‘Death of a Salesman’ by Arthur Miller asks some deep personal questions of the audience and following the first showing of the play, many grown men in the audience were left weeping. Miller explores the ideology of ‘The American Dream’ primarily through the eyes of the protagonist, Willy Loman, an old fat walrus like man in appearance whose main aspirations in life are to be a successful “well liked” businessman and to follow in his brother Ben’s footsteps, “I was seventeen when I went into the jungle, I left at twenty one and by God I was rich”. The constant reference to the jungle relates in Willy’s case and that of the American Dream to the urban jungle wherein the salesman lives and works, oppressed by the looming shadows of the “towering apartment buildings”, a pawn of the savage capitalist monster. Thomas Mann took note of the characters’ attitudes to the business world within the play and explained to Miller, “It is a lyric play but you never tell them what to think. It is simply an experience that they cannot escape.” This oppression of the key characters in the play and the eventual demise of the protagonist by his own hand all lead to a highly negative ending. However, to say there are no positive aspects in the end would be to have overlooked several key ideas in Miller’s controversial tragedy.
Primarily, probably the greatest positive to take from the end of the play is that Willy has succeeded in offering his family a chance at a better life. The money from Willy’s life insurance sees the Loman’s debts comfortably paid and Linda is shocked to hear herself say, “We’re free... we’re free and clear… we’re finally free”. Furthermore, Biff’s epiphany shortly prior to Willy’s death grants him a chance to rethink his career without the looming shadow of his father, feeding him unrealistic expectations, “ you’re gonna make it big, Biff” and refusing to accept the reality of his standing in society, “I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!”
This fresh start is perhaps symbolised on the morning of Willy’s funeral through Miller’s choice of imagery, “the leaves of day are appearing over everything”. At first this image may seem to symbolise the passing of life, suggesting an Autumnal theme, but Willy’s suicide can be argued to relieve his sons of his twisted delusions and ideology that to be “well liked” and harvest material gain is the greatest success for any man. Some critics have argued that “Willy disguises his profound anxiety and self-doubt with extreme arrogance”, indeed Miller described Willy’s delusions as a “disease”. However, I would argue that he faces a sudden self realisation only moments prior to his untimely end and perhaps the passing of life in the Autumnal imagery is an indication of a circle of life; thus Willy paves the way for his sons to live a life free of expectations and unrealistic dreams.