Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

The Articulate Victims
of Arthur Miller

Ruby Cohn

Both All My Sons and Miller's best-known play, Death of a Salesman ( 1949), presumably dramatize Wasp families, since Miller does not specify racial or religious origins. Mary McCarthy has scolded Miller for concealing the Jewishness of the Loman family ( Sights and Spectacles), and Leslie Fiedler has claimed that Miller creates "crypto-Jewish characters ... who are presented as something else" ( Waiting for the End). Miller has countered that "Jewishing" the families would undercut their all-American typicality, and Miller views the drive toward success as all-American ( Collected Plays). In Death of a Salesman Miller uses an appropriately informal syntax and many casual repetitions to suggest an all-American quality. It is hardly relevant to claim, as does George Steiner, that "the brute snobbish fact is that men who die speaking as does Macbeth are more tragic than those who sputter platitudes in the style of Willy Loman." Macbeth today can be food for farce, not tragedy, as illustrated by the success of McBird and the failure of Makbeth. And platitudes can be meaningful if the total play rises above them.

Whatever Miller may have written afterwards, Death of a Salesman is larger than Willy Loman, and a variety of dialogue contrasts with his platitudes. Leonard Moss mentions a hundred odd repetitions of the word "man," about a hundred of "boy" and "kid" (with its easy, undiscriminating bisexual affection), about fifty variants of the verb "to make." But this flatness is relieved by Charley's cynical urban idiom, Uncle Ben's rugged phrases, Linda's sententious or sentimental outbursts, Happy's

____________________
From Dialogue in American Drama. © 1971 by the Indiana University Press.

-39-

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