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.
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.
I happened to read the story since I had to teach it to eight graders. The story belongs to the genre of the Gothic Vintage. The protagonist of the story becomes obsessed with the killing of an old man. The whole story revolves around his pathological mania for killing. The reason for killing is psycho-analytically revealed in the story. The old man has an eye that resembles that of a vulture. The evil eye is haunting the protagonist. The wealth or possessions of the man like Gold does not interest the protagonist. He visits the old man’s house several times in the night and goes through the ecstasy of the thought of butchery. And finally one night he accomplishes the mission. He decapitates the body and buries it in the wooden planks that make the floor of the house. Then Poe brings in the cops who come to house on the pretext of having heard a shriek. The protagonist at first manages to maintain his composure but in the end looses it and spills the beans to the cops that he has liquidated the old man. It’s true that Poe has been characterized as a mad genius and as a tormented artist. The protagonist is suffering from narcissistic, psychotic melancholia. The narcissism is an obsession directed with quirk of violence that shifts the mind from reason to that of passion. The protagonist is going through an intense psychotic phase of psychosis where he is not able to distinguish murder as something diabolic and goes against the Super Ego, the laws of the society. Melancholia is pining for an object that cannot be obtained. Here it becomes a phantasmagoria, the vulture-eye of the old man. The psychotic character is unable to distinguish between fiction and reality. He does not want to take responsibility of the crime and willingly surrenders himself to the police. The psychological build up of psychotic anxiety is a super rendition of art.
Blue at Noon by Georges Bataille is a fascinating avant garde novel. In this essay I would like to deconstruct the way in which women are portrayed. Most of the Women except his wife and Desire are sluts. The prominent whores featured in his novel are dirty (Dorothea) and Xenia. The entanglements of the protagonist with these women are symptomatically pathological. The protagonist betrays devastating hidden oedipal fantasies. The relationships with these women are more intricate and denser than remuneration for occupying the pleasures of the bed. The protagonist takes great pleasure in the disgusting and the revolting. For example: Dirty is drunk and puking and at the same time she exposes herself nude. Sometimes the protagonist becomes an archetypal feminine. For example he sobs: when he gets a letter from his wife. All his relationships with sluts are erotic a melancholia, a fantasy of longing which ceases to be fulfilled. He portrays whores as tender, loving oedipal objects on which he can gratify his emptiness, his angst. The novel takes places in three places, England, France and Spain. In France he encounters Xenia. He is very ill at that time. Xenia though a whore goes to a great extent of nursing him back. The amazing thing is that he does not feel grateful but treats her with intense repulsion. In Spain he encounters Desire. The Spanish revolution is going on there and she has intense communist views. Though he becomes close to Desire, he treats her like a wretch. He has no interest in her intellectual proclivities. There are no scenes in the novel which are sexually graphic. Drunkenness, puking and nudeness become orgies for the mind of the protagonist. Though the novel is experimental, the narrative is straight forward and goes on from the beginning to the end. The protagonist is an erotic Sisyphus who is tormented by the weight of his sexual entanglements and finds release of his emotion through sheer repugnance. The pleasure of the bed has become a narcotic stone which is rolled down by him in mental stupor. The protagonist is always in state of psychological fornication. As a work of Art he is Picasso’s bull who is limpid and strangulated by his own emotions. The author creates whores who are fond of him. The creation represents a maternal, oedipal reaching out. Is it a kind of oedipal narcissism that the author suffers from? There is no political consciousness for the protagonist. He maintains a stormy silence when Desire discusses ideas about communism. The creation of the psychology for the whores in his novel is a dystopian archetype. The women are his ideal and yet they are repugnant to him. Eroticism for the narrator is one of morbid loathing and ironically a state of ecstatic pleasure. I as a reader, I am totally ignorant how whores interact or behave. Of course I have had my chances but I have failed to follow upon them. Yes in the end, I feel whores are humane and can have genuine feelings.
Maxim Gorky was a Russian writer known for his adept handling the genre of short fiction. His fiction is hard-core realism.
Makar Chudra is a story of a gypsy who was billeting on the steppe and the protagonist listens to his tales of valor and courage about a youth who fell in love with a gypsy girl. The story is an interesting read.
Traveling companion is a story where the protagonist meets a man who has been cheated. They travel together to a place Batumin in search of him. The writer is remarkable in the portrayal of consciousness of the fiction writers. There’s a psychological depth which sparkles the soul. Throughout the journey they become inseparable friends.
Grandfather Arkhip and Lyonka
Grandfather Arkhip and Lyonka contemplate their journey of life. The grandfather is ageing fast and is worried about the future of his son, Lyonka. There’s a passionate rendition of character. One can contemplate the meaning of life in this story.
