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Critical Analysis Essay on Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s 1949 play, Death of a Salesman, portrays a family’s financial difficulties. Arthur Miller considered this work as one of his most outstanding achievements. The play is often considered timeless due to its relevance to contemporary issues. Following the conclusion of World War II, the Loman family is compelled to confront a range of adversities. The paternal character of Willy Loman harbors aspirations of attaining renown and wealth and solicits the assistance of his firstborn offspring, Biff, to aid him in realizing this objective. Despite facing the harsh realities of life, Willy’s unwavering determination to achieve success remains unchanged, even though he is aware that attaining the “American dream” is beyond his reach. Biff believes that his father’s preoccupation with misguided aspirations has led to his harboring of inappropriate dreams, as he asserts that “he had the wrong dreams.” According to Miller (111), “All, all wrong” is incorrect. Multiple factors contribute to the manifestation of Willy’s ego and id in his sales profession. The psychological and contextual lenses highlight the modest but significant acts of resilience that Biff and Willy displayed in the face of complex social circumstances and their increased self-awareness during this time in history. Arthur Miller employs the American Dream as a metaphor to illustrate the socio-economic dangers of excessively prioritizing one’s aspirations, as Willy exemplifies, and the resultant impact on familial relationships, particularly with his spouse, Linda. She exhibits supportive behavior from a gendered perspective as a spouse.

According to Ackerman, Sigmund Freud, a prominent psychoanalyst, proposed a well-known theory that classifies personality into three distinct types: the id, the ego, and the Superego. Upon analyzing Death of a Salesman, it becomes apparent that the work is heavily concerned with themes of sexual and aggressive impulses and memories and recollections. Willy’s ability to disregard the reality of his financial and social situation can be attributed to the interplay between his id and ego. Willy exhibits various characteristics of narcissism, such as a feeling of entitlement and a lack of capacity to handle criticism. An individual who possesses an overemphasized id may demonstrate an abundance of aggression, despite the benevolent intentions of those in their vicinity. This particular line serves as a prime example of Willy’s aggressive behavior. What is the basis of your perceived superiority over others? According to Miller (2019), the cited information can be found on page 68. Charley, the neighbor of Willy, engages in a conversation with Willy regarding his recent experience of unemployment. The scenes presented in the work showcase numerous recollections from Willy’s history, exemplifying his coping mechanisms in the face of perceived inadequacy.

When encountering an accomplished individual, his id and ego dominate Willy’s cognitive processes. He is aware of Charley’s accomplishments and often draws comparisons to his achievements. Willy endeavors to surpass Charley, positing that his charm and amiable disposition will facilitate his triumph. William believes he possesses all the essential skills and attributes for a prosperous sales career. The compulsion to uphold a successful business persona and refrain from acknowledging professional defeat was evident in Willy’s behavior. According to Miller (21), one of the fundamental beliefs held by Willy Wonka is that being well-liked is a critical factor in achieving contentment and satisfaction in life. The individual’s excessive self-regard hinders his ability to recognize his shortcomings, and his reluctance to accept assistance from others is due to his stubbornness. The character of Willy exemplifies the theories of Freud’s ego and id and illustrates his ability to manage his professional setbacks through this framework.

His id and ego propel Willy’s pursuit of success. At the same time, his eldest son, Biff, can liberate himself from the constraints of his ego and the aspirations imposed upon him by his father. The conclusion of the play involves Biff’s recognition of the need to assume control over his fate and strive towards a distinct set of feasible objectives. As per the theories of Freud, a renowned psychoanalyst, the development of an individual’s Superego is believed to occur at approximately five years of age (Ackerman). The Superego’s moral standards are intrinsically connected to an individual’s ego and significantly impact their conduct, thereby rendering them indispensable. The Superego is a psychoanalytic construct that serves as an internalized moral compass, guiding individuals in distinguishing between right and wrong—Willy’s shortcomings and aspirations for achievement influence Biff’s mindset and aspirations. Biff’s self-concept and unconscious impulses are influenced by his exemplar, Willy, who exhibits a similar disposition. Due to his significant ego, it is difficult not to hold a favorable opinion of him. Biff shows a tendency towards irrational behavior and a lack of consideration for the potential outcomes of his actions. Biff’s behavior is driven by a facet of his id that strives for instant gratification to evade discomfort. During Biff’s formative years, his id and Superego compel him to take actions without regard for their ethical implications. One of the most noteworthy instances is when Biff commits theft and demonstrates a tendency toward prostitution. His father’s support frequently reinforces Biff’s perception of invincibility.

