· Assignment Paper: 5
Ø Topic : Willy Loman as a victim of capitalist society
o Student’s Name : Gandhi Pooja S.
Ø Roll No : 15
· URL gandhipooja151011.blogspot.com
Ø Semester : 1
o Batch : 2010-11
Mr. Jay Mehta
Department of English
Arthur Miller was born in
on the 17th October, 1915. An account of the early years of his life was written by him under the title “A Boy Grew in New York Brooklyn” which is not very informative. Young Miller had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to deliver bread for the local bakery before going to school. He and his class-mates were more anxious to go on to the football field than to pore upon books. Miller graduated from the high school in 1932.
He was however, unable to proceed to college for want of money. Accordingly, he worked for two years in an automobile-parts warehouse on fifteen dollars a week in order to pay his way to college. Having saved just enough money for one semester, he entered the
, and was able to complete the course with financial help from the National Youth Administration. University of Michigan
Miller grew up during the years of the Depression in
, and this was the most important single factor which determined his work. Once during this period he withdraws all the twelve dollars to get the bank to buy a racing bicycle. On the next day, the bank closed down. The crowds of people standing at its gate helplessly. “Their money was inside!” He was glad that he had withdrawn his money just in time. But about a week later, his bicycle was gone. It was Depression that gave him his compassionate understanding of insecurity of man in modern industrial civilization. America
In 1940, he married Mary Slattery, whom he had met earliest at college. But his married life ended in a divorce. On 29th June, 1956, he married Marilyn Monroe, well known actress. His marriage lasted in four years. Then Miller went abroad for a time, and met Miss Ingeborg Morath, a photographer of Austrian birth, whom he married in 1962.
Miller is not a prolific writer. The reason perhaps is that he writes only when he has something fresh to say that he refuses to cash in on an easy popularity by repeating himself. He is famous because he has the touch of common speech mingled with democratic idealism. His famous works are:
‘The Man who had all the Luck’ (1944)
‘All My Sons’ (1947)
‘Death of a Salesman’ (1949)
‘The Crucible’ (1953)
‘A view from the Bridge’ (1955)
‘After the Fall’ (1964)
’ (1964) Vichy
‘The price’ (1968)
‘Death of a Salesman’ is famous modern tragedy through the example of Willy Loman, the protagonist.
Willy Loman as a victim of capitalist society:
Nature of American Society:
Much of Willy’s suffering is due to the nature of American Society. American society is highly commercialized and highly competitive. One of the most dominant beliefs of American Society goes by the name of “the great American dream”. This
is based on the doctrine of self-help which assumes that a person possessing sufficient initiative can rise from a lower that a higher position. America
Willy Loman as a believer of romantic American Society:
The doctrine of self-help is often illustrated in
with reference to such figure as Benjamin Fraklin (1706-90) who rose from a printer’s boy to an ambassador, and John Garfield (1831-1881) who rose from a log cabin to White House, both these persons setting an example worthy of emulation by generations of young Americans. Willy Loman is a fervent believer in that a man can rise to a high position and can attain wealth by means of personal attractiveness, personal charm, personal initiative, and personal contacts. He applies this view to himself as well as to his son Biff. America
Vanity for his personality:
He speaks of himself in almost glowing terms when he says that he is “vital” to the Wagner Company as its salesman in the New English territory. He claims that it was he who introduced the Wagner Company to buyers on this particular territory, and that the Company cannot do without him. He uses such expressions as “knowed them dead” and “slaughtered them” to convey his conquest of this territory from the point of view of his promotion of the goods manufactured by his Company. He says that he is well-known all over the territory and that the cops will look after his car no matter in which street of a town in
New England he chooses to park it. He relates stories of his popularity as, for instance, when he says that he met the Mayor of the city of providence and had a friendly chat with him. He gives inflated figures of the sales made by him and the commission that he will earns on those sales.
Willy is slightly disturbed over Biff’s failure:
Willy talks in similar terms about his son Biff has achieved nothing up to the age of thirty-four and, through Willy is slightly disturbed over Biff’s failure to have “found” himself, he clings to his belief that Biff has a great future before him. He recalls Biff’s boyhood when Biff distinguished himself on the football field where he was greeted by his school-mates like a hero. Biff, he believed, has “spirit” and “personality”. Biff, he says, is built like an Adonis. He compares Biff to Hercules, and then to a god. He condones because, he thinks, Biff is an exception type of young man. He is convinced that Biff will be able to get any amount of money from Bill Oliver to start a business. He is of the opinion that his sons, because of their personality and attractiveness, will do better in life than Bernard the book-worm, and that he himself will build in flourishing business than Charley has built up. He harps upon his “contacts”.
