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Failure in a Success Oriented Society in Death of a Salesman

Failure in a Success Oriented Society in Death of a Salesman

In the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the playwright focuses on the theme of failure in a success oriented society. Willy Lowman, a failed salesman, is the central character. Willy’s downfall is caused by his belief in the propaganda of a society that only has room for winners. The significance of this theme, still very relevant today, is heightened by Miller’s skilful use of a range of key techniques, including setting, characterization and symbolism.

The drama focuses on the life of a middle aged salesman, Willy Lowman, who, at the outset of the play is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He lives with his adoring but over protective wife, Linda, who acts as a buffer between her husband and their two adult sons, Biff and Happy, whose relationship with their father is permanently under tension. The play plots the tragic collapse of a man who cannot face up to his moral responsibilities in a society whose false values attach a dangerous importance to success as measured in such transient terms as income and material possessions. Living according to these values means that failure is likewise defined in economic terms.

The play’s setting contributes to our understanding of the significance of this theme. Willy Lowman’s home is presented as ‘small and fragile-seeming’, dwarfed by a wall of apartment blocks whose presence contributes to the trapped, claustrophobic atmosphere. He makes reference to a time before the build up of this area when there were ‘two beautiful elm trees’, now cut down by the builder and a garden in which scented wisteria and lilacs bloomed in profusion.Willy complains of the airless quality within his apartment, despite…

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…ary society. For today’s audience, Willy Lowman remains a poignant figure of failure, partly as a result of society’s false value system but partly because of Willy’s own inability to confront life with integrity.

Works Cited and Consulted

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.

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.

Essay on Art in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Art in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Stephen Dedalus’ philosophy of art, expressed in his discussion with Lynch in Chapter Five, seems essentially romantic, yet the novel is written in a very realistic mode typical of the twentieth century. This apparent inconsistency may direct us to one way of interpreting this novel. Dedalus’ idea of art may be Romantic, but because his world is no longer the world of the Romantics he has to see art more as a fundamental validation of his own being than as a communication of a special vision.

Two aspects of Romanticism figure into this analysis of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. First, the Romantics’ defining belief in some connection between the human spirit and some higher purpose, and their belief in art’s capacity to serve as the vehicle to connect the human with the divine, is the philosophical underpinning of Dedalus’ esthetic theory. Second, however, the Romantics also believed that they were communicating in the words of the people, to the hearts of the people, and this Dedalus cannot quite believe he can do. He senses inchoately that communication of the Romantic vision to a modern world is impossible.

Therefore, Dedalus’ difficult coming of age as an artist, and perhaps Joyce’s, records the essentially romantic, Platonic soul, struggling to emerge from the oppressive realities of the mundane world. The Platonic soul has to reject that world because it is not divine, as the Romantics rejected the Enlightenment scientific worldview, but whereas the Romantics of Wordsworth’s age could believe their role was to communicate this truth through poetry to “the people,” Stephen Dedalus can only withdraw from the world into abstruse theory, or a l…

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…religion, its politics, its poverty, its people.


So when Dedalus finally pronounces his break from his whole upbringing, it is for this reason: his Romantic soul doesn’t comport very well with his realist’s understanding of the world. Since he cannot believe, as Wordsworth did, that the spiritually starved masses were waiting out there for his pronouncement of a Grand Vision, he does the only thing he can

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