Arthur Miller's, Death of a Salesman seems to have lost some ground to its once established position as many critics of late downplayed the demise of its protagonist Willy Loman by inscribing the causes of his death on 'narcissism' and excessive self-importance other than delving into the deeper causes behind his tormented and isolated private life. However, the author argues that Willy's life gets systematically shattered and crippled by his careless and cruel society fuelled by 'capitalist ideology' underlying the so called American dream. His death is extremely significant and current as present day self-harm and suicide rates unfailingly reverberate with the tragic demise of Willy. Though Willy's obsession with success, in disguise, puzzles the critics as conceited hubris his refusal of Charley's job offer strongly testifies to the unceasing resentment he holds towards capitalist workers. This paper rejects 'narcissism' as to be the major cause of his self-committed suicide and rightly points the self-termination, caused by the life-circumstances, to 'capitalist American dream'. Finally, it validates the transformation of his vengeance into his self-destruction that still reverberates with self-harm and self-destruction committed by men and women today.
Practically, the critic appears to have failed to mention who or what is responsible for Willy's delirious state. In order to get a valid answer to this complex phenomenon we ought to conduct a careful inquiry into the matter by asking a question; do we see Willy psychologically imbalanced from the start of the play, or do we see a systematic and gradual decline of his mental health caused by financial failure? Does Willy make conscious choice to take his own life for twenty thousand dollars? Does his death have to with delivering a deeper message that what we see on the surface level of the play? In order to make a legitimate claim about any potential answers to these bewildering questions it is mandatory to rediscover how human psychology works under complex circumstance, and how it evolves and deteriorates through progression. Of course, we can resort to Karl Marx's theory on the role of base and superstructure
to find quite a plausible answer to personality and behavioral change; nonetheless, the author would like to first consult a well-known specialist in the field of mind game, Mr. Freud Sigmund. Indeed, there are disagreements among critics about every issue including this on the basis of whether or not we can psychoanalyze fictional characters who do not possess a real human psyche. Despite controversies Tyson responds to the criticism by pointing out: 'psychoanalyzing the behavior of literary characters is probably the best way to use the theory' (Tyson 35). But, we cannot psychoanalyze Willy's personality traits and behavioral degeneration unless we put him on two sets of rule prescribed by Tyson:
When psychoanalyzing literary characters, the characters are not so called real people but are representations of psychological experience of humans in general. Secondly, she states that it is just as appropriate to psychoanalyze the character´s behavior as it is to analyze their behavior from a Feminist, Marxist, or African American perspective, or from any critical theory that analyzes literary representations as illustrations of real-life issues (11-12, 34-35).
According to the set rules, Willy rightly qualifies to be treated from psychoanalytic perspective since it happens to be one the four popular ways of theorizing any subjects of a literary genre. Another allusion, quite analogous to the first, the critics make about the cause of Willy's death is to his Narcissism. Bert Cardullo, for example, forthwith dismisses Willy as: A man who dies believing in money, he kills himself for money. Because he confuses materialistic success with worthiness for love, he commits suicide to give his son Biff the insurance benefit as a stake for more business (Bert, 2006).
He goes on with another attack:
…An exceptional invalid, in whom the stress of business only increased existing psychological imbalances. Willy is shown to be at least as much a victim of psychopathy as of the bitch-goddess Success (Bert, 2006).
Cardullo's first comment indirectly calls Willy a narcissist thought it does not contain the exact word in it. His first claim turns out to be paradoxical with the second since he uses the word confuse and psychopathy synonymously. Here emerges a logical question, how can a person be psychopath and be obsessed with money at the same time? It is argued that psychopathy is a result of someone's mental trauma due to financial breakdown which is not a result of a self-inflicted or conscious act, but narcissism is, as mentioned clearly in the following definition, being obsessed with one's personal image. It is easily discernable that one cannot possibly be obsessed with something without being conscious about it. The following remark makes it clear that he was not self-obsessed; therefore not a narcissist:
Although Willy is aware, maybe dimly and imperfectly, that he is not cut out for success in the world of trade and commerce, he nevertheless nurses the dream of getting the better of everybody else. And this leads him into an alienation from himself, obscuring his real identity (Sharma, 370). For a better logic, we can consult the following statement by Freud and others, the two French psychoanalysts Jean, Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, 1988, says,'' narcissism as the state of being captivated by and obsessed with one’s personal image and ego in their book The Language of Psycho-analysis'' (255-257). To illuminate the difference between these two situations, the author would like to use the following quote by Becker, 2008.
