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Individualism can be defined as way in which a person expresses his moral stance and his own reasons for a certain mode of life. This is when one does not follow the majority thought but uses their own prerogative to determine what action to take in their course of life. This paper will explore on the play written by Arthur Miller and premiered on 10th February 1949. I will try to explore the role of individualism as shown in the play the death of a sales man. I will try to show how individualism played a vital role in the development of the plot.
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The play is about a man known as Willy Roman who is the protagonist of the play. The introduction of the play is during the last twenty four hours of Willy. The play is developed on his mental instability driven allusions and flashbacks which show us why Willy is in that state. Individualism in this play is mainly exhibited through the point of view used in the narration is that of Willy. This is a self possessed man whose life revolves on the fact that he sees himself as a success but in actual fact he is a failure in all aspects of his life, as a father, a worker and also a husband. This is indicated when Willy is asked, "Willy, when're you gonna realize that them things don't mean anything. You named him Howard, but you can't sell that. The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you're a salesman, and you don't know that." (Miller 75)
Individualism is exhibited in Willy's choice of lifestyle. He is a man who is good with tools and would have made a good handy man if he had followed his passion instead he chooses to become a salesman which he finds more noble (Miller 23). He chooses this career path when he meets a sales man known as Dave Single man who goes to town and takes orders even without even leaving his hotel room. When Dave finally dies his funeral is attended by so many people. In this regard Willy says, "Ben, that funeral will be massive! They'll come from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire! All the old-timers with the strange license plates -- that boy will be thunderstruck, Ben, because he never realized -- I am known! Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey -- I am known, Ben, and he'll see it with his eyes once and for all."(Miller100). This inspires Willy to become just like Dave. He believes that charm without hard work will take him far and make him successful he is not following the norm of doing what one has a passion for will take you far nut takes the stance of being a goods salesman as the appropriate way of life. Another instance of individualism is exhibited by Benjamin who has made a name for himself; a man in his six decades of living has become rich as well as successful. The use of I shows that he accomplished his success all by himself. In regard to this Benjamin states, "Why, boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty one I walked out. [...] And by God I was rich" (Miller 48)
Individualism is also present when Willy refuses to take the job being offered by Charley his neighbor in New York and prefers to borrow from him to meet his obligations (Murphy 75). This happens after he is put on commission basis by the Wagner Company which he has served for thirty four years. When this happens he cannot make enough money to cater for his family upkeep and instead of taking up the job that will facilitate his carrying out his obligations he rejects it. The reason being it is a handy man job and will not be the ideal job.
Willy has big dreams for his son Biff and wants him to follow in his footsteps as a salesman and he imposes on him this dream. He does not want to believe that Biff is just an ordinary man and will not hear him out on what he wants with his life. Loman believes that Biff is "going to be five times ahead of [Bernard] ... because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want."(Miller 33). This also portrays individualism in the sense that Will is laying out his dreams to be accomplished through his son Biff and will not listen to reason on what he wants. Biff loves gardening and is very good at it but his father discourages him on this since to him this not a noble profession.
Willy during one of his sales expeditions in Boston he has had a hard day with no sales. He approaches a woman who accepts his proposal and they finally proceed to his room. He has an illicit affair not because he is an adulterer but since it boosts his ego. Since the woman has agreed he believes that his charms are working to his advantage. This is a show of individualism since he will not do the right thing just because he is thinking of his self appraisal. He does not consider the implications of his actions and when Biff sees him he despises Willy and never thinks of him as an ideal man (Cardullo 538).
Biff flunks his mathematics test and goes to seek out his father in Boston so that he can come and talk to his teacher to change his grade. He has had the spirit of individualism instilled in him by his father and believes that since his father is liked he will be able to charm himself to a good grade. However his high regard of his father is cut short when he meets his father with a strange woman in a hotel room. This makes him loathe his father and he finds him a sham. This makes Biff wake up form his fathers made up dream of being successful on charms and I can say that something good did come out of Will's affair (Phelps 239).
When Will gets into financial difficulties and has to borrow money from his neighbor Charlie, fifty dollars a week, he pretends it's his salary to his family since he has painted a picture of his charms working to his advantage to help him acquire sales. This presents individualism since he refuses to admit he is a failure and would rather borrow. He wants to continue painting to his family that he is successful due to his charms so that his sons will believe in this and adopt it (Danqing 27).
The other instance of individualism is when his son Biff comes back home after years of having been lost due to the fact he had discovered his father is an adulterer. He wants to look for a job and is considering going to his previous employer Mr. Oliver but is afraid to do so since he had stolen from him and Mr. Oliver suspected it (Miller 101). His father assures him there is nothing to worry about since he is good looking and this will be the only thing that will make Mr. Oliver consider in giving him his job back. . Willy tells Biff, "Don't be so modest. You always started too low. It's not what you say; it's how you say it, because personality wins the day" (Miller 56). This shows that Will does not value morals and integrity since the most important thing will be one's charms to help him make it in life. According to him one can get away with anything as long as he is good looking and charming (Porter 25).
Willy has successfully individualized a part of his sons. This is exhibited when they meet in the restaurant and Willy refuses to listen to his sons since he has been fired form his job. He makes it about him and it turns to a war of words. Before Willy makes a scene, he storms to the Bathroom and his sons take their leave each individually. They have no concern on the fact they need to check on their father whether he is ok and try to calm him so that they can discuss the issues that had led to their meting. We even see Happy the second son to Willy picking up two ladies who he leaves with and he is not bothered by what has transpired and life has to continue. The family does not exhibit characteristics of togetherness but rather each person acting in their best interests a clear indication of individualism.
For instance, Willy discusses with his sons concerning their endeavors and we see him waiting for Bernard to leave so that he can talk of his ills, he says to the boys, "The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates a personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want." (Miller 21). The other instance of individualism is exhibited when Willy kills himself. He simply refuses to see reason that his son Biff has become a failure ignoring he has even served jail time out in the West. He does not see the reason why Biff is settling for what he is not since he sees a great man in him. For this reason he goes on his notion that if Biff had money he would reach his potential to be great. He thus decides to kill himself by crashing his car to a tree so that the twenty thousand dollars insurance money will help Biff become great. He does not see the fact that Biff does not think as his father thinks and will not become like his father since the incident in Boston (Bloom 72).
The role of individualism in this play shows development of depression and tragedy. This shows when a person refuses to see reason and integrate his ideas with society norms he will end up living an illusion. This will lead to the person finally seeing that he has wasted his life or get into a state of denial that will lead to self destruction.