Death Of A Salesman Critical Essays

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Sites about Death of a Salesman

by Arthur Miller

An aging salesman struggles to deal with his failing professional career and conflict with his sons.

Characters: Willy Loman, Biff Loman,

Critical sites about Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: A Celebration
A positive review of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman by noted writer Joyce Carol Oates.
Contains: Content Analysis, Review,
Author: Oates, Joyce Carol
From:Michigan Quarterly Review Fall 1998
Death of a Salesman and Death of a Salesman: The Swollen Legacy of Arthur Miller
A critical article that examines the psychological, religious, and cultural context of Miller's play that made it such a force in American theater and literature.
Contains: Character Analysis, Content Analysis,
Author: Cardullo, Bert
From:The Columbia Journal of American Studies
Keywords: psychology, drama, tragedy

Other (non-critical) sites about Death of a Salesman

At the Theatre
Atkinson's glowing review concludes - "Mr. Miller's elegy in a Brooklyn sidestreet is superb." (The New York Times Book Review website requires a free registration for a username and password in order to view this article.)
Contains: Review,
Author: Brooks Atkinson
From:New York Times February 11, 1949
Author: Brooks Atkinson
From:New York Times February 11, 1949
Death of a Salesman Study Guide
A brief yet complete overview of Death of a Salesman, including a run down of the plot, important characters, setting, and main themes.
Contains: Plot Summary, Content Analysis,
Author: Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, Calhoun High School, English Department
Author: Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, Calhoun High School, English Department
Keywords: drama, study guide, plot, characters

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Last Updated Mar 25, 2014

Self-absorption is the main reason for this inability, because he only sees life from his own point-of-view. He makes decisions without fully understanding the repercussions that his actions will have on others lives and consequently his own.

One of his greatest selfish decisions is his affair. Although Witalec argues that Willie truly believes he cheats “out of loneliness for his wife, Linda. But [in fact]… he is driven by feelings of inadequacy and failure to seek himself outside of himself, in the eyes of others. ‘The Woman’ makes him feel that he is an important salesman and a powerful man” (Witalec, 234).

Willy only looks at the benefit he will get from his decisions. In the case of his affair, his benefits are words of affirmation and carnal pleasure. Unfortunately, because Biff discovers the affair, Willy becomes very aware of the immense pain that results.

In a criticism written by Marowski and colleagues, it expresses this betrayal by declaring that, “the trust Biff had given Willy now seems misplaced. Indeed, according to the flashbacks within the play, the young Biff and Happy had nearly idolized Willy, so this betrayal while Biff is yet an adolescent is particularly poignant.” (Marowski). The affair results in a strained relationship with his son, and though Biff never tells the secret, the family dynamic is forever changed. Ironically, what makes Willy feel like a successful salesman causes him to feel insecurities regarding his fatherhood and other aspects of his life as well.

His greatest insecurity is that he is never as successful as he feels he should be. It is, as Witalec says, “his vision of success [that] perpetuates crippling feelings of inferiority and inadequacy [which ultimately]… drive him to destroy himself” (Witalec, 236). He creates his view of success based on three men that he idolizes: his father, his older brother Ben, and old Dave Singleman. These men represent who he wants to emulate.

Willy’s father is the least represented in the play, because his father abandons him at a very early age. Though Willy’s father is rarely mentioned, there is a sense that his memory is always present. Whenever Willy is experiencing a flashback, Miller represents his father’s memory through a flute playing offstage. His father’s flute playing is one of the few sensory memories that Willy has of him (Witalec, 148). In fact, the only times his father is mentioned is during conversations with his brother Ben. Ben describes his father as a “Great inventor… With one gadget he made more in a week than a man like [Willy] could make in a lifetime.” (Miller, 2347). Although it is clear that Willy feels a sense of pride for his father when Ben boasts this, it is important to note that his brother is also insulting him. Rather than encouraging Willy in becoming successful like his father, he is stating that he is not capable. Since this statement is coming from someone who Willy idolizes, he is more apt to believe that it is true; he cannot make that much money.

Willy’s idolization of Ben also hinders Willy in his quest for the American dream. In Willy’s mind, Ben is the personification of the American dream. He symbolizes the riches that he could attain. Willy covets the qualities in Ben that makes him successful, such as toughness and unscrupulousness. (Witalec, 148) Although Willy does not realize he has his own strengths and tries too hard to emulate his brother. Willy, unlike his brother, is honest. Although he makes some bad choices such as infidelity, he chooses to work hard and take care of his family.

As shown earlier, he also does not recognize another one of his great strengths, which is Linda, his own personal cheerleader. Ben does not have a person in his life that encourages him and loves him. Willy neglects to notice.

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