Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Death of a Salesman: Tragic Myth
in the Modern Theatre

Esther Merle Jackson

Perhaps the dominant theme in the drama of the twentieth century is an attempt to recover—or, more precisely, to restate—a tragic apprehension about the human condition. A pervasive concern about the ultimate meaning of human suffering is reflected, in one way or another, in the work of all of the major playwrights of the twentieth century: in that of Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Shaw, Claudel, Synge, Lorca, and O'Neill, as well as in that of Pirandello, Brecht, Sartre, Camus, and more recently, Wilder, Williams, Beckett, Genet, Albee, and others.

The American drama has been particularly concerned with the modern face of suffering. Since its emergence, barely a half-century ago, the American drama has attempted, rather consistently, to record the kinds of crises which have characterized our times. The great American masterworks Mourning Becomes Electra, The Time of Your Life, The Skin of Our Teeth, A Streetcar Named Desire, and others—have been concerned with the response of mankind to rapid technological advance. But the American dramatist has encountered serious difficulties in his search for a mode of expression appropriate to this theme. For he has been handicapped by a critical problem affecting communication: by the absence of a body of natural myths—symbolic interpretations of the life of man. Unlike Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Corneille, or subsequent playwrights in the interrelated European traditions, the American dramatist has been unable to employ as the instrumentation of his vision the great natural legends which are the residue of centuries of civilized growth.

____________________
From CLA Journal 7, no. 1 ( September 1963). © 1963 by the College Language Association.

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