Family & Private Life in Death of a Salesman

Also Read

      Private life and social life. To be drawn towards one’s blood relations in a closely knit family circle is no crime. It is a natural tendency. It has to be encouraged to give man the power to avoid psychological complexes. But there is a limit to this. Man is a social animal with gregarious instincts and in that capacity His social life should be encouraged. Man should expand his activity from the narrow limits of his small family and enhance it to embrace as large a circle as possible. Ancient philosophers have emphasized the necessity of viewing the entire world as one’s family. The conception of ‘One World’ expounded by Wendel Wilkie is no new conception at all. It is a reinterpretation of a very old ideal. The communication gap between communal, social, national and other units is being narrowed by scientific advance. The world has shrunk in size. Intercourse between peoples of divergent cultures is more common now than in the beginning, of this century. Hence great thinkers encourage this catholicity in human behavior. Writers of outstanding merit cannot but subscribe to this view.

      Miller wrote a significant essay entitled The Family in Modern Drama. He has elaborated his views on the role of family in modern drama. He is of the view that too much of emphasis on the aspect of the affectional ties in the restricted family circle, linking only persons directly connected with that family, should not satisfy a liberal playwright. There is a greater challenge he has to face, he has to pursue a higher goal. Drama must grow and change in the changing world. Man must make a bigger family with all the strangers constituting his kith and kin. The vastness of the world must shrink into his family home. He must find a bridge that joins his private small home of the family to that all inclusive large home of the universal fraternity. According to him prose is the language of the restricted family and poetry that of the larger society, the vastness of public life.

      Family as epitome of the world. The family is related to the larger group of the society. It is an epitome of the society, indeed the vast world. But Miller does not stop there. He does not give any artifical eminence to either the mother, the leader of a matriarchal society or the son, the carrier of the banner of revolt against a tyrannical father. The younger brother sometimes feels jealous of the better achievement of the elder and sometimes the elder brother is unable to tolerate the extra attention the younger son receives from the parents. Happy and Biff exhibit these tendencies in divergent manner although very minutely. Willy is vaguely jealous of his brother Ben who is more successful in the world.

      Family force centrifugal. Miller is apparently of the view that the family force must impel the members away from the centre to a bigger circle. Biff does not want to confine his activity within the four walls of the family apartment. He loves the vagrant life. He does not mind being put in jail for thievery. Even if Bill Oliver had given him the loan it is doubtful whether he would have settled down somewhere with that capital and earned something out of it. The same applies to the insurance money that would have been his after the death of his father: We do not know whether he actually got it or not.

      Individualism and disintegration of family. It is well known that Americans as a class encourage individualism. If the family is doomed to disintegrate, the individual is sure to survive it. It is inevitable that he will move on to a bigger family, the universal fraternity. This gives him another role to play in the altered circumstances.

      Wicked influence of illicit sex. All sexual deviations that are manifestly anti-family and anti-social have been indicted by Miller in his plays. Willy’s illicit love affairs with the Boston woman and Happy’s escapades with the fiancees of his bosses are vehemently criticized because they are destructive of the solidarity of the family and the integrity of the man concerned. But Miller does not usually depict sex as a consuming fire or totally corrupting influence except in some minor plays later. Despite his liaison with the Boston woman, Willy continues to love Linda, his legal wife. That his extramarital affair does not enhance his business prospects, is a different matter.

      Willy’s lack of values. It will be truer to say that the values Willy has are false than to say that he has no values. The whole play portrays the errors and blunders of Willy which prevent him from stabilizing the domestic economy and which finally drive him to the desperate course of committing suicide, his last bid to provide his kinsmen with ample cash which he could not do while living. Sex is also one of his weaknesses due to false values. This weakness has been inherited by Happy who steals the fiancees of his company’s executives. Although Willy has warned Biff to be cautious with girls, he himself never practices what he preaches.

University Questions

‘The essential dramatic conflict in Miller’s play is familial’. Discuss with reference to Death of a Salesman,
How far does Death of a Salesman represent modern American drama dealing with anguish, loneliness, sex and economics?

Previous Post Next Post