Failure in a Success Oriented Society in Death of a Salesman

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Failure in a Success Oriented Society in Death of a Salesman


In the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the playwright focuses on the theme of failure in a success oriented society. Willy Lowman, a failed salesman, is the central character. Willy’s downfall is caused by his belief in the propaganda of a society that only has room for winners. The significance of this theme, still very relevant today, is heightened by Miller's skilful use of a range of key techniques, including setting, characterization and symbolism.

The drama focuses on the life of a middle aged salesman, Willy Lowman, who, at the outset of the play is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He lives with his adoring but over protective wife, Linda, who
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The world outside Willy's 'small, fragile' home seems oppressive and menacing, threatening to swallow up an economic failure like Willy.

Willy's yearning for the setting of the fresh outdoors and open spaces is echoed by his elder son, Biff, who sees himself at ease in the open country: 'To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really want is to be outdoors, with your shirt off.'

In the competitive setting of the city, he feels out of place and unable to work with his hands, a skill which he has inherited from his father who takes pride in building a front porch and putting up a new ceiling. In the country, Biff is not a 'success' according to the capitalist definition because as Willy points out disparagingly:

'...he (Biff) has yet to make thirty-five dollars a week!'

The background story to Willy's father is sketched in by Ben against a setting of wild, open spaces across which the craftsman father travelled in a lifestyle reminiscent of the American frontiersmen. He is represented as someone who was true to his own self, not corrupted by materialism and successful in his own way as Ben tells us:

'Great inventor, father. With one gadget he made more in a week than a man like you could make in a lifetime.'

The references to the 'jungle' as the setting for Ben's ruthless success carries uneasy connotations of a place where only the fittest will survive and in which weaker…