Themes of Death of a Salesman and Oedipus Rex

As fine pieces of literature, both ‘Death of a salesman’ and ‘Oedipus Rex’, demonstrate the tragic lives of human beings in this distressed world. Even though each one has its own supporting themes, there are some common themes like fate, insanity, isolation and tragedy. Both, Oedipus in Oedipus Rex and Willy Loman in Death of a salesman, believe in fate. Their indolence leads to their family’s unending sufferings. When considering the two persons, one can easily understand that they lead a submissive life under fate. Tragedies tore the life of the protagonists. At last both of them commit suicide. Having identified the common themes in both the plays, the paper tries to show how these themes apply to Death of a Salesman in particular.

Death of a salesman, written by Arthur Miller portrays the real life of a typical American middleclass man who dedicates the most part of his life in a private company. The major themes of Miller’s Death of a salesman are the failure of American success myth and reality versus illusion. The central character in the play, Willy Loman, fails to understand the real pulse of the society. He is a total failure in his personal life and the same failure leads to his tragic death at the end of the play.

Insanity is the other theme found in Death of a salesman. In Death of a salesman, the central character, Willy Loman becomes psychic when he comes to know the reason for his elder son’s tragedy. He is a total failure in satisfying his family responsibilities.

Isolation and tragedy are the next important themes in Death of a salesman. In Miller’s play, each member of Willy’s family feels that they are isolated. Loman is isolated from his wife, his sons, fellow beings, and society. Willy’s prick of conscience prevents him from advising and even facing Biff. He tries to evade from the words of Happy and his wife for not properly indulging in matters connected with Biff and in order to hide the secret from them, he leads an isolated life. Biff also likes to lead a secluded life and so he stays in New York. He strongly believes that Willy played a foul trick to get rid off him from the house. Their problems are found out a proper solution with the suicide of Willy, the protagonist. Throughout the play, Willy is haunted with unending guilty feelings and is forced to wear a mask before his wife and children.

Fate plays a vital role in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a salesman. Loman’s compulsory retirement, Biffs realization, his marriage, are examples of fate’s role.

Willy Loman is the victim of dreadful capitalism. The tragic conflict between personal affairs and family loyalties are the visible themes in Miller’s Death of a salesman. The tragic hero, Willy Loman is subjected to the victim of the so-called American success myth. It is merely accidental that the elder son Biff became the victim of Lawman’s illegal relationship with a prostitute. Biff is a victim of the maddening world of competition. At the end fate conquers Loman.

Failure of American success myth is another leading theme in Miller’s Death of a salesman. Willy Loman failed to differentiate illusion and reality. The material world around him considers Willy as merely an orange peel. Long years’ service as a salesman causes to lose his health and vigor. According to the Capitalists he became a waste in the competing world of capitalism. As a tragic hero, Loman has sold himself by taking an artificial personality which is absolutely imaginable.

Loman’s ‘insanity’ is also a notable theme in Millers play, Death of a salesman. In the concluding act of the play, tragedies haunt Loman’s life as storms. He becomes more psychic when he is wrapped in isolation. Loman’s isolation and guilt feeling leads him to insanity. Loman’s realization of his failure as a breadwinner changes him to a hopeless person and he begins to think that his life itself is futile. The restrained examination of Willy’s subjective life leads the play as a psychological play.

The play also focuses on the fact that one is in need of a companion to depend on. Linda -Willy relationship exemplifies it clearly. Willy’s wife Linda is a completely an understanding wife and a good mother. She often chides with her husband Willy Loman for his ill-treatment of Biff. But he replies, “I simply asked him if he was making any money. Is that criticism?” (Miller,Act I, p.5)The given quotation shows that Willy has the fatherly affection but his prick of conscience often prevents him from expressing it. Linda treats Willy softly, though he behaves irrationally. Miller himself remarks that play Death of a salesman is the manifestation of truth.

Through his play Miller presents the pathetic picture of a man who does not have a grip on the sufferings of life. The concluding part Lowman receives death. The tragedy ends in a helpless condition. The conflict between the father and the son in the play Death of a salesman provides some psychological background with Freudian coloring. Unlike Shakespearean tragic heroes Loman’s tragic flaw is not absolutely fatal.

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman.