Death of a Salesman is a great play written by Arthur Miller in 1949. In this drama, the themes of masculinity and capitalism are closely intertwined. Miller depicts the society where the male breadwinner family is the norm, and women play subordinate roles. In the play, capitalism manifests itself in the pressure on individuals to succeed financially because failures are regarded as abominations. The competitiveness in the job market and desperation resulting from unsuccessful careers are the evidence of capitalism. In Death of a Salesman, capitalism is crucial as the ideal man should be financially successful. This essay will evaluate the manifestation of masculinity through analyzing capitalism and the role of women in the play and discuss its effects on the main characters.
Masculinity is a socially constructed phenomenon. Miller presents a situation when the roles of males and their expectations as well as duties are influenced by the society. In the play, men are represented as breadwinners earning money to cover all their families’ expenses. This major role blends capitalism with the theme of masculinity. The society expects men to be successful in schools, sport, and their jobs. The social expectations are unveiled through Willy’s character. Willy is obsessed with the idea to become successful and imposes his values on his sons. Through this obsession, the audience learns that social expectations influence young men’s lives. Willy always tries to persuade his sons that it is extremely necessary to become successful, respectable, and popular (Miller, 1949). His desire to ensure that they are liked by all people shows the importance of acceptance as an aspect of masculinity (Miller, 1949). In this light, men do not want to prove their masculinity; however, the society makes them do this. All individuals should conform to the standards of masculinity. According to Miller (1949), the standards of masculinity are defined not by a common person but by the whole society. Therefore, through Willy’s frustrations, the author shows that the failure to meet these standards results in failed masculinity; or what may seem like the lack of masculinity from the society’s perspective.
Further, Miller uses the role of women in the play to highlight the theme of masculinity. Linda, Willy’s wife, not only loves the main character but also admires him (Miller, 1949). Miller presents Linda as a submissive wife who unconditionally loves and supports her husband. She adores and worships Willy even despite his character flaws (Miller, 1949). Although she says to her sons that Willy does not earn much money, she never complaints and says this to Willy. Instead, she praises his work and salary while talking to him. Interestingly, the heroine scolds her sons for leaving Willy in the restaurant, showing intense devotion to her husband (Miller, 1949). Also, the theme of masculinity is emphasized through Willy’s mistress. The mistress praises Willy for his good character (Miller, 1949). According to the societal views, males should control everything and provide for their families to prove their masculinity. By portraying submissive and subordinate women, Miller allows Willy to feel that he controls his world. Although he is a failure and financially unsuccessful man, he can show his masculine features in his own family. Moreover, by presenting women as sexual objects, the author displays Biff’s and Happy’s masculinity (Miller, 1949). Biff and Happy are both unsuccessful in life and business; however, by depicting women as their objects of pleasure, Miller highlights their masculinity.
Additionally, Miller uses capitalism to build masculinity. Capitalism in this context denotes the financial success and prosperity. The author presents Willy’s relationship with Charlie with whom he has been friends for many years (Miller, 1949). Charley, a successful businessman, has son Bernard who has also been friends with Biff and attended the same school. As a young man, Willy had a very promising career; however, he has failed to achieve prosperity (Miller, 1949). Charley is successful in his business and frequently offers Willy financial assistance with small loans. He even offers Willy a job when he persists in asking for additional loans. Miller says that Willy declines the job offer because he feels insulted. By describing this scene, Miller tells the audience that Charley has a higher masculine status than Willy, which insults the latter. Charley symbolizes the man Willy has always wanted to become. Bernard is also successful in his career as a lawyer, contrasting his success with Biff’s life that has no direction (Miller, 1949). The author uses these two families to show what masculinity should be like and how Willy and his sons have failed to attain it. By contrasting Biff’s failure and Bernard’s success, Miller disapproves of Willy’s opinion that charisma, not hard work, is the main component of success. As a teenager, Biff had a promising athletic career, but his failure in mathematics shattered all his dreams of becoming popular and prosperous. On the contrary, Bernard, who was not liked some years ago, has achieved success in his career (Miller, 1949). By depicting Bernard, Miller emphasizes the role of capitalism in attaining masculinity.
Consequently, masculinity affects the social status as well as the psychological health of individuals. Unable to accept the disparity between his expectations and real life, Willy experiences a psychological disorder. Miller shows the audience the early years of all the characters through Willy’s hallucinations or daydreaming. In other words, most of the time, Willy lives in illusions of the past, overshadowing the present problems. Willy does this unconsciously as he struggles with the bitter and painful reality. He wants his sons to engage in business, sales, and capitalism; however, Biff and Happy have failed to fulfill his dreams (Miller, 1949). Unable to confront his problems and accept his failed masculinity, Willy lives in his memories. Biff and Happy are affected by their failed masculinity as well, and they tend to imitate their father. They spend time reminiscing about their school years when they were admired by many people. Moreover, Biff’s confrontations with Willy are the result of the failure to meet the social standards of masculinity (Miller, 1949). The tragic death of Willy reveals the adverse effects of the pressure of masculinity on individuals.
In conclusion, the play reveals much pressure present in the society. Masculinity is a socially constructed phenomenon that defines personal desires as well as expectations and the way individuals lead their lives. The failure to achieve masculinity negatively affects individuals’ psychological stability leading to serious disorders. Miller develops the theme of masculinity through showing the importance of capitalism in human life. Males are respected for their prosperity in the economic sphere, dominance over women, and finical stability. The success in these areas allows to earn the respect of other individuals and occupy a good position in society. However, failures make men experience much pressure and often lead to psychological disorders. The role of women in the play is to give men an opportunity to prove their masculinity which they have failed to attain through capitalism. In the described society, success is the measure of masculinity. The more successful a man is in his career and capitalism, the higher masculinity he has, and vice versa.