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Arthur Miller wrote brilliant plays which reflected the world of the middle of the twentieth century. He managed to reveal vices and virtues of people who lived in the American society of those days. Admittedly, Death of a Salesman is one of his best works.
One of the central themes in this play is the life of little people and “the tension between little people and big issues” (Popkin 35). Many critics agree that the protagonist of the play, Willy Loman, is one of these little people who fail to solve big issues. Martin agrees that Loman is a little man who tries to solve big issues (97).
However, the researcher argues that this little man is capable of heroic deeds (or at least one heroic deed), which can help him to solve the big issues (101). Nonetheless, this is one of the biggest miscomprehensions as Willy Loman cannot be regarded as a hero. His final act cannot be regarded as a heroic deed as it can only be seen as an attempt of a little person to find the way out which is as little as the little man himself.
Merits of Martin’s Arguments
It is important to note that Martin does state that Miller’s protagonist is a little person struggling against the cruelties of the world (99). The researcher also claims that this is one of the most significant peculiarities of Millers works.
Miller was one of those who changed perceptions of the heroes. In ancient times (as well as in the following centuries) only heroic deeds and courageous people were glorified (Martin 97). More so, only such people were regarded as worthy characters for literary works.
However, Miller reflects the world he lives in. Admittedly, the society consists of little people. Thus, Popkin stresses that Miller makes sure that his people are “sufficiently small” and the protagonist of the play under consideration is “labeled a little man by his name” (35).
The society of the twentieth century is revealed in the play. Miller mentions that Loman is “past sixty”, he is “dressed quietly” and “his exhaustion is apparent” (Miller 12). The playwright depicts one of the major characteristics of little people who are tired of the struggle as they can hardly win.
It is necessary to note that the littleness of the protagonist is obvious and no critic can ignore it. This is also one of the major features of Loman’s character. Therefore, all critics should (or even have to) agree upon the fact that Loman is a little person.
Martin dwells upon Loman’s littleness in detail and this is one of the major merits of the critic’s article. Nonetheless, Martin argues that Loman is one of those little people who manage to win as they perform a heroic deed (97).
Did Loman Perform a Heroic Deed?
Martin states that Loman does act heroically as he sacrifices his life to help his sons to succeed (101). The researcher claims that
Willy’s death serves to underscore the point that the capacity to act is considered more noble and heroic than one’s limited capacity to live in harmony with a mechanistic society that eventually destroys by entropy. (Martin 103)
However, suicide cannot be regarded as a heroic deed as it is more likely to be the least effortful act. These effortless acts are usually done by little people who do not see another way out. In the very beginning the protagonist states: “I’m tired to death” (Miller 13). Of course, this can be seen as a figure of speech.
However, these words reflect the inner world of Willy. He is already prepared to die. He admits that he is (figuratively speaking) at the death’s door. Thus, it is possible to state that he does not come to the decision to sacrifice his life through some psychological struggle. He already sees his death as one of the ways out. Notably, there is little to be done to die. Death presupposes fewer movements than living and struggling, and eventually succeeding.
It is also important to note that the playwright gives various hints throughout the play. These hints suggest that Loman, being a little man, cannot accept the reality as it is. He strives to live in an unreal world of his dreams and memories. Of course, these memories and even dreams cannot be productive.
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One of these hints is the light. Thus, Willy contemplates his son’s sport achievements and his glorious times. He dreams and articulates: “God Almighty, he’ll be great yet. A star that, magnificent, can never really fade away!” (Miller 68).
However, Miller recreates the reality with the help of the fading light which shows that little people, even if they occasionally become stars, disappear leaving only some memories behind them:
The light on Willy is fading. The gas heater begins to glow through the kitchen wall, near the stairs, a blue flame beneath red coils” (Miller 68).
This idea of Willy’s inner world is another confirmation of the fact that he is none of hero and he is incapable of performing heroic deeds. Willy talks to his diseased brother. He is surrounded by his memories which enter his consciousness now and then. Miller creates the randomness of memories and dreams with the help of the characters’ appearance on the stage as they enter Willy’s house without using doors.
He is incapable of any actions in the real world any more. He chooses to wonder about and think of his past and dream of his sons’ future. He does not see himself as a part of their future. He is distant. Willy could perform some heroic deeds as he could try to encourage his sons to listen to their hearts instead of trying to follow someone’s dreams and adopt someone’s ways. However, he chooses another simpler way.
He simply abandons his family, the real world. Of course, he leaves some financial aid to his children. However, he fails to give them something more important. Even though they could become heroic little people, Willy does not give them useful tips to succeed. He chooses the simplest way – just to die without necessity to be the support and model for his children.
It is possible to note that Martin reveals the major characteristic feature of Willy Loman. This is one of little people who lived in the middle of the twentieth century. However, the researcher states that this little person performed a heroic deed when he sacrificed his life to help his sons to succeed. However, his suicide should not be seen as a heroic deed as he simply chose the easiest way. His death was not a heroic deed.
On the contrary, a heroic deed would be living his life trying to encourage his sons to choose the right path. This heroic deed could help his sons to be happy little people. What Loman achieved was sorrow of his wife and his sons who were still unable to use the “prize”.
Martin, Robert A. “The Nature of Tragedy in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”.” South Atlantic Review 61.4 (1996): 97-106. Print.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman: Text and Criticism. New York, NY: The Viking Press, 1971. Print.
Popkin, Henry. “Arthur Miller: The Strange Encounter.” The Sewanee Review 68.1 (1960): 34-60. Print.