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Themes of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

Themes of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s literary play, Death of a Salesman, sets up a theme involving the American Dream and the main character, Willy Loman, in a downward spiral. Death of a Salesman shows that all men must be sentenced to discover their own smallness rather than hiding behind the illusion of a big man who is undone by his own greatness. The major theme is that one must be able, in general, to distinguish between reality and illusion, which becomes harder for Willy to do as his life spirals out of control.

Nobody believes more passionately in the American Dream than Willy, yet the dream has somehow avoided him. At the time of the play he is sixty years old, a beaten and discouraged traveling salesman, with nothing to show for a lifetime of hard work but a small house on a crowded street, and many acquaintances that barely even know his name. Yet he still believes that to be well liked is the means to being successful. He lives this illusion from day to day and even through the illusions he has of conversations between his sons as boys and his dead brother. The author illustrates this through a speech Willy gives to the illusion of his son Biff. He begins as through they have been in deep conversation for sometime, “That’s just what I mean. Bernard can get the best marks in school, y’understand, but when he gets out in the business world, y’understand, you are going to be five times ahead of him. That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises. Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.” Willy’s philosophy is sound and foolproof, he feels, but, unaccountably, it has not worked for him, or for his son, Biff. Willy’s character flaw and illusions have not only ruined his life but they have stopped Biff’s life dead in its tracks.

The author also illustrates the theme of the small man unwilling to accept the fact that he is not a big man with greatness but only a small man who has not accomplished much, when Willy goes to his boss to ask for less travel time and more home time. Willy believes that the young...

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