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Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is regarded one of the most creative and popular works of the author. It revolves around the conflict and dilemma of a family, as a reflection of the larger American society's pain of what is considered success. In other words, change can be regarded as one of the major themes in the play, as the American society is engulfed into the mythical belief based on material acquisition as the sole measure of success. Miller therefore portrays that ideology that success is measured by the amount of money and material wealth one manages to acquire. It is the ideology of capitalism. However, the author gives a different view of success, which does not necessarily involve money and material possession. The value of success, according to Miller, lies in the ability to make yourself happy, proud, and feeling secure about your life. One character is Dave Singleman, who should be treated as a successful person. He lived the life of a salesman and died as a salesman. Another character is Willy Loman, who is considered failure by the society since he lives a miserable life. Loman cannot achieve the society's defined success. This essay critically analyzes the main character, plot, setting, theme dramatic irony, tone, language, symbolism, conventions, or any other element that define the word success in the book.
The characters: Dave Singleman & Willy Loman
The success of Dave Singleman is immense. By the time he was 84-years old, he had to find ways of survival in a society where success is measured by wealth. Although Singleman did not have material wealth as would be expected, he was happy with his life and hence felt the need to continue making himself happy, proud, and secure. How could he make himself happy with sales at his age, yet we all know that at that sales as a job needs one active person who would be flexible and mobile to make any meaning of the career? All that Singleman managed to do was to use his telephone to sell his products. He called buyers "without ever leaving his room" and still managed to earn himself a living as a salesman (Miller 81). Sales job was his lifetime career that defined his success. In what capitalists would consider failure though, Singleman did not make any material wealth but managed to be consistent with what he was ding, stayed on to celebrate his life, both in life and death.
Singleman's Symbolic Death
Singleman died an honorable death as a salesman. Miller uses the green velvet slippers to portray the naturalness of Singleman's life (Miller 81). The irony is that Miller clearly knew that Singleman did not have enough monetary wealth to warrant any form of recognition as a successful salesman- he did not marshal enough material wealth that would allow him acquire the title of a successful person, the standard measure of success in the society. Interestingly, Singleman still had his slippers on by the time he died. The wearing of the Green slippers at death is a sign of success even at death (Sterling 19). The successful sales career and life was still with him at death. The green velvet slippers symbolize the naturalness of his success in both life and death. He was at peace with his surrounding that defined his success. The epitome of his success was reflected at his funeral. The huge number of his fellow salespeople and buyers who thronged his funeral marked the end of a successful career in Singleman (Sterling 79).
The conventional belief of wealth is what makes individuals fail. The fact that individuals would want to be what they do not desire, but what the society define for them. A good example is Willy Loman, ironically the main character. In contrast to Singleman, Loman lives a life that he does not deserve- a regrettable life defined by the society. His intention is to have a lot of wealth, hence higher social status. Unfortunately, this kind of desire is an imposed one and he ends up a failure (Bonke 62). Loman's belief in what society defines as wealth may be considered a source of failure in his career as a salesman. According to Loman, and of course society, success is dependent on who one knows and not what one knows. Loman dreams of very successful life- a life full of material goodies like charters (Bonke 66). However, he fails to get any of his heart's imposed desire. Throughout his life, he is miserable and does not want to admit. The dramatic irony is that society is the first to castigate you when you fail. Loman failed since he did not have the desire and heart to pursue what he wanted in life. In fact, he did not even identify what he really wanted in life. All that he wanted was defined by the society, hence the inability to cope with the pressure from the same society.
Loman finally killed himself.
This play illustrates how people perceive success differently and variedly. Singleman's successful career life is ended by an illustrious death and farewell burial attended by all those whom he touched their lives in his career lifetime. Loman on the contrary is a frustrated man with little to show for his ambition. He died a miserable death after killing himself. However, particular intonations in the play illustrate that if one had identified the problems Loman faced and approached him for advice or so, his death would have not come through suicide. Because he was forced into the desire to be what he had no ability to become. It is a reflective irony of success.