The psychopath is less obsessed than the narcissist with validation. Indeed, his inner world seems to lack much of anything to validate: it is barren, with nothing in it that would even be responsive to validation. An emotional cipher, the psychopath’s exploitation of others is more predatory than the narcissist’s. For the psychopath, who may be paranoid, the world is something like a gigantic hunt, populated by personified objects to be mined to his advantage (2).
Yes, many of Willy's conversations with others also testify to his mental disorder, He yells at Biff: “Not finding yourself at the age of thirty-four is a disgrace!” But later adds: “Greatest thing in the world for him was to bum around.”And again: “Biff is a lazy bum!” says Willy. Then almost immediately thereafter: “And such a hard worker. There’s one thing about Biff—he’s not lazy.”(1.5) The logic evidently does not allow Willy to be called a narcissist or a psychopath rather he is caught up in a blurry margin in between two which alludes to a different state of mind.. Here I begin to inquire about the monster in him which haunts him constantly and fails his patience at the end. It is obvious that some critics try to ignore the success of Miller's mission of creating a true tragic hero as they view Willy just as an insane personality derailed from psychic balance-but what causes it?
However, the critics conceive of one side of the problem in his character other than missing the most crucial aspects of his mind that constantly vacillate between his past and the present, clearly in Freudian terms the unconscious and the conscious. According to Freud (1963), ''the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see'' (''The Unconscious'', cp. VI).
The analysis of Willy's complex mind demands serious attention to the juxtaposition of two minds his unconscious mind and the conscious mind which are at times in constant contention resulting in the creation of perplexing fluidity as represented in the play in the form of the flashbacks and time travelling- which fails him from holding a grip on his present and future. His appears to be a derelict who cannot stick his aim at future as he is long past his glory as a respected salesman. Again Willy's condition worsens after being fired by, Howard Wagner, whom Willy presumed to be of big help in the time of his distress, brusquely refuses him. Howard's blatant response goes, ''Willy, but there just is no spot here for you.'' Eisinger clarifies,
Willy´s dream rests on the cult of personality. It is necessary, he holds, ''to make a good appearance and to be well liked, appearance is a key concept in his notion of success (98).
Eisinger, 2010 does not contextualize at what point Willy conveys such an asinine view. It is indeed not until after he gets refused by the man whom he confided in the most as to be the biggest savior during his distress that he is forced to lose faith in consciousness and his own identity (Murphy, 2010). Sickels, 2010 argues that ''Miller 1998 critically examines the myth of the American Dream” (79). She also says, ''the American dream is not openly expressed, defined or mentioned in the play, it is well-known that Arthur Miller took inspiration from the American society'' (102-103). Perhaps Willy misunderstood the paradox of American Dream; however, does he not deserve to aspire higher? James Truslow Adams in his book Epic of America puts forward a succinct definition of American Dream:
But there has been also the American dream that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position (404).
James' definition clearly states the paradox of American dream which evades the definition of the word itself and ends in itself; thereby, makes no promise of success to people. But, Willy's was not just a dreamer; he struggled but failed and his failure is responsible for his subsequent degeneration. This experience of rejection of a man living on the fringes of society generates a strong evocation of the hideous discrimination, which can be traceable to Marxist interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the poor in a capitalist society. Marx believed that the change in the overall psychic orientation of an individual is determined by a superstructure of American capitalism underlying the society, and even more in Willy's case by Dream. Here the author endorsed, whose psychological aplomb degenerates under the force of social superstructure though, on the surface, his erratic behavior loosely reveals his outward personality.
