This article is concerned with the study of a play with a peculiar technique. In the play, Arthur Miller challenged the Aristotelian concept of tragedy. He discarded the notion that tragedy befalls only the people from the upper class of the society. He created the tragedy of the common man through the character of Willy Loman.
Summary Of The Drama
The play presents the story of Willy Loman, a Salesman. In his younger days he was well-liked and popular, at least he believed so. He struggles to maintain his family. He lives a false life and this affects the way he brings up his children. He talks of the American Dream but does not live up to it. He inculcates this attitude in his children and they grow up believing to be what they are not. He makes them believe that they are excelling in every thing when in actual sense they are not. Biff failed Mathematics and does not retake it. Consequently, he is unable to graduate from high school. The reason for his refusal to retake the subject is known only to him and his father (he met his father with a prostitute in a hotel room shortly before the exams) as shown in one of the flashbacks. Consequently, he is demoralized and despises his father.
He is not qualified for any profession. To make matters worse, he steals himself out of every opportunity he has for employment. Yet, his father refuses to acknowledge these facts and flatters and encourages him to aspire to greater heights when it is clear that he is not qualified for those higher positions.
Linda, Loman’s wife, knows that her husband is living a false life but refuses to confront him in order not to deflate his ego which is very important to him as a man. She tries to manage whatever her husband provides for her without complaint. She mends her old stockings always. So when Biff meets a woman with new stockings given to her by his father, he hated his father and carries this hatred throughout the play.
Willy Loman works in a company as a salesman for thirty years. Unfortunately, he is sacked when the company feels that he is no longer productive due to old age. He is not compensated adequately so he could not take care of himself in retirement and old age. His children are loafers so cannot take care of him. He still does not realize that he cannot sell the way he used to sell and that he is not well-liked. He goes to his old customers but tragically nobody notices him. He goes back to the company but his new boss, (the son of his old boss) prefers to listen to machine instead of to Loman.
Loman does not give good example for his children. He refuses to tell his wife that he lost his job and continues borrowing money to keep his family and could leave any positive legacy for them. They grow up as failures while he gets frustrated. He breaks down physically, emotionally and psychologically. He talks to himself more often.
Suicide becomes inevitable. He attempts to take his life in the house but Linda unobtrusively prevents it. Later he dies in an accident in his car. It is believed that he killed himself deliberately and made it look like an accident. His funeral is very solemn and only members of his family and one of his friends and son are present.
The theme of the play is misplaced priorities. The play makes a crucial statement on the economic situation in the then American society where the social security was grossly inadequate. It was a society that had no retirement provision for the working class The play highlights the situation in the society where industries use and dump their employees and leave them with nothing to fall back on when they retire. This play is said to have influenced the industrial revolution in America. In fact, it is believed that the entire American industrial sector was reorganized after the production of the play.
Loman spent the greater part of his life working as a salesman in a company and he is discarded like an orange peel when he is no longer active. Miller, in this play suggests that establishments should make provisions for their staff to be comfortable in their later years.
A man should, as much as possible, be realistic with himself and the world around him. Willy Loman looked forward to his funeral which will be attended by many people because according to him he is wellliked. Ironically, only members of his family plus his steadfast friend Charley with his son, Bernard, attended the funeral.
The play shows that there is no short-cut to survival especially in the case of dignity. Willy Loman lives a life of falsehood and believes in the lies he tells his children and himself. Consequently, he fails as a professional, as a father, and as a husband. He refuses to heed Charley’s advice. Loman spends his life fighting for dignity, recognition, selfworth and against being reduced to the level of an imbecile in his capitalist society and ends up committing suicide.
This play has a peculiar plot structure. Although the present events in the play run chronologically and sequentially from the beginning to the end, there are interruptions from thoughts in Loman’s head.
The action of the play covers Loman’s experiences one late evening through to the next day. However, these events are interwoven with the events in the past which sometimes overlap with the present. In some cases, he talks to a character in the present in one line and in the next line he talks to another character from the past. Miller uses the expressionistic technique to achieve this in such a way that the illusion of reality is not destroyed. He uses this technique to superimpose Willy’s consciousness in the play.
He realizes the difficulties inherent in this type of technique which is easily realizable in the novel where the novelist has the time and space to describe clearly what goes on in a character’s head. Miller overcomes this handicap through detailed stage directions throughout the play. One of the important ones is that at the beginning of the play, where there is a dual setting. The elevations and their specifications are given in details in the stage direction. He also mentions specifically that the apron should serve as the locale for Willy’s imaginings and of the city scenes involving Loman.
You will observe that these events in his head are not presented chronologically as in flashbacks but as the need for each recollection arises in relation to the action of the play.
Miller utilizes realistic characters. You can feel Willy Lomans’s frustrations and fears as he struggles through life. The playwright has been able to create the right characters to dramatize his story. He creates Charley as a foil to Willy. Charley is more realistic and cool headed. He realizes the need for industry and inculcates same in his son, Bernard. Consequently, while Bernard succeeds in life, Loman’s sons fail because they got the wrong values from their father.
Willy deceives himself, tells lies to himself, his wife, his friend and his wife. His children continue with the same self-deceit and lies. They know that they are deceiving themselves but seem incapacitated in confronting themselves with the truth or in making an effort to change. However, Biff who is more rational realizes it and faces himself after his encounter with Oliver:
Biff: [breathlessly] I did a terrible thing today, Hap. It’s been the strangest day I ever went through. I’m all numb, I swear.
Happy: You mean he wouldn’t see you?
Biff: Well I waited six hours for him, see? All day. Kept sending my name in. Even tried to date his secretary so she’d get me to him, but no soap.
Happy: Because you’re not showin’ the old confidence, Biff. He remembered you?
Biff: [stopping Happy with a gesture]: Finally, about five o’ clock, he comes out. Didn’t remember who I was or anything. I felt like such an idiot, Hap.
Happy: Did you tell him about my Florida idea?
Biff: He walked away. I saw him for one minute. I got so mad I could have torn the walls down! How the hell did I get the idea I was a salesman there? I even believed myself that I’ve been a salesman for him! And then he gave me one look and – I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been living in a dream for fifteen years. I was a shipping clerk. (82)
Eventually he confronts his father with the truth as he insists that he never got anywhere because his father made him to be so arrogant that he could not stand take orders from anybody (104). His brother Happy continues with his life of illusion.
Linda is presented as an understanding wife. She supports her husband and makes him feel wanted. She encourages her children in vain to do the same. She loves her husband so much that he does not want their children to hurt him. She knows that her husband is living in a dream world but does not confront him with the truth so as not to deflate his ego even when she finds out that he attempted suicide. The creation of Linda as a devoted wife is deliberate because it will not be proper for everybody in the family to abandon him.
The playwright’s dramatic incursions into the mind of Willy Loman give us an insight into his mental state at any given time. Miller presents these images from his mind and superimposes them on the present action. In spite of this montage, Miller is able to structure the play in such a way that Willy comes out as a realistic sane man and not as a lunatic who talks to himself.