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Materialism in Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller uses Death of a Salesman to expose Americas preoccupation with materialism after World War II. This preoccupation is the main cause of Willys mental stress. Willy had a lot riding on him being successful. His family's survival depended on his success. Millers depiction of the Loan family is an example which shows that America is largely a second and third generation country. The first generation in this play, Willysfather, was forced in order to make a living, to break up the family.
But while Willysfather achieved and was creative, he left behind him a wife, a young son who is now fatherless, and an older son who was driven to find success and letting nothing get in highway. Willy, the second generation, is his fathers victim. While he wants to love and delight by his sons, he is driven to use them as heirs to the kingdom that he believes must built. Thus, he must pass on to them not only love but the doomed dream that he has. Biff and Happy represent the third generation in this play. Happy values only material things.
He looks for some kind of consolation in his relationship with women and though vaguely conscious of some insufficiency, measures himself solely by reference to his success in business. Biff, on the other hand, is aware of other values than the purely material and is capable finally of the kind of genuine humanity which Willy only approaches in moments of rare sensitivity. Some have interpreted Death of a Salesman as an attack upon the American Dream which according to R. H. Gardner means the idea that ours is a land of unlimited opportunity in which only a ragamuffin can attain riches and any mothers son become president. Others have chosen to regard it as a contemporary King Lear which is the tragedy of the common old man of today, as opposed to that of the extraordinary old many shakespeare's time. (Gardner 123) One set of values that exists in Willys character, and defeated by the circumstances in which he finds himself, are his impulses toward two of the original American virtues: Self-reliance and Individualism of spirit.
These virtues are perhaps the pure forms underlying the corrupt and destructive societal imperatives of success and getting ahead. (Foster 84) Willy has the self-reliant skills of the artisan. He is good at things, from polishing a car to building a front porch. But self-reliance has collapsed, the tools rust, and Willy has become a victim of a machine culture. The play implies that Willy might have been happier in a pre-capitalistic society.
In simple terms, it suggests that Willy would have been happier working with his hands. (Brustein 46) Willy was meant to represent a Lear of the modern middle classes. His hero is not much a low man as the lowest man one could conceive. (Gardner 124) He is just plain dumb and a big bore. Willy never changes throughout the play. At the end he is still these old Willy, babbling maniacally about how magnificent Biff is going to be with the$ 20, 000 insurance money. Happy, the younger son, less favored by both nature and his father, perhaps as Willy was in comparison with Ben, has escaped the closeness with his father that destroys Biff in social terms.
Thus worshipping his father from afar, Hap has never fully come to realize the phony parts of his father and his fathers dreams. Happy is not a social rebel and will carry on with the life of a salesman, and one suspects, go on to the death of salesman. (Gordon 279) He will violate the boss wife out of some lonely desperation, as WIlly sought support from his Boston woman. He will also try to prove his manliness withthe fast cars and fancy talk, but again like willy, he will never really believe in his own manliness in a mature way. (Gordon 280) Just as Willy is called a kid throughout, and referred to as the diminutive Willy by everyone except Ben, Happy has been trapped bythe infantile American Playboy Magazine vision of the male. (Gordon 279) In Death of a Salesman, Willy is portrayed as a social victim. He is given his elgin the last scene by his friend Charley, who, ironically, by a kind of indifference and lack of dream, ha succeeded within the American system. Charley points out that a salesman must dream of great things if he is to travel the territory way out there in the blue, but that heis also a man who really has no trade like the carpenter, lawyer, or doctor, and when the brilliant smile that has brought his success begins to pale, he must fall, though there is norfolk bottom. Because this portrait rings true, the play seems to indict a system that promises and indeed demands total commitment to success without regard to human values, a system that, as Willy says to Howard, will eat the orange and throw the peel away. (Gordon 276) It is a system symbolized in the play by the car, that strange, uniquely American obsession, which Willy and his sons polish, love and cherish as a manifestation of their manly glory. (Gordon 277) But the car is something that wears out and break down, and soon enough, unless one can afford an even-shinier one, he is driving an old Studebaker, smashed up many times, with a broken carburetor.