Now, the author’s shifts his concentration from the fantastic world of Miller to the realistic one. To many talking about 'capitalism' and 'death', holding the one responsible for the other, may sound unreal, though many still see the horrific consequences, in this case Death, due to financial crisis, in societies foster under the influence of capitalism, as portrayed by Miller in the play Death of A Salesman. Willy's death reflects palpably on the similar circumstances facing the Lower class in today's America and across the globe. Katherine A. Fowler led a study along with five researchers who analyzed suicide findings from 16 states that participate in the National Violent Death Reporting System. The report confirms, this study was the first to our knowledge to systematically examine suicides linked with eviction and foreclosure," the report reads. The researchers identified 929 suicides between 2005 and 2010 related to evictions or foreclosures. The total numbers were fairly split—51 percent were eviction-related and 49 percent foreclosure (Capps, 2015).
Needless to say, the fraudulent promise propagated by capitalism succeeds to be the most potential qualifier behind these deaths. Another study shows, ''…recent study examining the impact of austerity measures taken in England during the European financial crisis on unemployment and subsequent suicides attributed more than 1,000 excess suicides to these economic conditions between 2008 and 2010'' (Capps, 2015).
These deaths such as the one committed by Willy in Death of a Salesman resuscitates similar picture. The play is worth rediscovering and putting out there as a meaningful source to creating a photographic manifestation of the wicked effects of capitalism in societies experiencing violence, self-harms, and other forms of dehumanizing actions.
Also, it is worth noting that functioning as a social being amid technologically rapt lifestyles, cultural entanglement, and media outpouring a large number of social critics and reformers may be now are moonstruck, and their inquiry into the loss of personal identity and self-harm and suicide as means of escaping the impact of Capitalism, if not entirely impossible to trace, remains a chimera. For disease and health problem being the generally believed cause of death, the argument as to blame Capitalism as the prime cause of deaths seems a little fragile unless we borrow from an expert in the field. M. Harvey Brenner's finding, visiting professor at Yale School of Medicine and an expert in health and medicine, allows the author to overtly publicize capitalism as the most potential cause behind the deaths today which are identical with the death of the salesman in the play:
Employment is the essential element of social status and it establishes a person as a contributing member of society and also has very important implications for self-esteem," said Brenner. When that is taken away, people become susceptible to depression, cardiovascular disease, AIDS and many other illnesses that increase mortality (YaleNews, 2002).
These days we hardly investigate such facts as invisible power domination of capitalism and the effects underlying social system and ideology while dealing with answers to the root cause of life threatening and near death experiences like self-harms inflicted by financially and emotionally distressed people rather we tend to blame these incidents on difficult relationships, love affairs, excessive drinking, divorce and other external phenomena. Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, in his book Our Kids, an investigation of new class divisions in America, gives a better picture of Capitalism in today's world and its effect on the increase of the suicide rate in present day US- which allows us to draw a connection with the demise of Willy Loman. In response to the recent findings on suicide rates in the US, he responds, ''This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health.''(The New York Times, 2016).
To begin with references to make connection with my discussion till now, it is preferred to borrow a quote from the play that holds the intensity of an extreme feeling in the moment when Willy is pushed to the brink of his rational thinking and forced to redefine the value of his own self and existence- (a philosophical dilemma which could be identical with the one with Hamlet in Shakespeare ' To be or not to be, that is the question'. Though delivering different evocation at a different context the affinity between these two pressing situations makes them seemly identical).
Why am I trying to become what I don't want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am! (2.105).
Karl Marx's theory on human belief can be a good reminder in connection with Willy's current situation. Marx believed that, '' various positions and beliefs held by people, be it religious, moral and so on, are created and conditioned by their material circumstances'' (''Capital''). This is true, as Marx points elsewhere, to both historical circumstances and class, social and economical circumstances. We see Willy feels trapped and forced to questions his own existence by his material circumstances and his social status. He is just a counterpart to Charley whose condition was more stable and secure. Charley's remarks manifests futility of American Dream that promised everyman in the 40s America with a message that hard work brings success.
