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Naturalism & Expressionism in Death of a Salesman

This study will examine naturalism and expressionism in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. The study will argue that the play employs both naturalism and expressionism in the author's portrayal of Willy Loman's losing struggle against social, familial and economic forces beyond his control, and that these literary and philosophical approaches are used to show the break-up of Willy and the family (an expressionistic effect) as well as the cause of that break-up (through expressionistic devices). At the same time, Miller was not restricted by the traditional uses of expressionism and naturalism in this play, choosing instead to use those approaches according to his own needs and interpretations.

Although there are many varieties of naturalistic writing, in all of them there is a strong sense of the individual as the victim of natural or social forces. There is a certain degree of determinism in every naturalistic approach, therefore, but Miller can hardly be considered one of the most strict adherents of naturalism in this respect, for he is profoundly sympathetic toward Willy and his plight, and many readers have seen in Miller's play the suggestion that the capitalistic system, rather than some immutable natural force, is the culprit in Willy's tragedy. There is a profoundly humanistic sense to Willy's play, which undermines the pessimism or even cynicism of many naturalism-based works, even those critical of society and economic forces.

Miller's approach to the naturalistic elements of his play are also profoundly colored by this sympathy---or empathy---in terms of the Willy's motivations. After all, as selfish as Willy certainly is in his extramarital dalliance, and in his desire to be a success as a salesman, he nevertheless is doing what society has taught him is the right thing---to work hard and provide for his family. The primary naturalistic element of the play is found in Willy's belief that if he works hard he an...

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Naturalism & Expressionism in Death of a Salesman. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 09:50, February 28, 2017, from