Choose one episode from Death of a Salesman, which you feel contributes significantly to the plays overall tragic dimension. Identify how your chosen episode functions within the wider framework of the whole play. Discuss different interpretative possibilities offered by this episode.
Charley is the play’s saving grace, a beacon of hope in cruel capitalistic times, he is always offering Willy escape. My chosen episode is Willy’s final visit to Charley. Within this scene Miller not only brings home Willy’s failure as a salesman and father, but the devastating effect of capitalism on the common man. The comparison between Charley and Willy makes the play’s key moments sting even more with the realisation of their unfairness and inevitability.
Within this scene Miller plays with the parallels between the two men, brutally juxtaposing them by playing Willy’s desperate wish for Biff to continue his legacy against Charley’s success in Bernard (whom he has, apparently, given little interest to). The effect of Bernard’s success on Willy is devastating, I believe it immediately adds tragedy as Willy finally admits to himself that Biff won’t succeed, and one could argue that this truly breaks Willy’s heart. Miller turns the audience from sympathy to frustration by alluding to the events in Boston (which also has the effect of increasing tension). With Willy’s rejection of Charley’s job offers, I believe Miller is implying that capitalism has forced Willy to put his pride before his needs; he rejects this final chance of escape to satisfy his pride. One could argue that by doing this Miller is suggesting that there are no problems within the play which are not caused or increased by capitalism. On the other hand one could argue that Willy is ignoring the perfectly good escape routes that surround him, something suggested by Miller’s original title “The Inside of his Head” which implies the problems are of Willy’s own making. With Willy’s rejection of this escape route Miller emphasises that the common man can be a tragic hero, as Willy conforms to the Aristotelian notion of a hero rejecting all chances of escape. One could argue this is the scene in which Willy’s final fate is concreted within his mind and the blame cannot be placed on anyone, or anything, else, be it Linda, Biff, or capitalism.
By bringing Boston to light Miller gives Willy more cause to question his morals. Biff is Willy’s all, he has to continue the Loman name; Miller himself calls the play a “love story” between Willy and Biff and I believe that it is in this scene that Willy realises that his love is unrequited. If ever, this is the scene when Willy realises that Biff is, as Miller put it; “a creature created by Willy”, something highlighted by Bernard’s presence (and success) and Willy’s later accusation to Biff that Bernard doesn’t “whistle” in the elevator. Willy also realises that he has been lying to Biff, Linda, Happy and himself, evident in his revelation at the chop-house that he “doesn’t have a story left in his head”, suggesting Willy has realised that his life is built on lies. This is further accentuated when Biff calls into question Happy’s true job, calling him “practically full of it”, an attitude Willy has clearly instilled in him. Happy strives to continue the legacy Biff rejects, condemning himself to Willy’s fate. But here’s the true tragedy; Willy doesn’t even care. He has invested so much in Biff that he completely ignores Happy’s desperately tragic attempts to gain his favour. Here Willy, as with any archetypal tragic hero, cannot face that he isn’t the chosen image he has given himself. This scene highlights the shattering of his false reality, and emphasises Miller’s argument that the common man is “as apt a subject for tragedy” as any Shakespearean prince.
Within this episode Charley presents several means of ‘escape’, for instance at one point he tells Willy to “just walk away”. “Just” suggests this is a simple task and...
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