Higher English: Death of a Sales Man by Arthur Miller

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Death of a Salesman

Choose a play in which the central character is heroic yet vulnerable.

‘Death of a Salesman’, a play written by Arthur Miller in 1948, is one in which the protagonist, Willy Loman is seen to be struggling against the cliché of the American dream and is undoubtedly heroic yet vulnerable throughout. From scene to scene, Miller uses a plethora of theatrical techniques to reveal the flaws in Willy’s character which are ultimately responsible for his breakdown.

In the first scene, Willy returns home attired in a business suit overburdened by suitcases he is carrying. It is immediately obvious that he is no rich man, but an overtired, elderly man who ought to be retired, as he himself proclaims he is ‘tired to the death’. This is true of Willy however he sees no alternative to life as a travelling salesman, telling his wife that he’s ‘vital in New England’; this is a fable of Willy’s whilst the reality is his employer’s don’t see him as ‘vital’ in any such way. The vulnerable aspect of Willy is therefore demonstrated through his dedication to his unsuccessful job and yet to some it could be considered heroic of the man to be so persistent.

The characterisation of Willy is but one of Miller’s strengths in the play, for he cleverly uses time to show how Willy’s mind has been manipulated by the stress of his failings. Willy experiences flashbacks which his mind perhaps uses in order to protect him from the harsh truth of his present life. Willy’s two sons, Biff and Happy are fully grown, with Biff having turned sour towards his father and rejected the vision his father had for him. Still, Willy in his vulnerable state transports himself back to the time when Biff was a young, promising high school athlete who idolised his father and his ideals. Instead of encouraging academic achievement, Willy ensures his sons that if they are ‘liked’ they will ‘never want’. Sadly for both Willy and Biff, this was a delusion which saw Biff become the very...
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