In 1949; whilst America saw the culmination of anti-communist feelings, fear of the unidentified and the general hysteria which originated from the Cold War against Russia; playwright Arthur Miller published what was seen to be a personal criticism of the American way of life, his play, “Death of A Salesman”. Death of A Salesperson tells the story of Willy Loman, a lowly salesperson gradually being separated from society and progressively led into confusion by his attempts to leave his own failure produced by the fantastic American Dream he has actually served so loyally.
It was for this play Miller was brought in front of HUAC (house un-American activities committee) and charged with undermining American Worths. Miller defended himself by declaring he simply desired “show the fact as [he] saw it”. It is because Miller demanded sticking to realism, that he chose a regular, “Loman”, or literally, low male, to be his Terrible Hero. In doing so, Miller broke one rule- that of Aristotelian tragedy, which requires a “honorable” hero, of high birth; and concurrently abided by another, the guideline of a Modern Domestic Disaster which needs a regular person’s story to be informed.
Whilst Milton would have deplored this “introducing of unimportant and repulsive individuals [into catastrophe], Miller dismissed all criticism of his choice of hero, requiring his accusers to acknowledge “it matters not whether the hero falls from an excellent height or a small one”, or as Linda puts it, “he’s not the finest character who ever lived. However he’s a person and an awful thing is occurring to him” the importance then, lies in the method and factor for which the character falls.
Willy does, nevertheless, adhere to both the moulds of an Aristotelian tragedy and Modern Domestic Catastrophe in that he experiences a Hamartia which leads to his fall from grace and ultimate death. Many critics and audiences determine Willy’s Hamartia as his Hubris, his over inflated sense of self-worth and pride, which implies he declines help even as he ends up being significantly lost. However, a couple of critics complain that Willy can not be a terrible hero, as he does not have one deadly defect but many which integrate to bring Willy down.
This concept, as expressed by Thomas Adler, Ruby Cohn and others rests on the existence of other factors in Willy’s life, Willy is not only proud, however foolish, cursed with the wrong dreams, lacking in vision and many of all weak. It is this weak point which restricts him from leaving the “Jungle” of the American Dream, meaning he passes away within it; an outcome of it and as a sacrifice to it, hoping that his death will expose the “diamonds” he looks for.
Willy’s real death in Death of A Salesman is disappointed on phase, however rather, it is symbolised by the “noise of a cars and truck … moving away at complete speed” then the “crash [ing] down [of music] which in turn morphs into “a dead march”, not explicitly revealing the morbid act, however indicating it greatly enough for the audience to be in no doubt of its occurrence. It is normal of a Modern Domestic Catastrophe death not to occur in front of the audience. The music in this ‘death scene’ is poignant, effective and very implicit to the plot, without it the audience would not know of Willy’s death.
Music runs throughout the play as a driver through which Miller makes the subtler, unmentioned “presences” or emotions understood. Consider example the flute’s melody which functions as both a melancholy theme tune to Willy’s failings and a musical embodiment of his separated Daddy’s ghost, who “made more in a week than a man like [Willy] could in a life time”. The flute embodies both these functions in “Requiem”. First, Willy’s failings are made clearer than ever as Linda begins to genuinely mourn her spouse and generate an impossible last farewell from him.
Second, flute also shows Willy’s daddy’s existence since we understand it is from his daddy that Willy got the “incorrect dreams” which drove him to the severe Linda sits by. It is perhaps essential to think about the role of ‘ghosts’ or past figures which appear throughout the play. Ghosts and figures from the past litter catastrophe throughout the centuries. Certainly, the earliest surviving complete disaster, Aeschylus’s Persians (472 BC) features the ghost of the dead King Darius returning from the past to cast judgement over his son Xerxes, whom he deems to be stopping working in his role and pursuing the wrong dreams.
