of Meaning in Death of a Salesman
In his introduction to the Collected Plays ( 1957), Arthur Miller claims that "the assumption—or presumption—behind" his "plays is that life has meaning." In seeming contradiction to Miller's assumption, many characters in his plays express doubts about the significance of life in general and their own lives in particular. Quentin, the main character in After the Fall, "arrives on the scene weighted down with a sense of his own pointlessness and the world's." Early in The Price, Victor, the soon-to-be‐ retired policeman who during the depression sacrificed his chance to attend medical school in order to support his apparently broken father, confesses, "I look at my life and the whole thing is incomprehensible to me." And in Death of a Salesman Willy Loman recalls admitting to his older brother Ben that he feels "kind of temporary about" himself. Of course, these characters can be said to be taking for granted, even as they express their doubts, that life can become meaningful. Quentin's sense of pointlessness, Victor's inability to comprehend his life, and Willy's feeling of inconsequential impermanence all imply that somehow life should take on meaning, that, as Miller suggests in "On Social Plays" ( 1955), "meaning is the ultimate reward for having lived."
In Death of a Salesman Miller denies this "reward" to Willy Loman. He characterizes Willy as essentially meaningless by dramatizing him, as most but not all readers and viewers of the play have recognized, not as a tragic hero but as a pathetic, limited man. But, if Miller has written Death of a Salesman without a tragic hero, we nevertheless need to ac-____________________