Death of a Sales Man by Arthur Miller is one of the prominent plays which won a Pulitzer Prize. The play depicts the life of an American Middle Class Family in pursuit of the great American Dream. Here I would like to analyze the play from various schools of literary thought.
The protagonist Willy Lowman can be compared to Albert Camus’ Myth of the Sisyphus where the Gods torture Sisyphus by making him roll a boulder all the way uphill to find that it rolls down again. Willy Lowman is forced to do a menial job for a selling company. The tragic hero of the play is a person in pursuit of the great American dream but fails to achieve and succumbs to suicide. Looking at him from Sartre’s existential point of view, we find him a bearer of existential angst. Plagued by the power of negative thinking, Billy relapses into existential solipsism. Billy’s character reveals an overarching narcissism.
Looking at the play from a Marxian perspective we find the play is littered with oppressive symptoms of a leviathan, showing the perils of a capitalist society. The proletariat are struggling workaholics. We find a society that is inhuman and dehumanizing. Society is fragmented and proceeds on bettering oneself with the forsaking of one’s neighbor.
I would like to introduce the Lacanian concept of the mirror stage. The mirror stage in psychoanalysis is a stage where the child enters the realm of language and becomes a self, a subject. The mirror stage is an arena where Billy’s psyche conflicts with the aspirations and goals set by him. The mirror becomes an absurd theater of life. From a Jungian perspective, Billy Lowman is an archetype of a fool. He is living in an illusory demented world. I would also like to make a comparison of Billy Lowman with Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The follies of Don Quixote at one point of time were denigrated as a fool’s conquest for utopia. Don Quixote in psychoanalysis can be considered as a narcissistic hero who creates the myth of existential anarchic living. Billy Lowman is a tragic, stoic hero who becomes a king of neurotic behavior.
Billy’s wife Linda Lowman is an essence of the sacred feminine. She can be compared to a mother Goddess who tries to balance with the realities of life and who strives to cope up with Billy’s dementia. She is an archetype of a classic American middleclass woman who tries to cope up with the realities of life.
Postmodernism and Post structuralism
Postmodern perspectives analyze how binary divide is created in language. Certain structures are privileged signifiers and others are marginalized. In Death of a Salesman we find capitalism and the bourgeoisie to be privileged signifiers where as Billy Lowman and the proletariats are marginalized. Capitalism and the bourgeoisie become structures that can be read as texts of interpretative deconstruction.
Isolated, marooned, despondent, me a piece of shit. The world and its wishes smile bitterly at me. I sink in my wretched abyss disappointed. Am I schmuck of disaster, noble of countless mishaps? Forge my soul in the shit of hell. I feel like committing suicide. I see Camus waving at me and saying things will be alright. Is it my delusion or is it real? Sex is a dead prison. When can I have the poetry of lyrical intimacy? When will sex become a poem of lyrical beauty? When will a woman become warm hearted and tender to me? When will she make me open to her orifices? Angst plagues my soul like a psychopath.My ego is so deflated. I am locked up in the asylum of defeatism.Why did you die for my sins? I need to taste the relish of Epicureanism. Why do you close all doors for me? I am carrying the cross of a wretched life. Sometimes I wish to be shed of life and be a still-life statue. Devil, you are a mocking penis. Why can’t covetousness be a virtue? The world of values is a carnival. When will the rites of ecstasy shed her lady luck on me? Me a being? Amazing! Metaphysics is a pile of muddy water. Transcendence is a hyperbolic cunt. Dissolve the consciousness that is in my body. Sodomize it with a poem of beauty. Bitch wife, I have so much love to give and yet you don’t want an iota of it. Bitch wife, you have made me sick in the mind. My soul is a whimsical butterfly. Eros is tranquilized death. Bitch wife, all I want is a caress, a kiss, a hug and you fucking bitch you deny it. I have stopped reading astrology. Karma is warped in the neurons of an angstual plague. You fucker be kind to yourself. Give your heart the freedom to love. Don’t blow your soul to smithereens of existential shit. Nirvana, I have found you perched on wings. When the present is bleak, how can I anticipate a bright future? What a joy can sex bring? I long for you darling. Yet you are so far away. When can we make love like the old times? Passion is the ocean of ecstasy. When can I resurrect my body with sex? If I was in your place, I would have been tempted by the devil. My wife is a slut of boredom. Every day the bitch kneels and cries before you. God you have denied me so much in life.
