The play Death of a Salesman depicts the American dream and the inability of a person to understand the meaning of life and family happiness. The play is often seen as tragic because of the death of the main character, Willy Loman who wastes his life searching for the American dream and prosperity. Thus, the ending of the play is not tragic as the death of the main character does not change the cause of events and remains even unnoticed by the entire community. It is a death of a small man in a small town unable to fulfill his dreams and life hopes. Thesis
The ending of the play is not a tragic one because it does not have an impact on town life and the life of the family. The awareness of what they are itself makes it impossible for them to be that image and the nature of society changes. The patterning of characters underlines this critique of American commercialism, all the figures being mirror images of Hickey, and the cross-references transform him from an individual character to the Salesman. Moral vision and extension of it into the American images of individualistic capitalism, Willy gives readers a complete picture of the salesman which is paralleled remarkably by some modern “inspirational” sales manuals. Side by side with this change in the salesman goes a development in the view of his customers. Nothing remains for Willy except death.
The death at the end of the play can be seen as a logical outcome of the entire play. The same development is obvious in the use made of “dreams”— the most frequently repeated word in each play. Miller’s characters are defined by “massive dreams” or “turbulent longings” and they sum up their “whole lives” as dreams and plans. It seems to take time—in the case of these examples over a decade— for the subliminal impact of drama to seep through to public consciousness, and it is difficult to measure the degree of influence the death might have had if a change of vision does occur. The play deals with images and, when men come to see themselves and the type of life they lead in terms of an image, the intellectual act of recognition separates their self-concept from it. The world described is one of greedy madness in which everything is commercialized and the life struggle is no more than money-making. Another element that also determined the relative effect of death is timing, which on occasion has been known to turn very ordinary plays and even operas into rallying points for the existing revolutionary sentiment. The ending is not tragic in comparison with such tragedies as Hamlet or Othello when death is sudden and unexpected. Willy comments: “I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life,” he tells Happy, and then confesses to him, “and everytime I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life” (p. 139). The death of Willy does not have a great impact on his family ruined by his false dreams and ideas. Thus, the death can be seen as a revelation for his sons and the wife, and a chance to change their life.
In sum, the ending of the play is not a tragic one in comparison with classical tragedies. Willy’s death does not influence other people and town, but it is the death of a small man lost in his dreams and ideas. His death frees his sons and Linda from false standards and principles established by Willy.
Miller, A. Death of a Salesman: 50th Anniversary Edition, Penguin Books; 50th Annni edition, 1999.