The play ‘Death of a Salesman’ was written in 1949 by a famous playwrite named Arthur Miller. He is famous for such plays as “The Crucible” and “A View from a Bridge”. ‘Death of a Salesman’, is regarded as one of the great American plays and even won a Pulitzer price. Miller began writing plays while a student at the University of Michigan, where several of his dramatic efforts were rewarded with prizes. The “Wall Street crash” occurred at this time of the play. It was also known as “The Great Depression”. It followed the conclusion of the First World War and just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
At this time of havoc, thousands of Americans saw their destinies vanish. The depression jolted many out of the American dream, the pattern of unemployment, frustration, and anguish was neither a worldwide nor identical condition but a reality. The American dream was a vision that some people from America were said to have. It would consist of being wealthy with the perfect life. This may have been to be well-off enough to get food on the table night after night. Also, it would consist of having a good job; one that paid well; one that was of great importance; one that everyone could be proud of.
However, in this play the central character (Willy Loman) dreams of those specifications for a ‘perfect’ life but never achieves it. The term “dishonesty” means a lack of honesty. It’s almost like a fraud. In this piece of writing I will try to answer the question “How does Arthur Miller present the theme of dishonesty within the play? ” In an attempt to answer this question I will be looking at characters, the stage directions, language and possibly flashbacks. Firstly I will study the characters individually and comment on how the theme of dishonesty is characterised during the play.
Also, I will look at the sort of ‘self-deception’ through the characters. I will mostly be looking at the central character, Willy Loman, Biff Loman, Happy and Linda. Firstly, I will comment on the character of Willy Loman. One lie that is reflected through the play is that of the affair. It seems to be him with the character identified as “the woman”. A quotation of when this happens is: when the woman says “we do have such a good time together, don’t we” (page 24). The only people that know of the affair seem to be Biff, the woman, and of course himself.
By participating in this act they lie to those who are close to them. This would include friends and family. In my opinion, the relationships between the liars and those they are lying to will suffer as they are not telling each other everything. During this lie Willy also gives the woman some stockings as she says to him “and thanks for the stockings” (page 25). When he sees Linda mending her stockings he uproars “”I won’t have you mending stockings in this house! …. now throws them out! ” (Page 25) He may be guilty of what he has done and therefore feels angry when he sees her.
These lies affect the play because the audience is wondering if anyone will ever discover the truth. Also, Willy tells a lie about the state and welfare of his job. He lies to people like his wife Linda, and therefore lies to everyone in his family. An example of this lie is when he comes home from work one day and had to tell Linda how much he earned. In a desperate endeavour to tell Linda he says “The trouble was that three of the store were half-closed for inventory in Boston… otherwise I woulda broke records” (page 23). He says this, but judging by the amount of money that has supposed to have taken it is a lie.
He manages to lead the children astray into thinking that their father is doing really well, but really he isn’t. Therefore, as the children thought that their father was doing really well and earned a great deal of money they may request more of him and so he will have to ‘give mercy’ to the children and tell them that there was no money. The lies could have led on for years. The next character I will comment on is Linda and how she lies to herself and everyone else when talking about Willy’s working arrangements and about how well or how bad he was doing.
An example of this is when Willy tells her about how much he made in one day once and Linda tried to be happy with this so that she could keep the family together in a way. She replied with the words “Two hundred-My God! “(Page 21). She may have said that because at that time business may not have been going so well for him and therefore it was an exciting feeling. However, she could have said it so that it can appear as if it was a lie. Therefore the relationship between Willy and Linda may have had built on lies. After finding out how much money they actually owed it brings them to the truth.
The reason for the lie could have been so that Willy can feel better about how his job had been progressing. The lie gives a false impression to the children so they may demand more things from their parents. The lie goes on all through the play and this lie about the job is reflected on a couple of times. The affect of this lie is that it goes on for the whole play. First of all Willy lies about his job to everyone he knows and then Linda lies to him about the real state of his job. They both lie to each other and everyone else on matters concerning the welfare of his job. Almost the whole of Act 1 depends on this lie.
This lie, in my opinion does not come to a head. I think it carries on through out the whole play. The next character I will comment on is that of the character ‘Happy’ and how he has lied to everyone about not being content with his life. He makes out that he is happy about his life but really he is not. He would make out that he was very content with his life but in actual fact he is contempt with his life. This lie is started in the first act when Biff says to him first “Are you content? ” and Happy replied “Hell, no” (Page 11). This represented that something was wrong.
It seems as though the audience may have the idea that Happy is lying to everyone around him but Biff. Happy in a way lies to every one around him by putting a front on and by thinking that nothing is wrong. He tells Biff the truth but nobody else. One reason why he may not be content is because he is trying his best to achieve his dads trust and love but Biff is the son that gets all of the trust and affection. This lie affects the play as whenever he sees a nice girl he makes them feel guilty of what they do with him regardless if they are married or not. He tries to make himself happy by making others feel guilty and sad.
This lie gets everyone thinking that he is very happy with his life and he wouldn’t want to change it for anything but really it is completely the opposite way round. This lie stays through out the play and therefore Happy is unhappy in the whole play. He tries everything to become content with himself but it doesn’t work. Language is also used to portray the dishonesty in the play. There are many scenes that show and demonstrate this. Firstly, the scene is when Biff tells Willy that he will visit Bill Oliver. First Biff and Willy have an argument and then Linda holds it together which she does for the whole family all the time.
Then Happy comes in to the overheated discussion. He says to Biff “Why do you always insult me? ” He could have heard things at this point and therefore could outline that he may be referring to different lies. He is saying that he is known in some places and says that in those parts he is a big shot. This could be a lie and could be a spur of the moment thing to say just to get back at Biff. I’m not sure of any similes in this scene though. They liked to look further into the future and so imagine a scheme that they could all do together.
The second scene I will comment on is when Happy and Biff are in the restaurant to feedback information on the meeting. There is a technique of changing the subject when Biff asks Happy “Isn’t dad coming? ” and Happy replies “You want her? ” Firstly, Happy lies to a girl about Biff playing for the New York Giants when he doesn’t. Also, he says that he went to “west point” which is a lie. It is funny because he says that instead of his name being Happy it is actually Harold. This is when you know that he would try to make the girls guilty as he in a way flirts with her.
So as he gets her feeling guilty he gets his happiness. Stage directions also demonstrate dishonesty. This may include flashbacks and motifs. Firstly a motif is a distinctive feature of dominant idea in artistic or literary composition. So firstly, when the lie of the affair seems to come up it is always in the form of a flashback. This flashback refers to a cheating person after all that Linda does for him. This flashback is important as everyone wanted to find out how Biff knew about the affair and then we found out. These flash backs in a way build up some kind of tension.
This flashback portrays the idea of dishonesty because he hasn’t told anybody the truth about himself and thus proves that it is a lie. The flashbacks reveal the truth by showing the lies in the present. In conclusion, the moral of the play, in my opinion, is lying may ruin all of our lives. This is because when you tell one lie it leads to another and goes on for almost forever. One white lie is not good as it can also lead to other lies and so on and so forth. Lies can go to far as if someone thought that you were employed but really you weren’t then they may ask you about it and in the end you have to tell them the truth.
The moral of this story is portrayed through flashbacks monologue and motifs. The lies are the central of the play because the lies represent how we al can use them. These characters are just acting like we all do at certain times. Some of the lies come to a head because at once stage they have to be unfolded through the force of persuasion and things being spoken that you can’t control. Also, the idea of reality versus the American dream was that people wanted to live the American dream and some were fortunate to do so. But, then the reality came into play and people were not happy at this.