Death of a Salesman: 'without profound tragic significance' - Do you agree?

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      Moving drama. Among modern plays the place of Death of a Salesman is unique as extremely moving because the incidents portrayed come very close to our own experience and observation. The self-criticism of the average spectator is roused by awakening his consciousness. If it does not hit at the heart of any of the audience it means that the person not affected is not at all sensitive.

      Pathos in Willy’s confession. When Willy admits to his wife that he has to undergo great hardships in his day-to-day activities, we begin to sympathize with him. The struggle consists of such things as people not talking to him, their laughing at him, there just passing him by without noticing him, their criticism that he is fat, foolish and ugly to look at, and is too talkative and so on. These things arouse our sympathy for Willy.

      Poignant scene. Linda warns her sons that something terrible is about to happen to Willy. She requests them to devote mere attention to him so that he can be prevented from falling into a grave, like a dog. How Willy has become a failure as a salesman is poignantly narrated. This scene is very touching.

      Interview with Howard. Willy’s interview with Howard Wagner and its failure is a touching scene. In spite of repeated humble requests, Howard does not relent. He tells Willy bluntly that his services are no longer required in any capacity and asks Willy to return the sample boxes.

      The scene where Willy’s sons desert their father without hosting the promised lunch is also very moving. Happy the younger son even denies that Willy is his father. He is more interested in flirting with the girl Forsythe. Later on Linda discloses the fact that they have humiliated their father so much that he nearly limped when he entered the house.

      Climax of the pathos. Biff had been critical of his father throughout but later on there is a sort of reconciliation between him and Willy. This realization, that after all Biff likes him, thrills Willy. He refers to it in various remarks such as ‘Isn’t that remarkable? Biff—he likes me’. ‘Loves me’. ‘Always loved me’. ‘Ben, he’ll worship me for it’. It was to requite this that Willy decides to do something to provide him with adequate funds to build up his career. He goes to the extent of committing suicide. This tragic turn of events touches us very much.

      Has it any profound tragic significance? Critics are of opinion that the play is a powerful tragedy but, give it only the status of a ‘social problem play’ without much of tragic significance. As a social drama Death of a Salesman arouses our pity for an insignificant man who fails miserably in life and ultimately ends his worthless—life under the notion that what he could not do while alive he could achieve to some extent by dying. There is no evidence in the play that the author wants a radical revolutionary change in the society for its improvement, though we can infer it from some casual remarks.

      Man’s journey into himself. Miller aims to recreate Willy’s life in the past in its relation to what happens in the present. The salesman re-evaluates his life and what he has achieved. He undertakes a journey into himself as it were. Willy subjectively recalls some of his past experiences in the context and dilemma of the present reality. He attempts to confront the meaning of his life. He lives passionately for certain values to which he is committed although they prove to be false and inadequate.

      Unrealistic notions. Willy has consciously and conscientiously endeavored to perform his duties. He never desisted from hard work. He had always been economical. He believes that a person who is well-liked will succeed as a salesman. But his hopes had been illusions and he was compelled to accept the harsh fact. He had been wandering in the dark with certain unrealistic notions and had to pay the price for the default. Willy’s values do not help him to gain success or happiness. He had tolerated the dishonesty and petty larceny of Biff and made him a confirmed thief meriting imprisonment. He had warned Biff against paying too much of attention to girls but himself kept a mistress despite the fact that his wife is extremely loving and devoted. In spite of all these factors, we do not hesitate to pity him.

      A character drama. In conclusion, we can say that Death of a Salesman is a character drama and a fairly good example of a tragedy of the middle class. Society is somewhat unjust in its competitive spirit and so feels no compunction in victimizing people of mediocre abilities. A layman in a commonplace environment cannot but be faced with such a fate as that of Willy. Miller portrayed this with such a keen vision for social realities and critical awareness that he has come out very successful. The play is deeply moving undoubtedly; it is also of tragic significance.

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