The demented astrologer says this is a period of trials and tribulations. Why cast your shit on me, you poltroon. Venus shits in Mars and Neptune urinates in Leo. Fortune smiles with a fart. Tarot you are anal agonies. Why the fuck can’t you draw luck to me? Why blaspheme my soul with shroud of obscenities that make me withdrawn from the world. Astrologers are fucking shit holes. Psychics are assholes. Tarot readers are motherfuckers. Yes the moon is on the ascendant with a big bum. Sun is a shitting ball of white in the commode of Jupiter. Woe to you, I hate you all motherfuckers.
God! Do you have to be virtuous and so pious? Why make me feel ashamed with the concept of sin? What good is life if life on earth is a misery? I become repentant, yet you are not kind to me. Why mock at me with goodness? Why can’t you tolerate my inequities? Why can’t you grace my fortunes? I am not the nails that have crucified you. I am not the hands that have been washed in public proclaiming that you are innocent. I did not betray you with thirty pieces of silver. I have not liked the wife you adorned me with. When you say that: I am the way: truth and the life: it makes no sense. I have searched my within and found an abyss of angst. David committed adultery and yet you forgave him. Since 2013, I have been living with a bitch of a wife in a rut. Lord why don’t you feel pity for me? Is there room in your heart for the fruit tender kindness? Have you forsaken me forever to live in my misery? God, I am heartbroken, weary and tired with the ways of men and with you. Solace is an existential worm.
Homer’s classic Epic—Odyssey belongs to the cannons of Greek Literature. Odyssey is a description of the return voyage of the epic hero Ulysses after the Trojan War. He is faced with insurmountable problems with the sea God Poseidon being against him. At home in Ithaca there are various suitors who are greedy for his Penelope. He is successfully able to overcome all the problems and slay the suitors competing for his wife. Here I would like to analyze the Odyssey using newly coined neologisms.
Meta-Psychosis is a condition where Gods and Goddesses intervene in the fate of man. In the book we counter various aspects of meta-psychosis. Let’s look at the anger of Poseidon on Ulysses causing him to be ship-wrecked. Then there is Goddess Athena who pleas to Zeus so that he might be rescued. We encounter the hero being caught by the wiles of the nymph Calypso and Circe. Meta-psychosis in a modern context applies to humans who are subject to the fate of their destiny.
Demo-anarchism is coined from democracy and anarchism. In the state of Ithaca presuming the death of the protagonist there are a number of suitors competing to gain their hand in marriage of Penelope. This can be classified as the existence of demo-anarchism. Penelope takes a bold stance and evades the wishes of the suitors. The Trojan War was a war fought on democratic grounds and it can be compared to the Gulf War where America freed Kuwait from the hands of Saddam Hussein. The decision made by the God Poseidon not to favor the journey of Ulysses is also a state of demo-anarchism.
Paradoxis is a peculiar trauma faced by Ulysses when he is ship wrecked and stranded on various islands. He faces the condition of being in paradox of being human and being God. Yet he remains steadfast in his faith to be loyal to Penelope and to return to the island of Ithaca. When confronted by Calypso and Circe he is successfully able to evade their temptations by the intervention of Gods. Paradoxis also refers to the conflict of Gods weighing down on the fate of Ulysses.
Meta-colonization is a symptom of Gods being colonialists and interfering with the life of the hero. The wrath of Poseidon and the ship-wrecking of Ulysses all point out the birth of colonization in a metaphysical sense. The whole history of European colonization has its birth in the poem. We find the character of the actor in the poem to be democratic, seeking the pursuit of democracy by the strength of character.
Mytho-poesis is the characterization of the web of the super-natural and natural elements into the craft of poetry. Ulysses faces a mountain of problems while on his journey back from Troy. Some of the problems are created by Gods to test the character and strength of Ulysses. The poem Odyssey is intensely subjective and bears the catharsis of poetic subjectivity.
The Depreciated Legacy of Cervantes
In the beginning of the depreciated legacy of Cervantes, the author makes the assumption that the whole History of Europe extending up to America has plunged into a crises with the development of science and technology.
As a novelist Kundera states that the founder of Modern Europe is Cervantes the author of Don Quixote.
