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Modernism in “Death of a Salesman” Play by Miller Essay

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Updated: Jul 5th, 2021

Death of a Salesman was introduced to readers in the middle of the 20th century. This play was written by Arthur Miller and considered to be one of the best works of that time. While reading it, people have an opportunity to observe the realities of both modernism and postmodernism.

Modernism can be seen in several elements of the play. First of all, it rejects totality, which is characterized by increased guidance. The concept of the American dream seems to be nonsense in this way since modernism treats the existence of societal structures (national identity, for instance) as something useless and fruitfulness. A similar situation can be observed in the play Death of a Salesman. One of its characters, Willy Loman, speaks about the American Dream, stating that this concept has no sense if it is considered only from a financial point of view, but it is actually so. Hence, Willy fails in his life because he does not manage to become rich. In addition to that, it is possible to observe the reality of modernism in Miller’s work when focusing on the influence of technology and progress on a workplace. Willy is a salesman who uses those selling approaches that are out of fashion. He does not understand the necessity to emphasize individualism and sticks to generalized concepts. The man fails to keep up with the time, which makes him uninteresting for buyers (Miller 6). As a result, he does not have an opportunity to reach success in his business. In this way, it can be seen that Willy lives in the modernist world, but he does not yet realize its features and is not willing to follow them.

According to postmodernism, metanarratives, such as the American Dream, are also treated as a great lie. The protagonist lives in a world of false dreams, which prevents him from reaching them and becoming satisfied. The same is true for the relationships between the characters. Willy has good contact with his two sons from the very beginning, but the situation worsens with the course of time. Therefore, the protagonist faces one more failure because of his inability to understand the realities of the postmodern society. The love of his family also turns out to be a concept that is measured by money. As Willy becomes unable to support his relatives, he decides to commit suicide in order to allow them to obtain insurance costs.

The postmodernist era is characterized by the consumer and technological society. The sense of isolation is spread, and human power is substituted by the advanced equipment, which leads to depression (Miller 12). Willy is frustrated since he becomes a victim of technology. He is not perceived as an individual and serves as an element that connects production and consumption. The major issue is that the man does not have a chance to return to his previous life. He is an average citizen of a postmodern society who is not ready to live in the new materialized world and fails to become successful in it. Because of social pressures, the protagonist faces the necessity to alter his way of thinking. The stream of conscious is observed in the play, which allows understanding Willy’s experiences. It is typical for postmodern works, so it is not surprising that Miller makes use of it.

Thus, it can be concluded that Miller’s play can introduce modernism and postmodernism to its readers. The author uses the protagonist, Willey, to show the word he created, which was a new type of narrative for that time. Miller emphasizes that it was significant for people to reject their traditions and initial perceptions of different concepts to find a place in the new word. Those who fail to implement such alterations, including Miller, do not become prosperous and cannot reach the success of the materialistic society.

Work Cited

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. Penguin Plays, 1998.

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"Modernism in "Death of a Salesman" Play by Miller." IvyPanda, 5 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/modernism-in-death-of-a-salesman-play-by-miller/.

1. IvyPanda. "Modernism in "Death of a Salesman" Play by Miller." July 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/modernism-in-death-of-a-salesman-play-by-miller/.


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IvyPanda. 2021. "Modernism in "Death of a Salesman" Play by Miller." July 5, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/modernism-in-death-of-a-salesman-play-by-miller/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Modernism in "Death of a Salesman" Play by Miller'. 5 July.

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