What does Death of a Salesman show us about ourselves?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that Willy's narrative holds much in way of personal revelation.  Willy defines himself, his reality, and his sense of success through external or monetary terms.  This is where his fundamental failure lies.  In any configuration, if happiness is defined externally, there is a greater chance for pain and heartache than spiritual redemption.  Willy is crushed under the weight of his own dreams because of the absorption of the world around him as one that defines success through terms of money.  I would say that this is one of the profound revelations of the drama.  In defining oneself externally, pain and suffering is evident.  Miller himself sees this when he saw others view Willy's predicament:

[Audience members] were weeping because 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.

It is this statement that ends up defining so much of what this play reflects about ourselves.  Willy represents what it means to not have any spiritual or internal resource to guide us, the essence of what it means to have "no equipment to make anything mean anything."  This lack of meaning is a brutal end for human consciousness.  Willy ends up teaching the reader and the audience that to lack this capacity is a recipe for personal disaster for ourselves and those who have the curse of loving us.  If we wish to have any happiness in our lives and wish to bring happiness for those who happen to love us, there has to be a struggle, a striving, to explore a personal code of conduct where meaning is internal, enabling us to possess this "equipment" where happiness is not externally driven.

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