The European novelists focus on various themes. With Cervantes it was adventure. With Balzac it was man’s rootedness in History. With Flaubert it was the incognita of the day. With Tolstoy it was intrusions into the irrationality of human behavior.
The theme of the European Novel lay in the passion to know that is the concrete character of life.
The novel began to have an own phases of life which was renegade with Nietzsche’s theme: Death of God. With Cervantes, truth became baptized as a dead fossil and there emerged a plethora of truths; the character became an imaginary self. The knowledge of good and evil attains a relativistic character, one of ambiguity. Kundera quotes Kafka’s novel, The Trial where an innocent man K becomes the victim of an unjust court.
Don Quixote is a novel where time exits as a juxtaposition between magic and reality. The perspective of time changes when History enters into the realm of being. With the coming of Balzac, the institutions of the society like money, crime, police and law and order enter as epic proportions in the novel.
The modern novel is a paradox where characters are flavored with disaster, yet there’s the triumph of character.
Even though Modern Europe characterizes the rise of rationality—the identity of the self breaks apart. Europe is entangled in the horror of war. Destiny, purposelessness and angst catches on to the character’s life. Values break down. There is as great deal of intolerance and fanaticism.
The novel becomes a paradoxical enterprise. The author comments on the death of the Novel by the Dadaists and the surrealists. He paints a bleak picture of the novel in communist totalitarian societies. The novel during the Communist regime had to face censorship and bans.
Milan Kundera classifies the novel into four categorical themes—the appeal of play, the appeal of dream, the appeal of thought and the appeal of time.
Now what is the appeal of play? Does it mean to say that the novel is a fanciful enterprise? Let’s look at the appeal of play from the perspective of postmodernism. The postmodern novel is an invasion of character. Texts are a collection of metaphors. There is a tendency to import extreme irony and parody. There is also an inherent tendency to lampoon novels of the past and to write in the style of the pastiche.
Now let’s look at the appeal of thought. The author wants to mention that the novel attains a texture of a philosophical entity. The interiority of time becomes an elevated plane of thought. An example of the appeal of thought lies in the streams of consciousness of Joyce.
What is the appeal of dream? The appeal of dream is a juxtaposition of dream and reality. Bach recites magic realism and mouths electric sandwiches. Dream enables the manifestation of the unconscious.
What is the appeal of time? Time is paradoxically situated in interiority. Time becomes a vast enigma of irrationality, an oasis of intimacy, narcissism of the soul, an eclectic mutiny of the mind.
Here the author comments on the quest of the novel. The novel points out to the elusiveness of truth.
Dialogue on the Art of the Novel
Here Kundera dialogues that his novel is not a dictum of psychological aesthetics. I would like to dispute with him on this point. Aesthetics is the futurism of the novel—the avant garde novel of writing. The novel should be a resemblance of Picasso’s Cubist work, an explication of Camus philosophical work: The Myth of the Sisyphus, a piece of baroque music.
Looking at the novel from a psychological framework we have to confront the futility of existential destiny. Disaster marks the triumph of individuality. There will be a tendency of the novel to exorcise the demons of disaster and subvert the character’s identity into a pathos of sympathetic irony.
In the passage Kundera questions the ability of the novel to grasp the self. For Sartre the self is an entity of nothingness. Postmodernism desires to subvert the self. Gratify the ID, deify the Ego and subvert the Super Ego.
During the age of Cervantes the self was deconstructed from the piety of chivalry. In Kafka we see the disintegration of the self. The self becomes a victim of tyrannical bureaucratic edifices. In Joyce the self swims in sea of streams of consciousness.
The author constructs dialogues about the self and History. The self in the novel is a manner of revelation. The self is a confessional symptom. The self is an art of lyrical intimacy.
A novelist cannot escape the universal nature of History. History explained in the novel is one of bringing out the voices of dissent and the aroma of depression. History undergoes the subjectivity of castrated characterization.
The writer classifies the novel as one of being a poly-historical luminosity. What does the term poly-historical mean? It includes the merger of several topics into the novel like art, aphorism, tropes, a pathological characterization of the self.
Dialogue on the art of composition
Here he writes the term—Kafkan after Kafka. He uses an example to illustrate the term. An engineer from a Communist Country goes to London and returns and finds the press has slandered him by saying that he has badly spoken of the country. He approaches the editor who says he got the story from the ministry of the interior and when he goes to the ministry of the interior, they apologize by saying that it was a mistake. The conflict between the personal and the public is described by the author as the Kafkan.
