Get help from the best in academic writing.

Death of a Modernist Salesman

Death of a Modernist Salesman

The modernist movement in writing was characterized by a lack of faith in the traditional ways of explaining life and its meaning. Religion, nationalism, and family were no longer seen as being infallible. For the modernist writers, a sense of security could no longer be found. They could not find any meaning or order in the old ways. Despair was a common reaction for them. The dilemma they ran into was what to do with this knowledge. Poet Robert Frost phrased their question best in his poem “The Oven Bird.” Frost’s narrator and the bird about which he is speaking both are wondering “what to make of a diminished thing” (Baym 1103). The modernist writers attempted to mirror this despair and tried to superimpose meaning on it or find meaning in it. The old frames of reference were no longer meaningful. Newer ones had to be sought. This belief gave them license to create new points of reference, which at least held some meaning for them, or to comment on the remains of the old. These writers referred often to shattered illusions, feelings of alienation, and the fragmentation of the remains of tradition. Although society was making technological advances, many of these writers felt that it was declining in other ways. They saw this progression as being made at the expense of individuality and the individual’s sense of true self-worth.

Arthur Miller’s writings are characteristic of this movement. Miller is a playwright whose works reflect the major themes of modernism. Death of a Salesman, which is perhaps his best-known piece, is a perfect example of this. In it, he addresses the common modernist themes of alienation and loneliness through both his portrayal of society an…

… middle of paper …

…l.

Works Cited

Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.

Corrigan, Robert W., ed. Arthur Miller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Costello, Donald P. “Arthur Miller’s Circles of Responsibility: A View From a Bridge and Beyond.” Modern Drama. 36 (1993): 443-453.

Florio, Thomas A., ed. “Miller’s Tales.” The New Yorker. 70 (1994): 35-36.

Hayashi, Tetsumaro. Arthur Miller Criticism. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1969.

Martin, Robert A., ed. Arthur Miller. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982.

Miller, Arthur. The Archbishop’s Ceiling/The American Clock. New York: Grove Press,

1989.

—. Death of a Salesman. New York: Viking, 1965.

—. Eight Plays. New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1981.

Dehumanization in Death of a Salesman

Dehumanization in Death of a Salesman

Alienation and loneliness are two of the frequently explored themes in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Yet they can also cause other effects which are just as harmful, if not more so. In Death of a Salesman, two of these other results are dehumanization and a loss of individual freedom. This is a very complex web of emotions, but as Miller said, “Death of a Salesman is not, of course, in the realistic tradition, having broken out into quite a new synthesis of psychological and social dimensions” (Eight vii). It did indeed “break out” in the modernist direction. It is a wonderful example of the way modernist writers expressed their beliefs. They believed that the industrialization of society caused people to lose their individuality. Willy’s seniority at his advertising firm means very little in the larger scheme of things. He is just one of the many workers. He begins to wear out and be of little use. Therefore, he is discarded and presumably replaced with someone who will do the job more efficiently. He is not treated as a human being but as a part of a larger mechanism, a larger machine. This crushes what little self-esteem he has left.

This mechanized society can also lead to a loss of individual freedom. In order to survive, one must be a part of the competitiveness. This may mean giving up having the freedom to choose a pleasing occupation. Biff wants to find his own way and do what he wants; he is looked down upon because of his wish. Happy, his brother, wants to be financially successful. He knows that in order to do that, he needs to join the work force and persevere where his father failed. In this society, one can either do what he ch…

… middle of paper …

…g the Loman family, Miller relates the larger, all encompassing themes of the modernists to a common American family. Miller relates them, specifically Willy Loman, to society as a whole and to the smaller societal unit of the family. He then goes on to show the psychological responses to and results of societal conditions. Specifically, he demonstrates that interaction with modern society without some understanding of what is occurring can lead to alienation and loneliness. These, in turn, can lead to dehumanization and a loss of freedom for the individual.

Works Cited

Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1994.

Florio, Thomas A., ed. “Miller’s Tales.” The New Yorker. 70 (1994): 35-36.

—. Eight Plays. New York: Nelson Doubleday, 1981.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.