Lizergil is an old woman who narrates strange mythical tales to the protagonist. In one a maiden is carried by an eagle to a place beyond the sky. The story has moorings of a fairy tale.
Chelkash is a drunkard and a petty thief. He gets accused of stealing. In the rest of the story, he is on boat in the sea and is able to haul a mighty catch of fish. This story is an interesting one from the brewery of fiction. There’s considerable character depth.
The protagonist encounters a girl Natasha who is of the same age and their relationship becomes a romantic one. The protagonist is encountering a girl kissing him for the first time, and he bursts into clouds of happy catharsis.
Song of the Falcon
The protagonist encounters Ragim who is a devout Muslim. He tells him a mythical story of the snake and the falcon. The falcon is the master of the sky and the snake is the mistress of the ground. They converse with each other. Gorky anthromorphizes the snake and the falcon.
For want of something better to do
The story describes the scenery of moving trains and carries a narrative about people working in the railway station. For them life is an irony and they wonder about people traveling to different destinations.
The story starts with the suicide of Konovalov in prison. Then the story proceeds as a flashback narrating the life of Konovalov with the protagonist. The reason for the suicide is not clear. The story is rather ambiguous.
The Orlovs is a story of a quarreling husband and wife. The story is swapped in ironic humor.
There is a conversation with the protagonist and a man on the aims of literature. The aim of literature is to help a man better understand himself and develop his desire to see the truth, to fight meanness and pettiness in people and bring out the good to awaken in them a sense of anger, shame and courage.
Franz Kafka was Jew living as an exile in Germany. His writings ring a tone of queasy angst and he stimulates the philosophy of existentialism in his writing. Most of his writings were published after his death by his editor friend Max Brod who was strictly instructed by Kafka to destroy all his writing.
In the short story Metamorphosis—the protagonist of the story Gregor Samsa becomes transformed into a gigantic insect one morning. He is unable to go for work and is not able to do his routine activities. The family of Gregor Samsa becomes queasy about his plight. The metamorphosis is a story of existential trauma and guilt. It reveals the meaning of life to be nothingness. There is considerable depth in the psychological portrayal of Gregor Samsa. Samsa can be compared to Camus’ myth of the Sisyphus who becomes condemned by the Gods to roll a boulder uphill only to find to his angst it rolls down again. Sisyphus is forced to repeat this monotonous action. The insect is a motif that shows rebellion against parental authoritarianism. Kafka had a strained and troubled relationship with his father. The metamorphosis is escapism from the realities of life. Angst— the very core of being is a metaphor and occurs as a leitmotif throughout the story.
The judgment is a story of a man who has a friend in St. Peter’s Burg whose business has been going downhill. The protagonist is writing a letter of invitation asking him to attend the marriage. He also converses with his father about his friend. The story has no plot scheme.
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is a narrative about building the wall. The author comments on the magnificent loftiness of the wall and how it will counter the invasion by foes.
A Hunger Artist
The hunger artist is a story of a man who is placed in a cage and does a hunger fast. Throngs of people got to watch him and he becomes a spectacle for the people. One can’t get to the essence of this story as it is something which never takes place in real life. What is the message that Kafka wants to communicate? Is he thinking about the starving people of the world? I am not sure about the answer.
The Burrow is a strange and fascinating story of a person who constructs a burrow. He admires his construction with gaiety. Then there goes a long narrative on the ways in which the burrow could be put to use. The story-line is feebly thin. Is the burrow reminiscent of man’s inner angst? Is it a leitmotif of the human body which has no source to gratify pleasures? The burrow is a metaphoric machine dealing with the melancholia of being human.
Josephine the singer of the Mouse Folk
The story extols the virtues of Josephine’s melodious singing. Her singing is a passion for the human heart. The story is exaggerated and lacks the substance of a plot.
Fratricide is a story about a protagonist killing his own brother. The motives of the murder are not revealed. The killer experiences a bitter satisfaction, a gratification of the ego. The killer is caught up in the whirlwind of narcissistic solipsism.
The Next Village
The next village is a rumination by the author on the journey of life, its brevity.
The Bucket Rider
The Bucket Rider is a story of a man who begs for coal from the coal dealer. The coal dealer denies his request and treats him in the most unkind manner.
There are four legends concerning Prometheus—the first was he was chained to a rock for betraying the secrets of Gods to men and the Gods send an eagle to feed his liver. The second being, Prometheus overridden by pain pressed himself to the rock and became one with it. The third was the treachery of Prometheus was forgotten by the Gods. The fourth was Gods grew weary about the affair.