William’s tendency to downplay the severity of Biff’s transgressions poses a notable obstacle to the maturation of Biff’s Superego. Rather than admonishing Biff for appropriating his school’s football, his father acquiesces, stating, “Certainly, he must engage in training with an officially sanctioned ball, must he not?” As Miller’s work (18) depicts, Biff presents the purloined object to his father. Biff can mitigate the adverse effects of his Superego and id by critically reflecting and questioning the underlying values that drive his behavior. As his understanding of business and capitalism deepens, he realizes that these domains need to be aligned with his aspirations and that attaining success within them is unlikely to be within his reach. Biff’s deficiency in self-assurance compels him to suppress his ego and enhance his salesmanship skills. Biff articulates to Happy the arduous nature of emulating his paternal figure, underscoring the difficulty of such a task. The issue is that we should have been raised with the mindset of solely pursuing financial gain. The individual expressed uncertainty regarding the task at hand with the statement, “I don’t know how to do it,” as reported by Miller (18). Biff’s self-commitment made during his father’s funeral serves as a contributing factor to his resilience. To arrive at sound judgments, he must surmount his former self from childhood, thereby leading to the development of a moral compass. The character of Biff exhibits remarkable resilience compared to the other male members of the Loman family, as he successfully overcomes his ego and previously held beliefs. Consequently, the play portrays his endeavor to establish a novel direction in his life.

Arthur Miller’s seminal American tragedy, Death of a Salesman, is widely acclaimed as a masterpiece. Miller’s play was influenced by the post-war New York milieu, which allowed him to observe how families dealt with the bereavement of their dear ones. The emotions and experiences of these families were integrated into the characters of the play. The 1949 drama portrays Willy and Biff Loman as remarkably resilient individuals who are able to withstand the social pressures of their time. The theatrical production transpired in the year 1949, a mere four years subsequent to the conclusion of the Second World War and two decades next to the occurrence of the Great Depression. These two events caused a significant economic shift, leading to rising unemployment rates surpassing pre-event levels. As industrialization advanced, the financial responsibilities placed on fathers escalated. Numerous men experienced considerable pressure to maintain economic competitiveness and provide for their families, among other factors. The Loman family seemingly represents a conventional American household striving to attain the elusive “American dream.”

In his capacity as the primary provider for his household, William Loman relies on societal demands to facilitate the attainment of his objectives. Despite Willy’s tendency to attribute his misfortunes to external factors, he remains resolute in achieving prosperity. The individual asserts that the population is experiencing an uncontrollable increase. The level of competition is highly intense and challenging. According to Miller (7),… According to Willy’s perspective, attaining the American dream necessitates one’s fame and amiability to prosper. Biff’s proclivity for entrepreneurship is instilled in him at a young age through the influence of his father’s principles. As customary for a son, Biff aspires to emulate his father’s path. According to the speaker, Bernard may excel academically, but his success in the professional world may not be as significant as that of others. Miller (2018) reported this information. This excerpt demonstrates Willy’s conviction in the potential of himself and his offspring to achieve the desired level of prosperity. If the objective above cannot be attained within the designated timeframe, Willy will persist in motivating Biff and guiding him toward societal expectations. The adversities during the 1940s catalyzed their unwavering determination to achieve their aspirations.

According to Linda, Willy cannot be considered the most exemplary character since he is a fallible human. This statement is cited from Miller’s work and can be found on page 40. A distinguishing characteristic of this theatrical production is its adept portrayal of the familial predicament. Willy and his family encounter tribulations relevant to contemporary society, akin to those experienced by typical families during the 1940s. The Loman family’s ability to withstand postwar social pressures, Willy’s sense of self-esteem, and Biff’s growth in developing a superego and self-awareness demonstrate resilience in psychological and contextual factors.

Ultimately, Death of a Salesman can be classified as a tragedy. Willy espoused a firm conviction in the concept of the American Dream and dedicated all his resources to attaining his life objectives. After experiencing a lack of success in this endeavor, he perceived himself as unsuccessful in his peers’ eyes. The individual experienced a sense of assurance that he was effectively fulfilling his responsibilities of providing and nurturing his household. Consequently, he experienced a period of profound despair and resorted to committing suicide. The individual decided to commit suicide and desired the twenty thousand dollars in life insurance benefits allocated to their beloved family members. Besides fulfilling her role as a dedicated and empathetic mother and spouse, Linda ought to have possessed a dependable source of income to provide for Willy and potentially alleviate some of his monetary pressures. Nonetheless, contemporary perspectives may differ from those prevalent during the era in which the play was authored.

Works Cited

Ackerman, Courtney E. “Psychoanalysis: A brief history of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.” Positive psychology. Com (2018). Retrieved from:

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman: Revised Edition. Penguin, 1996.


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