It is the capitalist society that has done Willy in - How far do you agree with this reading of the play - Death of a Salesman

Authors Avatar

“It is the capitalist society that has done Willy in”. How far do you agree with this reading of the play?

       “Death of a salesman” is a “tragedy of a common man”. Throughout the play the reader sees how Willy Loman struggles to achieve something, which is beyond his capability. He has a dream, the American dream of success and accomplishment. And yet, he is not able to ever thrive because his idea of how to succeed is wrong. The times have changed, the play is set in the period of and economic boom and increasing desire for material goods in America and the Loman family is now living in a capitalist society, however, Willy seems not to have realised that things have changed. He is constantly battling between the present and the past, the reality and a dream. The play is about a conflict between a man and his society, it’s a “hanging fire” between suicide and intolerably changing world.  

       To begin with, however, it is important to identify what is meant by the term “capitalist system”. Capitalist system is a type of an economy where the owners of the businesses retain all the profits for themselves. This type of a system encourages people to want more, as they hold total responsibility of how much they earn. The importance of the employer and employee relationship increases, as the workers are judged by the quality of the work they are putting into the company. It becomes a tough competition between the staff to survive and keep their jobs. There is now a need to impress on the employer with the effort and work you put into his firm and consequently climb up the ladder of success. The relationship between Howard and Willy in the play is very ambiguous. Howard on one hand is running a business, which in theory should brings him profit, Willy, on the other hand, is an employee who has been with the firm for thirty-four years. Howard therefore simply sees the relationship as diplomatic and business like and understands that Willy is not able “to pull his own weight” anymore. Yet for Willy this is all about loyalty gratitude and comradeship, because he “was in the firm when Howard’s father used to carry him in his arms”. Willy perceives his relationship with his boss as being far closer, than it really is. All Howard has to say to Willy, however, is that “business is business”. This a good example of Willy’s misunderstanding of the co-operative and benevolent nature of capitalism and his inadequacy to put aside feelings and emotions, which should not interfere with the business. Loman has been unable to learn that business ethics, the morality of his work-community oppose the traditions he assumed were still in action: the personal ethics of honour.

Join now!

      Willy also has his own, distinct perception of success. For him it is all about money and being “well-liked”. That is how he saw Dave Singleman and assumed this was a perfect ideal of success, which he, himself, could achieve becoming a salesman. He imagines that pursuing the same career in the same merchandise field, he will be just like Dave Singleman: “Without ever leaving his room, at the age of eighty-four, make his living”. His dream was to prove himself within the capitalist system, which requires a person to be determined, strong-willed and work hard to ...

This is a preview of the whole essay