Death of a Salesmen-Illusion in an American Tragedy

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  • Topic: Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller, Suicide
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  • Published : April 9, 2009
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Sgt. James Wallenstein April 2nd, 2009 Death of a Salesmen EN 102 Illusion in an American Tragedy When the realities of life become too harsh, humankind has a natural tendency to choose the most convenient solution to his problem: illusion. They build dreams and fantasies to conceal the more difficult truths of their lives. In his play Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller portrays the hold of such illusions on individuals and its horrible consequences. Through the overly average, overly typical Loman family, Miller shows how dreams of a better life become, as Choudhuri put it, “fantasies to the point that the difference between illusion and reality, the Loman’s dreams and the forces of society, becomes blurred” (Choudhuri 70). The Loman family created dreams and illusions that were far better than their reality. In Death of a Salesman, these dreams overwhelm the two characters Willy, the father, and Biff, his favorite son, but the stark reality of life eventually overcomes these illusions and forces them to face the truth. As Willy and Biff are forced to realize that they have been living in a dream world, this disillusionment becomes a prevalent theme of the play, pointing out how illusions can only hide so much for so long before the truth is unveiled. Wilson explains that The Loman family has such exaggerated, grotesque fictions about each other that the truth is bitterly weak in contrast (Wilson 80). Their illusion are so grand and so full of fantasy that when reality is discovered, they are shocked, devastated. In Death of a Salesman, Willy and Biff Loman display the shocks and hardships that are experienced when one is forced to face reality and be disillusioned. Of these two characters, Willy holds the most illusions, and therefore is the most devastated by the destruction of these fantasies. Miller uses several images and literary techniques throughout the play to strengthen the effectiveness of Willy’s disillusionment. Choudhuri explains that the mood of the play begins with dreams and longings of the heart, but ends with sorrow and disillusionment (Choudhuri 69). The play opens with, “A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is a small and fine telling of grass and tress and the horizon…an air of the dream clings to the place” (Miller 1, 1). This set the mood of happiness surrounded by fantasy and illusion. In the end, the mood completely changes with, “Only the music of the flute is left on the darkening stage” (Miller 139, 2). These words complete the play with a darkened environment of disillusionment which perfectly accompanies the disillusionment of the characters. Choudhuri also points out that a certain irony also sets off the theme of disillusionment, projecting Willy’s idealism and then the starkness of his situation (Choudhuri 73). Linda tells Willy, “Will, darling, you’re the handsomest man in the world,” (Miller 31, 1) but she is interrupted by the laughter of Willy’s mistress. Willy gives his mistress stockings, and shortly after, Linda is seen mending some stockings of her own. Yet another example of this irony is in Act II. Willy expresses his opinion that Biff is spiteful and ruining himself, and then Miller shows Biffs’ shock at discovering his father’s adultery. The most apparent symbol of Willy’s fantasies and his eventual disillusionment is Miller’s use of flashback. Choudhuri describes that at first there is a distinction between reality and illusion (the past), but this blurs until the end when Willy is completely disillusioned to the point that he cannot stand it and commits suicide (Choudhuri 71). These images intertwine the theme of disillusionment with the plot and create the frenzied feeling of building illusion. Willy’s greatest of these illusions were of society’s qualifications. His failure became worse because he thought he followed all he should do. Choudhuri defines Willy as one who was hardworking, honest, and had trained his sons to be “well-liked” (Choudhuri 69)....
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