Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

Willy Loman and The Soul
of a New Machine: Technology
and the Common Man

Richard T. Brucher

As Death of a Salesman opens, Willy Loman returns home "tired to the death." Lost in reveries about the beautiful countryside and the past, he's been driving off the road; and now he wants a cheese sandwich. But Linda's suggestion that he try a new American-type cheese—"It's whipped"—irritates Willy: "Why do you get American when I like Swiss?" His anger at being contradicted unleashes an indictment of modern industrialized America:

The street is lined with cars. There's not a breath of fresh air in the neighborhood. The grass don't grow any more, you can't raise a carrot in the back yard.

In the old days, "This time of year it was lilac and wisteria." Now: "Smell the stink from that apartment house! And another one on the other side." But just as Willy defines the conflict between nature and industry, he pauses and simply wonders: "How can they whip cheese?"

The clash between the old agrarian ideal and capitalistic enterprise is well documented in the literature on Death of a Salesman, as is the spiritual shift from Thomas Jefferson to Andrew Carnegie to Dale Carnegie that the play reflects. The son of a pioneer inventor and the slave to broken machines, Willy Loman seems to epitomize the victim of modern technology. But his unexpected, marvelingly innocent question about whipping cheese reveals an ambivalence toward technology livelier

____________________
From Journal of American Studies 13, no. 3 ( December 1983). © 1983 by Cambridge University Press.

-83-

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