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What aspects of post-war American society are reflected in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"?

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Introduction

What aspects of post-war American society are reflected in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"? "Death of a Salesman" is a critical view of post-war American society, focussing on the paradoxical enduring influence of "the Dream" and the capitalist boom. This is paradoxical as the dream and capitalism have very different ideals underlying each other, but are grouped as similar - "Death of a Salesman" illustrates this with brutal accuracy, and shows how confusing both ideals can be disastrous. The disparity within the dream, especially in the face of reality, is one which is examined at length in "Death of a Salesman", and which is illustrated chiefly through the play's protagonist, Willy, a man caught up in the dream, who can't cope with reality. Even in the opening stage instructions, which state "an air of the dream clings to the place, a dream rising out of reality", there is an implication of desperation in the dream ("clings"), and of a conflict with reality. The danger of the dream and it's influence is only too apparent throughout the story, which cruelly shows the flaws in the dream, for example, by contrasting Willy and Charlie's parenting. ...read more.

Middle

This need for victory is another pillar of the dream, and again is damaging to the people who subscribe to it. Using Willy as the example again, he needs victory but despairingly claims that "the competition is maddening" - it is like a desire he can never satiate, as he is unsuccessful. This would be alarming enough, but it is made worse when we realise that the desire would not be satiated even if he was successful, as outlined by Hap when talking of an executive; "...he built a terrific estate on Long Island...lived in it for two months, and sold it, and now he's building another one.". This illustrates the constant need to be better, even when it is not necessary, and why it would not be possible to be satisfied for any successful executive in the way Biff would be happy on a farm. It is this desire for ultimate victory which drives the businesses of the capitalist system - a need to make more and more money, to get ahead of the competition. ...read more.

Conclusion

Certainly, to Linda the money isn't even an issue; but to Willy, the capitalist doctrine states that the sole purpose of life is to accumulate wealth, which he does in the only way he knows how. "Death of a Salesman" is an in-depth criticism of the disparity within the American Dream, and a warning about believing in an ideal so much that you ignore the lessons which life tries to teach you. The play's main objective is to raise awkward questions of the American lifestyle, and thus the context of the cold war, when American patriotism was at a height, is important to consider. The aspects of American society which are reflected are those linked to the capitalist dream which Miller criticises, and then the repercussions which affect human lives. Linda is a victim throughout, and she is an example of this - she asks a key question relating to the lifestyle which Willy chooses, which only her love of him allows her to ignore - "why must everyone conquer the world?". Throughout the play, Miller poses questions of the capitalist doctrine such as this, leaving them unanswered as to dwell in the minds of the audience. ...read more.

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