Universal Themes in “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller

The well-known play by Arthur Miller Death of a Salesman is a profound consideration of the conflicts within one family along with connecting them to more generalized American national values. A lot of Americans really believed into the America Dream, which seemed to be both fake and real. The author aimed to reveal the nature of the American Dream in relation to capitalist materialism, which was developed in the conditions of the postwar economy. It a long time since Death of a Salesman was written, still it does not lose its actuality and power. The relations between material success and moral values play meaningful role for self-identification for any individual. The period after World War II proved to be rather difficult for America and regulation of its domestic contradictions and tensions. Death of Salesman is the reflection of the loss of personal identity and inability of an individual to adhere to the current changes, taking place in his society. “When Charley, Willi Loman’s next-door neighbor, says that “a salesman is got to dream”. He sums up not only Willy’ life but a central tenet of his culture” (Bigsby 1996). The plot of the story is devoted to the last 24 hours of Willy Loman’s life, which are described in the mixture of his memories, confrontations, arguments and dreams. All members of Loman family fail to reach the aims, which seem important to them and are trapped into constant denial circles. Willy has developed his own understanding of the American dream, which is based upon success and notoriety and for the sake of reaching it, he is ready to deny the reality and merge into his own dreams about his professional and personal success.

Death of a Salesman explores several important universal and fundamental themes and ideas, related to the concept of American Dream, abandonment and family relations between generations.

Willy is a vivid representation of one of the citizens, who perceived the idea of American Dream very closely and strongly believes that “personally attractive” and “well liked” individuals are able to reach the highest positions in business and secure material comforts. Somehow Willy does not connect hard work and persistence with becoming successful and reaching his American Dream. Thus his interpretation of the idea of the American Dream is rather superficial and inevitably leads to a number of disappointments and psychological decline, as soon as he realizes the size the of the gap between his real life and achievements and his dream.

The theme of abandonment goes through the whole play. Willy’s life actually consists of the periods between cases of abandonment, each of them causing profound despair for him. Being left by his father at an early age, Willy remains with his brother Ben. Ben turns out to be more risky and decides to leave for Alaska, looking for better life. Willy is left with his own vision of the American Dream and the ways to reach it. He starts to idealize the work of a salesman “And when I saw that, I realized that selling was the greatest career a man could want. ’Cause what could be more satisfying than to be able to go, at the age of eighty-four, into twenty or thirty different cities, and pick up a phone, and be remembered and loved and helped by so many different people?” (Miller 1996). Such experience in his early life is probably the reason of his constant fear of abandonment, when he already has his own family. Willy becomes more and more distanced from the reality. Even his attitude to his sons, when he is deeply disappointed that he did not manage to raise perfect sons, is the reflection of his shift towards the world of dreams and ideas.

Willy is very much connected to the past and he constantly returns to his past events. John Lahr (2009) wrote in his article Hard Cell: “everything we are is at every moment alive in us,” Miller said. “Death of a Salesman” was a demonstration of this simultaneity, an attempt to “cut through time like a knife.”  Past is for Willy a way to escape his reality, because reality is not like he wanted it to be and like he expected it to be for him. Willy wants to introduce order to his life, but he is able to do it only in his past and it becomes more and more evident as the play proceeds. The culmination of this is after Willy is fired and he penetrates into his invented alternative reality.

Actually this approach is utilized not only by Willy, there are a lot of individuals, who use their memories in order to “travel” in their past lives in order to make their present lives more bearable. Some events from the past could be exaggerated, whereas other events are minimized, because we are able to organize the memories in the ways we like, in the ways, which are more comfortable to us. My personal example is related to death of my close person, when he was alive, we had conflicts and often quarreled. When he died, I realized that he meant very much to me and all my current memories about him are related only to the pleasant things, associated with him in my past.

Overall, Death of the Salesman by Arthur Miller relates to many thematic issues and profoundly represents the historic context of America during that time. The author explores such universal themes as the meaning of personal dreams and ideas along with ability to realize them and the impacts they have upon other people around the individual.

Works cited:

Bigsby Christopher.  Introduction to Death of a Salesman. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1996

Lahr, John. A black “Death of a Salesman.” Hard Sell. The Theatre, 2009

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1996

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 2, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 2, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 2, 2020]