The last section of the book is a compilation a dictionary of terms, he has used for his novels.
Aphorism is very clear meaning a concise statement.
Beauty and Knowledge
What is the term beautiful in the novel? For Cervantes it was adventure. For Kafka it was existential angst, protest against totalitarian bureaucracies. For Joyce it was the searching of art in mundane experiences. What is knowledge? Kundera does not provide a satisfactory explanation of it.
He describes betrayal as one of breaking ranks. The notion of betrayal poses a problem in the novel. Let me illustrate by giving an example. Judas betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Why did the need for pointing out Christ emerge since he was a popular figure? The problem of betrayal in the novel is a problematic one.
Border is signified with emotional terms: like hate, love and angst. Border in a novel has no definable limit.
Comic for the novelist is not what makes us laugh but a revelation of the unknown.
Destiny is the conflict of the self. Destiny is absurd and we have to creatively authenticate a destiny.
Excitation for the author is erotic.
Forgetting is a term used to bringing to memory a situation in ironic terms.
Dream lies in exploiting the ID to create bizarre enigmatic phantasmagorias.
Irony for the author is an edification of character. It makes the character distraught. As a novelistic technique irony is sublime in literature.
Kitsch for the author is a sentimental flaw. Kitsch is a term where the sentiment, vulgar and offensive is melodiously gratified in narcissism.
Kurt Vonnegut is an American writer—famous for his novel—Slaughter House. He belongs to the generation of modern novelists.
Where We Live
In the narrative ‘where we live’, the writer introduces us to the rustic village called Cod Bay. There is an old library there and a salesman tells the librarian that the Britannica volume is worn out, an old one belonging to the era of 1938. He urges them to purchase a new one.
Harrison Bergson is a writing piece about two people watching television—Hazel and her father Harry. Bergson had been out of prison. The people in the narrative are very emotional and get to talk about the mundane things of life.
Who am I this time?
The author has to take up the role of a theatre director. He discusses with the actors about real life situations which they could adapt in the play. The language that is used is the one of minimalism.
Welcome to the Monkey House
There is a discussion about birth control and ethical suicide as the population of the world is burgeoning. The writ-up is highly exaggerated and too difficult to believe.
Long walk to forever
In this article there is a description of a man and woman who had grown up together. They later meet and the man who is in the army comes to know that the woman is getting married. They have a walk and sort out issues and become reunited as a happy couple.
The Foster Portfolio
In the Foster Portfolio, the protagonist is an avid stock broker and he strikes a deal with a rich buyer named Henry. He is convincing and persuasive and he strikes a ton of a deal.
Miss temptation is a description of a voluptuous lady Susana. There are many lechers who stalk her. The story describes the beauty of the woman in ironic humor.
All the King’s Horses
All the King’s Horses is a story of an imprisoned American colonel and his wife. The enemy’s lieutenant engages in a sadistic conversation. He has got an inflated ego and hatred for the Yankees.
Tom Edison’s Shaggy Dog
Tom Edison’s shaggy dog is a writing that focuses on a Labrador. The dog is sensitive and intelligent and the dog always hangs his wet nose on the owner’s ankles. The narrator thinks that the dog had taught him a trick or two about casting winning lots in the stock market.
In the New Dictionary, the author narrates his fascination about searching for new words in the lexicon. He favors the unabridged one over the abridged one. Dirty words are a treat for the author, a surreal divine forest.
Next door is meat that describes a wall separating the dwellings of two families. There is a meek description of family life.
More Stately Mansions
More Stately mansions are a frigid narrative about the life of an aristocratic people. There is a lot of telling about the dwellings in the mansion, its decorations, and its furniture. One can’t be too impressed with the writing.
The Hyannis Port Story
The Hyannis Port Story is a literature in which the protagonist encounters a Commodore. Daily life is thumbed in vigorous prose.
DP is a moving tale that describes an orphanage run by nuns. The children there come from all nationalities. Many of the children are going through an identity crises. They feel the loss of having been abandoned by their parents.
The Barn House Effect
In the Barn House Effect, the author describes the powers of the mind which he defines as dynamo-psychism. The powers of the mind like clairvoyance, telepathy and exist as a hypothetical conjecture.