He is driving the symbol of outlived usefulness. Willy Loans catastrophe is one of the poignant and inevitable misfortunes of our society an our time. The various formulations of the idea of success have contributed tothe state of mind that makes failure a crime. Success is a requirement that Americans make life.
Because it seems magical and inexplicable, as it us to Willy, it can be considered the due of every free citizen, even those with no notable or measurable talents. One citizens as good as any other, and he cannot be proved to be a natural-born failure any moreton he can be stripped of his civil rights. The disappointment Willy feels because he hasnt made it is one of great American exasperation's. He postpones his anguish by transferring his ambitions to his sons, and so the plays free use of time permits us to observe aspiration and failure in both generations. (Popkin 53) Willys language reflects his resoluteness in the pursuit of success.
It is devoid of words for anything but the necessities of life and the ingredients or symbols of success. This world is full of aspirin, arch supports, saccharin, Studebakers, Chevrolet's, shaving lotion, refrigerators, silk stockings and washing machines. (Popkin 54) Everything buttress commonplace objects is washed out of the characters speech. The road and Willys car have metaphysical meaning. Willys soul can no longer travel the road; it has broken down because the road has lost meaning. (Gordon 279) That multiplicity within himself, his creative yearnings, and that part of himself which sees creativity as a moral value, now intrudes on consciousness.
The woods burn, and he is thrown into a hell of disorder and conflicting value within himself. The two bags which areas sales goods, his emblems of material success, the two bags which his sons would carry into the capitals of New England and so carry on the tradition of his dream, are now too heavy. His sons will never bear them for him, and the values which they represent are now overwhelming burden of his existence. (Gordon 280) The refrigerator and the house, though paid for, will never house the totality of his yearnings. They will never be the monuments to his existence that he has sought to make them. His sons, who would also have been the immortality of his dreams, his mark on the world have failed him. As the play progresses and Willys sons finally leave him kneeling ina bathroom to take their chippies in consonance with the manliness they have learned from him, they leave him alone to face the void within his soul. (Gordon 280) The social frame of limitation of Willys world doesnt restrict the drama to a commonplace or materialistic plot, because in his bumbling, inarticulate way, Willy Lomanpersonifies his creators concept that even the common-place hero has the human passion surpass his given bounds, the fanatic insistence upon self-conceived goal.
Though Oedipus search for the truth is a conscious exercise of a powerful regal mind dealing witha problem of broad dimension and import, and Willys quest for the truth is restrained by a commonness of mind and a restricted sphere of life, yet Willy persons the truth and struggles against it within his personal and social limits no less arduously and catastrophically than Oedipus. (Vogel 88) In the generations between these two heroes, the family bloodline may have thinned a bit, but the lineaments of the tyrannous havenedbeen elided. It isnt what society demands that makes the action, it is what Willy thinks it demands, and that is the unpreventable element that is the all-powerful motivation of his tragedy, as it was for Oedipus in his s situation. It would seem, then, that Millers vision of tragedy is as broad as his predecessors. It isnt society that is the primary flaw but mans innate, eternal, inevitable tendency to self-delusion, ironically induced by uncontrollable external powers. (Vogel 93) The villain in Death of a Salesman is, of course, the American cult of success, dramatically exacerbated when the protagonist is a salesman, one who sells selling moreton material goods. The poignancy is enhanced by his being a jew who has to overcome additional rootlessness and insecurity. (Simon 76) Willy pursues the two-headed chimuraof financial and social success-being rich and well liked- and how this d elusory and evermore elusive aim lures him and his family to physical or moral disaster that is considered a perfect fit subject for tragedy. But, unfortunately, Miller himself is to a considerable extent the victim of the obsessions he sets out to expose, and cant acquiesce in the notion that a desperate situation doesnt occur.
Throughout Death of a Salesman, Arthur miller uses many examples to expose Americas obsession with materialistic items since World War II. He does this by portraying Willy as an egotistical, greedy man. Willys only will is in his name. Willy the insensate slob who is to be pitied as a confused wretch, not as a proxy for a man. (Duprey 139) Miller depicts him as the victim of a society that is money hungry.
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