This is not unlike the mocking existence of Willy’s own dad and his sibling Ben, both deceased who continue to tease Willy with dreams he can not accomplish. Willy’s suicide is at as soon as self-congratulating, misguided and selfless. He wants to get away the sensation he is “momentary” by really leaving something behind, “something one can feel with the hand”. This something is his “diamond” of the $20,000 insurance money, which will make him a “hero” for Biff to “praise” and assisting Biff to start up a service of his own.
Requiem holds no responses as to whether the premium was paid and through this and the melancholy anguish that runs through the last scene, Miller shows how pointless Willy’s death really was. No matter how much money he leaves behind, it will never make up for the loss the family needs to withstand. Linda can not even understand his motives and Delighted encapsulates the state of mind when he declares “There was no need for it”. An unfortunate twist of paradox is Biff making it clear he is moving away. Thus, he would never have actually used the money anyway.
This reveals the real uselessness of Willy’s death and likewise his daddy’s lack of understanding of his own son, who from the start is happiest outdoors “experimenting with horses”. Nevertheless a sadder twist mores than happy’s utter objection to learn from his daddy’s errors, and regardless of declaring “Willy Loman did not pass away fruitless” he goes on to prove the opposite, appealing to “win it for him [Willy]. The Requiem reveals Willy’s final misconception shattered. There is a basic response to Linda’s piteous, “why did nobody come?
” The response is that Willy was not, contrary to what he claims time and time once again, “known”, due to the fact that he has actually not altered with the times, and the old worths he clings to do not make a guy “known” or “a success” at all. Evidence of Willy’s failure to alter with time can be traced back to, as Richard T. Brucher puts it, Willy’s “unforeseen, marvellingly innocent question”: “How can they whip cheese?” Such an easy statement exhibits his static method to modern-day life; he desires whatever to go back to the “fantastic days” and is unwilling to alter anything, least of all his expectations and aspirations.
Irony is another essential feature of a Modern Domestic Tragedy and Linda’s last lines, her mantra of reassurance, “We’re Free … We’re free” is more heavily packed with irony than any other line of the play. The lines apply in numerous various ways, not just the in advance meaning of the family being devoid of debt. They also despondently relay Miller’s message that if you live following the American Dream and have consumerism as your only moral compass and religion, then the only method to free yourself is to pass away.
A far more cynical view of Linda’s words, as proposed by D. L. Hoeveler, recommends they epitomise the household’s darker subconscious thoughts, that now Willy is gone, they no longer have to continue the paths they were forced down. They are “free” of the burden Willy placed on them. Nevertheless, the earlier occasions reveal that despite no longer being lowered the course of the American Dream, Delighted will continue to pursue it, so this interpretation too is heavily paradoxical.
When it comes to Linda, being “totally free” from the concern of Willy is definitely not what she would long for, after all she “more than enjoys him” and even his “little ruthlessness” do not change this. She needs to look after Willy so that she has a function and a goal. The play ends as it began, bringing the action back to the beginning and lending a constant rhythm to the play, with Linda’s nervous disconcerted calling to the departed Willy, simulating her nervousness in the opening scene when Willy goes into.
It is the flute which opens and closes the play. Whatever reverting back to the method the play started shows how insignificant Willy’s death actually is. Capitalism does not collapse, life goes on. It is here that I believe Modern Domestic Tragedies are flawed, where Shakespearian ones are not. When Macbeth dies, the audience is specific that his Kingdom will grieve his loss, however deformed he was, he was still their King. There will be a “enormous” funeral service, of the sorts Willy dreams of, and a Kingdom-wide expression of collective grief.
It is this grief that I think offers the catharsis of emotion for the audience, they understand his death will continue to be felt after they leave the theatre and this guarantee brings closure. This closure nevertheless, does not exist in Modern Domestic Tragedies. Willy’s death will go undetected by most, and this does not bring significant catharsis to the audience. There is no final completion of raw emotion. To support my view I can only provide the words of Shakespeare himself, “The poor beetle on which we tread In corporal sufferance feels a pang as excellent As when a Huge passes away. “