Arthur Miller, was born in New York City, has enriched the Broadway stage for several decades. Although Miller’s dramas take place in familial settings, he has made a reputation for dealing with contemporary political and moral issues.
Miller began writing plays while a student at the University of Michigan, where several of his dramatic efforts were rewarded with prizes. In 1937, during his senior year, one of his early plays was presented in Detroit by the Federal Theatre Project. In 1944 his The Man Who Had All the Luck won a prize offered by New York City’s Theatre Guild.
With his first successes–All My Sons (1947; film, 1948), and Death of a Salesman (1949), Miller condemned the American ideal of prosperity on the grounds that few can pursue it without making dangerous moral compromises. Death of a Salesman, with its expressionistic overtones, remains Miller’s most widely admired work. The keen social conscience evident in these plays has continued to manifest itself in Miller’s writing. In the Tony Award-winning The Crucible (1953), for instance, he wrote of the witch-hunts in colonial Salem, Mass., and implied a parallel with the congressional investigations into subversion then in progress. The psychological tragedy A View from the Bridge (1955) questions the reasonableness of U.S. immigration laws. After the Fall (1964), which includes a thinly disguised portrayal of Miller’s unhappy marriage to film actress Marilyn Monroe, offers a second, candid consideration of the congressional investigations in which Miller had been personally involved. Two one-act plays, Incident at Vichy (1964) and The Price (1968), deal with the universality of human responsibility and the guilt that often accompanies survival and success.
Miller’s later dramatic works include The Creation of the World and Other Business (1972), a play that seemed too openly didactic for both critics and audiences, and The Ride Down Mount Morgan (1991), which opened in London to mixed reviews. Imbued with a passionate morality and demonstrating the absolute need for responsible, loving connections between people, most of Miller’s work is indeed didactic.
Miller’s writings outside the theater have been prolific and varied. His novel Focus (1945) is an ironic tale of anti-semitism. The screenplay for the Misfits (1961) is only one of several he has written. In 1969 he wrote In Russia, a travel piece with illustrations by his wife, the photographer Inge Morath. Chinese Encounters (1979) is another traveler’s tale, while Salesman in Beijing (1984) is an account of the production of his play in Chinese.
Death of a Salesman
Biff returns from the west to visit his family although he doesn’t know how long he’s going to stay. Happy is glad to see him, but Willy seems strangely irritated. He talks to old friends he imagines to the chagrin of his family, but no one has the heart to confront him about it. Willy has a flashback of a time when Biff and Happy were promising high school students. In the flashback, Willy gives his sons a punching bag. He also condones Biff’s stealing of a football and doesn’t encourage them to study as much as they should. He emphasizes being well liked. After the flashback, Happy talks with Willy and asks him why he didn’t go to New England for his business trip. Willy explains that he almost hit a kid in Yonkers. He also tells his sons of his brother Ben who made a fortune on a trip to Africa.
Charley comes to Willy’s house at night complaining of not being able to sleep. Charley and Willy play cards, but at the same time, Willy hold a conversation with his imaginary brother. Charley has no idea what’s going on and leaves. Willy continues the conversation regretting that he stayed in American while he could have gone to Alaska or Africa with his brother and made a fortune. While Willy is having this imaginary conversation, Biff talks with Linda and asks her about Willy’s condition. Linda explains that she can’t bring herself to confront Willy about it. She also tells Biff that Willy has attempted suicide by crashing the car several times. Willy comes out of his reverie and speaks with his family about their jobs. Happy has an idea of starting a line of sporting goods so Biff decides to go to Bill Oliver to ask to borrow money. Willy decides to go to Howard the next day to ask if he can work in New York so that he wouldn’t have to drive 700 miles to work.. The next day Willy goes to Howard and Biff goes to see Oliver. They decide to celebrate their success by going out for dinner at night. When Willy talks with Howard, he loses his temper and begins yelling at Howard who in turn fires him. After Biff goes to see Bill, Bill doesn’t remember him and doesn’t lend him money. At night, Biff and Happy arrive at the restaurant before their father. Biff explains to happy that he didn’t get the money, and happy encourages his brother to lie. Willy arrives. Biff tries to tell Willy that he didn’t get the money and that he stole a fountain pen from Bill. However, Happy is at the same time lying to Willy that Bill warmly welcomed Biff. Willy apparently accepts Happy’s version. Willy tells his sons that he was fired and falls into his reverie having a flashback of the time Biff caught him in his affair. He remembers that it was that moment that Biff’s life ended. Happy does not want to put up with his father and leaves with Biff and two girls they met earlier at the restaurant. The two of them arrive home late and the coldly receives by Linda. Biff confronts Willy about his suicide attempts and Willy denies everything. He tells Biff that he did not get any money from Oliver and has no hope go get any money. He accuses Willy of not know who he really is. However, after this, Biff cries and leaves. Willy realizes that Biff loves him and decides to celebrate by killing himself by crashing the car which would give his family 20 thousand dollar in life insurance. No one but his family and Charley goes to his funeral.
Stockings – They symbolize Willy’s infidelity and his lack of caring for his own wife since his gives his wife’s stocking to “The Woman.”
Stolen lumber – This symbolizes Willy’s acceptation of stealing and lack of understanding what really goes on.
Recorder – This symbolizes the success Willy dreams he could have had and wishes he had. It also symbolizes his pride as he tells Howard that he will get one while there is no way he can afford it.
Tennis rackets – Ironic symbol of Bernard’s success since Bernard goes to play tennis with a friend who owns a tennis court. It is ironic since it was the Loman brothers who thought sports equipment would be their success.
The style and devices Miller uses show Willy’s mental state. By using flashback and reveries, he allows the audience to get into the mind of Willy Loman and brings us into a sense of pity for him. Miller also uses a lot of motifs and repeated ideas through the play to give the viewers an idea of what Willy and his situation is all about. Personal attractiveness is an oft repeated motif. It shows that Willy believes that personal attractiveness makes one successful, but his belief is shot down by the success of Charley and Bernard who, in his mind, are not personally attractive. Other motifs are debt which sadly the Lomans escape after Willy dies, stealing which Willy condones, even encourages, the boxed-in feeling of Willy, the idea that Willy’s life is passing him by, expressed in the quote, “The woods are burning,” and Ben’s success and the qualities that brought about his success.
Miller seems to say with this play that any man can have as great a fall and be as great a tragedy as a king or some other famous person. Just because people are common does not mean that their falls are to them less steep. Also one must find oneself to be successful in life.
– Material success
– Unable to accept failure and world as it is, the protagonist retreats into his past in his mind.
– Shifts of time: flash backs and forwards. .