (2) quotes from Act II, for no less than four (4) quotes total from the play to support your argument/s. Of course, there are many essays on this classic play, so if you use another author's commentary on the drama, such as the New York Times articles you are asked to read in this module, make sure to cite that author's article and to include the cited website using APA formatting.
Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman: Theme of Disillusionment
Death of a Salesman addresses serious issues, key among them is the inability of a man to appreciate and accept that he has changed and so has the society. The play is full of memories, dreams, and what could have been done. Most importantly, the play is full of disillusionment. The beliefs in the American dream, the many circumstances of betrayal, and abandonment brings to focus disillusionment.
The theme of disillusionment can be seen all through the paper. The family faces disillusionment throughout their lives and is best seen as Willy enters old age. Willy has an illusion of the American dream. He believes that he has what it takes to achieve the American dream. Willy's view of the American dream is contrary to what it is. Willy's view of the American dream is supported by the following quote in act I:
“Biff Loman is lost. In the greatest country in the world a young man with such—personal attractiveness, gets lost. And such a hard worker. There's one thing about Biff— he's not lazy”.
Willy believes that in America, anyone who works hard, will succeed (Zorn, 1991). All his life, he has worked hard to live the “American Dream”; he has tried his best to be well-liked and appear attractive to people to set him on the way to realizing the American dream. In the end, he becomes seriously disappointed as he can never reconcile his life and his version of the American dream. As Charley notes in act II:
“Nobody dast blame this man. You don't understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there's no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on y
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