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Modern Drama in Death of a Salesman
Transcript of Modern Drama in Death of a Salesman
By: Nadia Sampogna
Modern Drama in Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is an example of the genre of modern drama. Through Willy Loman, modern drama is revealed. It is through Willy's delusions and self deception, as well as his desires to escape and his death that proves Willy to be a primary example of modernism in the play.
What is Modern Drama?
Modern drama is a genre of literature where it becomes about what the individual is thinking and what is going through their head.
What is Modern Drama?
* Originated in the 1900's after World War I
* Can be demonstrated in a series of flashbacks or flash forwards
* Imaginative rather than having logical connections (perceptions vs real world)
* Addresses inner thoughts of people
Willy wants to live the ultimate life, he is so fixated on living the "American dream" that he deludes himself into thinking that he has it all. Willy has these delusions that he is so successful and it makes him feel better about himself and his life.
"They don't need me in New York. I'm a New England man. I'm vital in New England" (Miller, 4).
Willy falsely insists that he is a key person in the business world. He believes that he is bigger than he is and even though his sales have not been good for a while, he argues that he is a really important business man to boost his self esteem and self worth.
For Willy, one of the most important things in life is popularity. He feels that if you are well liked, then you are destined for success. Willy teaches his sons this belief as he truly believes that he is a person of popularity, and that there are many people who like him.
"America is full of beautiful towns and fine upstanding people. And they know me boys, they know me up and down New England... And when I bring you fellas up, there'll be open sesame for all of us, 'cause one thing, boys: I have friends. I can park my car in any street in New England, and the cops will protect it like it their own" (Miller, 19).
Despite knowing that Willy does not have many friends, Willy is deluded and truly believes that he is well liked. He thinks that because many like him, he is very successful in the business world. He believes his popularity makes him a man of importance and this delusion leads to him thinking he is above average.
Willy is all about living the "American dream" and with that comes the want for power and the want to be an above average person. Willy thinks that being above average means that you have succeeded in life. Willy's goal is to be the above average person and he has deluded himself into thinking that he is.
"I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman" (Miller, 105).
When Biff tells Willy that he is an average person, Willy is unwilling to accept the fact that he has deceived himself. He cannot accept the idea that he is a common man just like everyone else. Willy really thinks that he is someone of great value and importance and he does not respond well when someone suggests that he is not. Willy thinks that he and his sons must be special, and for Willy to realize that he is no different than anyone else would mean that his life was a lie.
Willy's Desire to Escape
Willy tries to make it seem like he is a man who has it all. However, sometimes Willy cannot always keep it together. When faced with challenges and glimpses of reality, Willy loses control of his delusions and he starts contradicting himself.
"I'll knock'em dead next week. I'll go to Hartford. I'm very well liked in Hartford. You know the trouble is, people don't seem to take to me...I know it when I walk in. They seem to laugh at me... I don't know the reason for it, but they just pass me by. I'm not noticed" (Miller, 23).
Willy contradicts himself by saying that he is well liked but also ignored by others. This shows how he deceives himself about his success. Willy often contradicts himself throughout the play and this shows how he loses hold of himself and his perceptions of reality. The truth about what is really going on in Willy's life eventually drives him crazy.
Willy is so full of delusions and does not have a grasp on what is real and what is made up. He is unable to face reality because his perception of the truth does not match what is real. Willy has flashbacks in order to escape reality and the truth.
"Willy's form is dimly seen below in the darkened kitchen... The apartment houses are fading out, and the entire house and surroundings become covered with leaves. Music insinuates itself as the leaves appear" (Miller, 16).
"Willy stares into space, exhausted. Now the music is heard- Ben's music- first distantly, then closer, closer. As Willy speaks, Ben enters from the right" (Miller, 64).
When things are not going right in Willy's present day life, he resorts to flashbacks of times he thinks are great memories. He is unable to face reality and he hallucinates into the past where he feels more comfortable and secure. He has the desire to escape reality and the truth and he does so by having flashbacks that release him of his hardships and struggles.
Willy's desire to escape ultimately leads to him having an affair, and whenever he goes to Boston, he meets up with "the woman". "The woman" in the play represents a way for Willy to escape his life at home and allows him to feel as though he is living a "double life"
"The woman enters, laughing. Willy follows her, she is in a black slip; he is buttoning his shirt" (Miller, 91).
"Will you come up again?... I'll see you next time I'm in Boston" (Miller, 25).
In the play, the woman is a person who makes Willy feel good. She allows him to forget about his life at home and forget about the struggles that Willy is going through. The woman boosts Willy's self esteem and makes him feel worthy. By her saying things such as
"I picked you...because you're so sweet. And such a kidder" (Miller, 25)
, she inflates Willy's ego. This in turn makes Willy feel good about himself, as well as comforted.
Willy's focus on success ultimately becomes his downfall and is the cause of his death. Willy never gives up on the dream that Biff will become successful. He has misguided hopes about Biff's success so much so that he sacrifices his life with the delusion that Biff is going to make something of himself.
"Always loved me...He'll worship me for it!... Can you imagine the magnificence with twenty thousand dollars in his pocket?... When the mail comes he'll be ahead of Bernard again!... I always knew one day or another we were gonna make it, Biff and I" (Miller, 108).
Even though Biff admits that he is a failure, Willy convinces himself that Biff will become successful. Willy never gives up hope that Biff will make something of himself. Willy has this delusion to his death, and he kills himself with the hope to help his son.
Popularity has always been very important to Willy. Willy believes that if you are well liked, than that guarantees your success in life. When contemplating death, Willy is deluded into thinking that many people will be saddened should he pass away.
"...that funeral will be massive! They'll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old-timers with the strange license plates- that will be thunderstruck... because he never realized- I am known! Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey- I am known, and he'll see it with his eyes once and for all. He'll see what I am! He'll be in for a shock that boy! (Miller, 100).
A TRAGIC HERO
Due to the fact that Willy has the delusions that he is so successful and well liked, he thinks that people from all over the country will come to his funeral. This delusion makes it easier for Willy to make the decision to kill himself because he thinks that Biff will be proven wrong. Willy truly feels that people will show up to his funeral because he had the delusions that he had a number of friends. It is very important to Willy that Biff sees him as someone of success and value.
Willy's biggest downfall is his excessive pride and his inability to face reality. Instead of facing his problems, he chooses to run away from them. He would rather die and leave his family, then to face the reality and truths of his life. Willy thinks that his death will cause people to feel pity for him and he believes that he will die a hero.
"What is this supposed to do, make a hero out of you? This is supposed to make me feel sorry for you? (Miller, 104)
Biff confronts Willy about the rubber tube attached to the gas pipe and Willy is immediately wanting to escape. Willy is unable to face his problems head on. He thinks that if he ends his life in the hopes of his son having success, then people will see him as a hero. For Willy, it is all about the image and how he will look. He does not think that his actions are drastic, but he thinks they are of a heroic nature and he believes that when so many people show up at his funeral, Biff will realize that his father is a somebody.
Consequently, through the play Death of a Salesman, modernism is revealed. It is the main character Willy Loman proving to be an example of this genre. Through his delusions and self deception, his need for an escape, and death, modern drama is shown.