M7A1: What does it all mean? Analyzing theme in Arthur Millerâ€™s Death of a Salesman
Some critics argue that Arthur Millerâ€™s Death of a Salesman is a tragedy of the common manâ€”a point of view to which Miller contributed in the essay he published along with the play, called â€œTragedy and the Common Man,â€ which you are asked to read along with the play. In his essay, Miller challenged the Aristotelian concept of the hero being â€œhighly placed,â€ calling it â€œarchaic.â€ Miller argued the â€œvery same mental processesâ€ are to be found in the â€œlowly,â€ in particular, â€œthe underlying fear of being displaced, the disaster inherent in being torn away from our chosen image of what and who we are in the world.â€
Certainly, in Millerâ€™s protagonist, Willie Loman, note the play on wordsâ€”low manâ€”the audience watches and listens to Willieâ€™s fears of being â€œnobodyâ€ opposite his desire to be â€œwell liked.â€ As Miller asserts, the audience witnesses Willie experience â€œthe fateful wound from which the inevitable events spiral,â€ the â€œwound of indignity, and its dominant force is indignation.â€ â€œTragedy,â€ Miller argues, is the â€œconsequence of a manâ€™s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.â€
Compare Millerâ€™s point of view with that of David Mamet, who argues that Millerâ€™s Death of a Salesman is a â€œgreat American domestic tragedy.â€ Mamet asserts the play is a tragedy because we recognize in the playâ€™s characters â€œour own dilemmasâ€ and we are â€œfreed, at the endâ€ not because the dramatist has â€œarrived at a solution,â€ but because the dramatist â€œhas reconciled us to the notion that there is no solutionâ€”that it is the human lot to try and fail, and that no one is immune from self-deception.â€ Mamet argues that Millerâ€™s play asks us to set aside â€œthe delusion that we are powerful and wise,â€ and that we leave the play better off.
You are asked in your graded writing assignment for this module to analyze what you see as a major theme in Millerâ€™s Death of a Salesman, especially as you witness the protagonist become overwhelmed by guilt and isolated from his family, a conflict that only escalates as Willie Loman re-experiences more and more painful memories from the past combined with more and more disappointments in his present life.
First, re-read Millerâ€™s Acts I & II of Death of a Salesman. Use the module notes and assigned readings to further guide your analysis of the playâ€™s theme. Clearly, the play grapples with the theme of self-awareness and family values (think â€œBarn Burningâ€) and what it means to pursue the â€œAmerican Dreamâ€ among other possible themes. You also should review the two (2) New York Times articles related to Millerâ€™s play and its themes, so ensure you review all of the following for this assignment:
- Death of a Salesman.
Miller, Arthur (1949) Death of a Salesman (Links to an external site.). PDF, File Size 1316 KB] ACTS I & II. Retrieved from vlib.excelsior.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=246866&site=eds-live&scope=site (Links to an external site.)
- â€œAttention Must Be Paid.â€
Mamet, David (February 13, 2005). Attention Must Be Paid (Links to an external site.). [Op-Ed Contributor]. New York Times. NY: NY. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/13/opinion/13Mamet….
- Tragedy and the Common Man.
Miller, Arthur (February 27, 1949). Tragedy and the Common Man (Links to an external site.). New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/11/12/specials/mil…
Write an essay of 500 words minimum analyzing what you see as the primary theme of Arthur Millerâ€™s Death of a Salesman, and assert why you think â€œattention must be paid.â€
You should provide at least two (2) quotes from Act I and two (2) quotes from Act II, for no less than four (4) quotes total from the play to support your argument/s. Of course, there are many essays on this classic play, so if you use another authorâ€™s commentary on the drama, such as the New York Times articles you are asked to read in this module, make sure to cite that authorâ€™s article and to include the cited website using APA formatting.