How would you criticize Death of a Salesman (mainly in regards to the character of Willy)?  

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If the question is centered on the idea of Willy being a character that is worthy of critical scorn, I guess I would have to dissent on it.  Rather, if the question is about an analysis of Willy as a character immersed in a tragic condition, I would probably suggest that there is much within him that represents the failure within the American Dream.  Miller creates Willy as the type of character who represents the result of the weight or crushing power of dreams.  On one hand, he is animated by dreams, of success, of love, of living "the life."  Yet, at the same time, such elusive pursuits of perfection cause him to endure great pain and extreme forlornness.  His pursuit of economic notions of success cause him to reduce his own state of being to a dollar amount, in particular one where there is little but a life insurance policy.  Miller, himself, saw Willy as the logical consequence of the pursuit of success and the belief that economic and material prosperity must constitute the defining element of a successful existence: 

...The central matrix of this play is ... what most people are up against in their lives.... they were seeing themselves, not because Willy is a salesman, but the situation in which he stood and to which he was reacting, and which was reacting against him, was probably the central situation of contemporary civilization. It is that we are struggling with forces that are far greater than we can handle, with no equipment to make anything mean anything.

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Death of a Salesman

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