Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is a tragedy that examines the false values of American life. In particular, it deals with Willy Loman, a lower middle class salesman, and his family. Loman seeks the American dream of success achieved through his own efforts but dies without ever achieving it.
Like any richly faceted work of art, it offers no single truth about the characters, who resonate and refuse to be reduced to single dimensions. As a result, this play is an American tragedy on many levels, beginning with the ongoing debate over whether Willy's fate can be considered truly tragic when he is "only" the Common Man, and rather a weak and confused one at that.
Unlike such critics, Miller insists on Willy's nobility because he never gives up the struggle. While directing a production in Beijing, Miller admitted to the cast that "Willy is foolish and even ridiculous sometimes. He tells the most transparent lies, exaggerates mercilessly, and so on." Then Miller added, "But the one thing he is not, is passive," and argued that Willy's lies and evasions are "his little swords with which he wards off the devils around him," and that this kind of restless activism, this refusal to accept a life of frustration, can lead to progress as well as to tragedy (Miller, Beijing 27).
Yet if what Willy believes is false, the quality of his belief itself is significant. It is ideology (Miler, Beijing 80) that motivates him, ideology that comes out of a false idea of his own identity, but at least he does have a vision.
. . .in his fumbling and often ridiculous way he is trying to lift up a belief in immense redeeming human possibilities. . . he is the walking believer, the bearer of a flame whose going-out would leave us flat, with merely what the past has gained us. He is forever signalling to a future that he cannot describe and will not live to see, but he is in love with it all the same (Miller, Beijing 49).
Willy has ...