Nobody dast blame this man. You do not understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and you’re finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory (''Requiem'' 111).
Charley's speech sounds sweet and promising for a man of Willy's social status, but here he speaks ironically about the impossibility of success under Capitalist Society. Willy does not fail to represents many a failed dreamer living in the 20th century America as well as in the other parts of world that are riddled with capitalists' propaganda. The realization of his total insignificance as a social being coerces him to take on committing suicide with twenty thousand dollars which he finds to be the only means, as intended to prove it right here, to escape the oppression of capitalism. Recent psychological research also reveals that the failure to achieve social status makes one undermine his or her self-value, and it is the most likely reason that induces harmful thoughts like committing suicide or self-harm. Baumeister claims,
When individuals realize that they fail to attain important standards or expectations, they may be motivated to escape the self, which could lead thoughts of suicide to become more accessible. Six studies examined this hypothesis, mainly derived from escape theory (90-113). The above statement allows the author to negate the claims that view Willy as a 'narcissist'. But it can be said that he just lived a false dream of success that his capitalist society presumably denied him. The ‘dream’ of course has several connotations in terms of the intention of its creator. According to Oxford Advanced learners' Dictionary of Current English, ''dream is, in my own words, an abnormal, irrational, obsession with anything that one aspires to possess''. It no longer matters whether Willy subscribed himself to American Dream or not; as a human, he was just like any other man of his rank who went through the same conditions. Miller's success is in creating a unanimous picture of all men across nations, who are of equal rank of Willy's, where capitalism determines who to live and who to die. It looks glaringly obvious that Willy has no other choice when Willy had nothing left to himself. He was entangled in a situation where he was not allowed to think but one solution, suicide. The following quote is used to bolster the argument that it was not his narcissistic, self-important ideology that contributed to his death it was rather the feeling of entrapment by life circumstances worsened by capitalist system. Integrated Motivational Volitional (IMV) model of suicidal behavior, postulates that,
…Suicidal behavior emerges as a result of feelings of entrapment; individuals who feel trapped by life
circumstances and who perceive no other alternatives for escape employ suicidal behavior as a means of seeking resolution''. ''This idea is consistent with Shneidman’s assertion that the common purpose of suicide is to seek a solution, and with Williams and Pollock’s) arrested flight model of suicidal behavior which asserts that suicidal behavior results from the perception of being trapped with no possibility of rescue… (4).
Again, to reiterate, it would be a careless hypothesis if we simply consider his idiosyncratic behavior ignoring the socio-economic system in which his personality evolves. Another insightful statement by a critic delineates the real condition of the lower class under Capitalism. Brian Parker anticipates the capitalists’ praxis and capitalistic society with an accurate mention of traits as to the principles of the system, which are conditioned for standardized living, such as advertising, time payment, faulty refrigerator, life insurance, mortgages etc. (42).
Willy thus becomes an inevitable victim of these flashy objects marketed by the dehumanizing insurance companies, another branch of capitalist syndicate. Mr. Miller later wrote in his autobiography, Timebends, that ''he had hoped the play would expose “this pseudo life that thought to touch the clouds by standing on top of a refrigerator, waving a paid-up mortgage at the moon, victorious at last'' (Siegel, 2012).
In the very opening Act, there is a vivid description as to how rapidly apartment buildings were rising around Willy's home territory. I argue that this invasion of territory also and the high raised apartments bear a subtle 'metaphor' to an explanation of the unfair upper-class domination where Willy's life is trapped.
Towards the end, the life of his father plays crucial part with his increasingly alienating soul. Miller makes frequent mentions to his father and to the melody of flute with Willy trying to reconstruct his past. This demonstrates Willy's psychological battle in between his conscious and unconscious drawing him away from his real existence. For a brief moment, Willy lives the life his father led. Kennedy, 1982 also sees in him lies his father;
It is not true that the Death of a Salesman gives a true picture’, spoke one businessman at a Chamber of Commerce Executives meeting in St. Louis. ‘The professional salesman has …a life built upon the foundation stone of attitude, knowledge, integrity and industry (3).