Tight grip of law of success on Willy Loman:
The social system of which he is a product has an iron hold upon him. Like most other Americans, he ardently believes in this law of success. The law of success teaches Americans that theirs is a great country and that there is no room in it for a man who proves a failure. In other words, a man who cannot make use of the formula by which success can be achieved has no right to live in
. And the formula of success is one that has been described above, namely, personal magnetism, the art of cultivating people, the amiable smile, and personal attractiveness. This law of success has such a tight grip on Willy that he cannot escape from it even though he has moments of realization of the actual state of affairs. Thus, we are made to feel that a man is a victim of his environment and of the social forces in the midst of which he lives. The social forces in this play have a role comparable to that of Fate or Destiny in ancient Greek Tragedy. America
Willy Loman as a victim of capitalist society:
That Willy is a victim of the American society to which he belongs is further illustrated by the manner in which is treated by his present employer Howard. Howard’s attitude towards Willy is most callous. Willy’s interview with Howard is one of the most important situations in the play showing the cruelty of the prevailing social system. Willy is now sixty-three years old. He is aware of the fact that he does not have his old stamina because he cannot even concentrate on his driving. He has worked for the Wagner Company for thirty-four years. Recently he has been deprived of his regular salary and relegated to working on a commission basis.
He appeals to Howard to give him an assignment that will keep him in
. Howard is unsympathetic and refuses such a transfer. Willy lowers his demands from sixty to fifty and then forty dollars a week for the job. Then Howard grants none of Willy’s requests, and casually dismisses him from the Company. Even Howard’s plea that an employee should not be treated like a fruit falls on deaf ears. “you can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away- a man is not a piece of fruit,” says Willy to Howard. In other words, we here see the extremely inhuman nature of the American competitive society which gets rid of an old employee as soon as he ceases to be a source of profit to his employer. This may or may not be a criticism of capitalism, but it is certainly a condemnation of the profit motive which does not recognize human wants and needs. New York
The way the American dream has let down Willy and the manner in which his Company has treated him are largely responsible for Willy’s decision to commit suicide. It is a sad commentary on the American social system that a man should have to kill himself in order to provide his family with the insurance money badly needed by the sons to start some kind of business. The tragedy his aggravated by the fact that Willy himself does not fully realize the falsity of the American dream.
It would, however, be wrong to say that Willy his wholly a victim of social system. His own responsibility for his tragedy is by no means negligible. In the first place, he knows his own limitations and shortcomings and yet he chooses to shut his eyes to them. He confesses to Linda, his wife in so many words that people do not “take to him,” that they, “pass him by,” and that they “laugh” at his fatness; he also admits that he had miscalculated his sales. All this of course, he does in a moment of mental illumination or self-discovery. Otherwise he continues to deceive himself with unrealistic hopes both with regard to himself and Biff. It seems like a willful blindness to facts. He sees before him a striking example to prove that the American dream, and there is Bernard without having played football. Charley says that his son has risen to a high position even though he did not formulate any plans for him: “my salvation is that I never took any interest in anything.” As for Willy’s formula of success, Charley says: “who liked J.P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he’d look like a butcher. But his pockets on, he was very well linked. And yet Willy is not disillusioned.
He is so obsessed by his illusions regarding Biff that he is not prepared to listen even to Biff’s account of his interview with Bill Oliver. His illusion does not allow him to listen to an account of failure. This American dream prevents him from accepting Ben’s offer of a golden opportunity in
where he could have become rich. He is not only by nature unadventurous, but as soon as Linda reminds he of Dave single man, Willy is convinced that he will do much better in his own Company than in Alaska. He deceives himself to such an extent that he thinks that his funeral will be a “massive” affair and will be attended by very important people in the trade. Actually only Charley and Bernard attend the funeral besides the members of his family. Alaska
The sense of guilt that he carries with him on account of his past infidelity to his wife has also something to do with the mental instability of Willy. Whenever he sees Linda darning stockings he is reminded of the
woman to whom he had once made love. He is also aware of the shock that Biff had received on seeing him with that woman in the hotel in Boston . In other words, he is dimly aware of the basic reason for Biff’s having gone astray. Boston
Willy Loman is a confused and muddle-headed person. A part of his tragedy, ay list, is due to his weaknesses and unbalanced mind. In ‘death of a Salesman,’ Miller has managed to rise above the ordinary flat lands of moralization of thesis drama. His play is a consummation of virtually everything attempted by that part of the theatre which had specialized in awareness and criticism of social realities. It is a culmination of all efforts since the 1930’s to observe the American scene and trace, as well as evaluate its effects on character and personal life.
Willy Loman is that of a common man trapped by the common place values and pressures of his society. Willy is uncommon only in the intensity which he endeavors’ to overcome his littleness with unrealistic claims and dreams for himself and his favorite son.