Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a victim of Capitalism
By: Mohammad Jashim Uddin
Arthur Asher Miller, worldwide known as Arthur Miller, is considered as the best playwright of 20th century literature. He was born on 17 October, 1915 in New York. In his plays, he combined social awareness with a searching concern for his characters’ inner lives. He is best known for Death of a Salesman (1949). In 1949, the play won the New York Drama Critics award and the Pulitzer Prize, the highest literary award of the world.
Five Acts is a tradition in ancient plays, though we have seen some exceptional to some extent. In modern age, one act and three act plays are available but it is very unusual to see the two acts play in world literature. Anyway, Death of a Salesman is a two act play.
After the Second World War, the world irritated a lot for a number of reasons. After the First World War, capitalism started engulfing the weak and suppressing the humanity all over the world. When WWII started, capitalism became a giant in world’s economy. The USA then got an opportunity to control the market. As a result, from every corner of the world, people rushed to America to fulfill their dream. They started thinking that hard working must ensure them a luxurious life, which is called American Dream.
Ultimately, each and every one becomes failure, because of capitalism. American Dream is a trap of capitalism to deceive people. Capitalism is that part of economic systems where productions are owned and managed by private individuals and institutions. Or it is economic individualism wherein the individuals are the one to decide what and how much to produced and distributed.
They are at liberty to use any technique of production and produce anything they like. In this economic system, State is to take care of only internal and external security of the country. Normally the activities related to Defence, Police, Administration and Courts of Justice are controlled by the government.
Though capitalists have made a motto for foolish people saying that capitalism has such good sides for what they will be benefited. The motto follows: a) reduction in cost of production due to efficient control; b) efficient control of production process; c) improved quality of goods; d) consumer’s choice is given full weight; e) varieties of products, and so on. But day dreamers never try to realize its dark face.
At the same time, capitalism has some dark faces to destroy humans’ identity. The dark faces are: a) inequality in the distribution of national wealth; b) fluctuations in the level of employment; c) class conflicts; d) waste of talents; e) heavy expenses on publicity result into increase in cost and price of the commodity, and so on.
Each aspect of capitalism is found in Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is the protagonist of the play. The theme is centered by him. Willy has served more than thirty six years for a company named Wagner Firm headed by Howard Wagner, though Howard’s father founded the company, and then it was much unknown one.
Because of hard work of Willy Loman from one road to another road and one state to another state, it has become its present position and it has a large corporate office in New York. Now Willy is sixty four years and he cannot drive much as his body does not allow moving at all, he desires to work at the corporate office. Once the Late Wagner promised when Willy would want, he could work here, but Howard denies him to work here, even in Boston. He is being disposed of now that he is no longer productive.
As Willy has bought into the American Dream and it has destroyed him; after a lifetime of toil in the system, he has simply failed to understand the promise of that dream. He believes that the recipe for success is to be “impressive” and “well-liked” and for your children to be identical to you in manner and aspiration. Toward that end, he is all back-slapping, forced humor, pretense, and bluster and he demands the same of his poor benighted sons. One doesn’t really expect an intellectual to have any real understanding of economics but Miller.
The struggle of Willy Loman becomes crystal clear when Linda Loman, wife of Willy and mother of Biff and Happy, opines why Willy must be honoured. According to Linda, “Don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.”
Through these few words, the dark face of capitalism comes to us, though some western critics opine that Willy Loman is a stupid and hypocrite. Whereas we see Wagner Company has destroyed his talent, threw him away from job without notice, has shown a class conflict between the owner and Willy Loman, and also sends him in an uncertain life.
So we can conclude it with the following words of a critic- This play is really a relic of the short, unhappy period in the 30’s and 40’s when American intellectuals had been seduced by Marxism. It is too doctrinaire in its assumptions about democracy and capitalism to actually say anything of lasting value.