Not unrighteous to say though that the businessman remains pretty biased towards his businesslike attitude. For we see him making desperate attempts to impress his friend. Willy is certainly different from other businessman dominating New York City, affluent and powerful. Willy is not suspected as a lackluster performer since he confesses the discrimination he has to face because of his aging. He says, '' because he thinks I’m nothing, see, and so he spites me. I am known! Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey- I am known, Ben, he’ll see it with his eyes once and for all'' (2.100). Here we get powerful evidence on Willy's past reputation. Willy could not accept the job because that would make him a complicit with those who did not stand against capitalist system. Here we have a clear prophesy of Willy representing democratic sentiment and individual freedom as opposed to capitalists' ideology. It can also be seen in Biff's character who displays strong rejection of social confinements. Another conversation with Linda, Willy expresses a sheer paradox of capitalism: ''Figure it out. Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there’s nobody to live in it.''(1.15). Biff’s monologue reveals reminiscence of his past and an intense resentment to his personal location where he finds himself useless:
This farm I work on, its spring there now see? And whenever spring comes to where I am, I suddenly get the feeling, My God, I am not getting anywhere. And then he continues, ‘I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life (1.2).
He has bought a car, a refrigerator and made life insurance; but at the end of the cycle he finds all of these belongings useless. These stuffs are very representation of American dream that left many Americans in debt... A recent day study also clarifies the true deception of American Dream, that the hard work is unable to turn American Dream into reality. The author quotes,
Americans in the lower class are more negative about their current financial standing and more pessimistic about their economic future than adults who place themselves in the middle or upper classes. Those in the lower classes also are significantly more likely than other Americans to doubt that hard work brings success (Morin et al., 2012).
Now broken, collapsed and exhausted, he fantasizes about his success in his Biff's life, and struggles to earn him a job. Now, we have to review the definition of Capitalism- is the system in business, run by private authority, that only aims at profit rather than anything else (Hornby et al., 2007). This definition reflects in action in this quote when Willy intends to join his previous company, but he is repelled by the young new director. Willy replies to Biff, ''You know why he remembered you, don’t you? Because you impressed him in those days''. At this stage, Willy's finds himself totally stifled, and this is the moment he gives up and he no longer acts consciously or rationally. Karl Marx and Freud rightly publicized it to be-
…a false consciousness rooted in the whole social organization of man which directs his consciousness in certain directions, and blocks him from being aware of certain facts and experiences (1.19).
We get a strong sense that Willy's death has very little to do with his dream, though we cannot detach him completely from the dream as he is as human as anybody else, but the key determination for an escape, from the agonizing world he lived, was the realization of his unconscious existence
and real existence and value in the society, which he saw no different than mere death. Miller's success lies in this very discovery of Willy of the verisimilitude between his living death situation under capitalism and the real death. Willy's transition from 'false Consciousness' to 'true consciousness' makes him a true rebel against the existing social structure.
Abandoned and helpless against the rich and powerful, his dream started turning into vengeance which led him to plan a dangerous escape at the end. Another character in the play Ben who is not portrayed as a full-fledged character rather a less real figure and casts as other voice of Willy’s heart that seeks ‘escape’ and ‘success (Parker 45).
He sees triumph, capitalistic force, in death and isolation. To Willy these life ends up worth more dead than alive, how very little light that sheds on the right way of living, says Charley (116). Kennedy well clarifies Willy Loman’s broken mind that sees no prospect ahead. More than that, his statement anticipates a rebirth of another contradictory soul in every human being whose life is trapped in inextricable situations. Gordon, 1983 in his paper titled, 'Death of a salesman: An Appreciation, has pointed out that:
Willy is a victim of this inexorable social system which drives its men to frantic, all consuming dreams of success, is doomed not only by grandiosity but also by their inherent contradictoriness (322).
Unlike Willy Loman, Charley, who, ironically by a kind of ‘indifference’ or by complicity with American dream, succeeds within the capitalist system. Willy never transforms into a mimic man
in the system as he is not complicit with it. Charley is in this sense can be termed as a other man who shows conformity towards the corrupt, unlawful capitalistic charges. Miller uses Charley as a counter part to Willy who is not a conformist. He intends to live a life on his own accord; free from capitalism where he finds himself ignored.
Willy’s relentless struggle and failure to build relationship with those financially superior around him makes him a plausible candidate for Marxist interpretation of the nature of mutual relationship in a capitalist society-as Marx defines it, a Cash Nexus. It sounds meaningful to say Willy’s failure to get an employment with Oliver resulted from his inability to impress Oliver with perhaps some kind of financial bond. Significantly, Willy’s promise of twenty thousand dollars to Biff is built upon the reverse side but draws from the Marxist interpretation of 'base' and 'superstructure'. His final decision to plot an escape with twenty thousand dollars is manufactured by his present economic conditions. Marx Karl, 1981 believes, ‘it is not consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness'' (Marx K et al., 1976). Just like O’Neill’s, 2008, Bob Smith / Yank who found himself as counter-revolutionary creature, an ape. In today's world of technology and endless businesses we may not have time to think about people like Willy Loman, but thousands die every year due to unemployment problems. Behind most suicide unemployment is the near direct connection. Research shows:
The relative risk of suicide associated with unemployment was elevated by about 20–30% during the study period. Overall, 41 148 (95% CI 39 552–42 744) suicides were associated with unemployment in 2007 and 46 131 (44 292–47 970) in 2009, indicating 4983 excess suicides since the economic crisis in 2008 (1).
In the play, Willy grows frantic, and he becomes a faithful subscriber to Franz Fanon's theory of violence, in Willy's case violence against which I like to call the domestic colonizers
. Fanon 1963 writes, in fact, that ''…the colonized man finds his freedom in and through violence'' (86). Here such violent sentiment towards capitalism takes on different forms, a self-harm and self-destructive force, since it cannot stand against the organized powers. The following statement will further unveil that the capitalism is, mostly direct and sometimes indirect cause, behind such inequality and unemployment and deaths today, According to a new report published in Lancet Psychiatry:
…Unemployment caused approximately 45,000 suicides each year between 2000 and 2011. Through a longitudinal assessment of the World Health Organization’s mortality database and the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook database…. It has been proven that the only thing that “inspires” bosses to treat workers adequately is organized fight back by workers. It has also been proven that the only path to a real system that guarantees employment, education, health care and basic resources for all are by overthrowing capitalism (Staff, 2015).
Here it does not end. More reports show the indicators related to suicide rates in the economically advanced and capitalist countries since 2008 crisis, they show an unsettling similarity to that of the increase in the instances of self-harm. More results related to suicide tells us that, ''similar reports by a group of experts published in The British Medical Journal in 2013 directly reflect the increase in the suicide rate in many advanced capitalist countries with the instability caused by the crisis in 2008 and its ongoing effects'' (Chang et al., 2013; Bantjes et al., 2016; Nordt et al., 2015). He also anticipates that ''the native discovers reality and transforms it into the pattern of his customs, into the practice of violence and into his plan for freedom'' (58). Willy's death proves firm and purposeful after all, other than a result of his Narcissism, when we take a last look at what Happy has to say:
All right, boy. I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain (Zheng, 2007). He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have to come out number one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him (Act 2).
 Marx and Engels provided a method of analyzing society which has been of enormous fecundity. This has been shown in every generation since the method was first outlined in The German Ideology in 1846.
 Unconscious existence refers to the condition of living under superstructure and participating in it without being conscious about its impact on one's lifestyle or framework of thought.
 Mimic manis used to identify the person, in a general sense, who lives under a colonized condition.
 An idea expressed by MARXIAN EXPLOITATION AND DOMESTIC COLONIALISM that connects to the black Americans under the oppression of the white.