Conflict in Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” In “Death of a Salesman,” Arthur Miller’s use of conflict develops the setting and secures the interest and attention of the reader. Conflict achieves the intrigue needed to hold the audience’s attention to allow the author to express the significance of the story. Miller uses his main character, Willy Lowman, to analyze the conflict of the American Dream versus happiness through material wealth. The conflicts of illusions versus reality, individual versus society and self versus individual are supplementary conflicts that enhance the entire plot of the drama.
The American Dream versus happiness through material wealth is the main conflict that sets the outline of the story. Willy Lowman had been a salesman throughout most of his life, however did not have much success. He believed that he would find happiness when he attained material wealth. In truth, he was certain the being an American would ensure that he would acquire wealth and happiness.
However, in his search for his dreams, he alienated those that were closest to him.
Towards the end Lowman’s career he was forced to deal with his failed ventures and the consequences his skewed beliefs and dreams had on his life and family. Another significant conflict is the illusion of stature and the reality of what we are or can be. In illusion versus reality, Lowman believed that “being well-liked” will lead him to success as a salesman, although in reality he is an average person who struggled in a profession that he was not good at. He committed himself to an ideal of success that he would never achieve as a salesman.
He also instilled the same illusion into his son, Biff, that anything would be possible if he was “well-liked. For example, he told Biff that he would succeed in the Algebra class if he was “well-liked,” not by learning. Throughout the story Lowman is filled with delusions about his own abilities and accomplishments and those of his sons. In the conflict of individual versus society, Lowman is determined to discover the technique to acquire clients and to be successful. He had deep concerns about how others perceived him and blamed his lack of achievement f superficial traits, such as his weight, his clothing, his tendency to talk too much, and the fact that people “don’t take him serious”. Although many people share the same apprehensions as Lowman, for him they represent his reasons for failure. In actuality, his failure is a consequence of his inability to view himself and the society in which he lived in as they truly were. Finally in individual versus self Lowman’s perception of what he strived to be was constantly at odds with who he really was: an average person who struggled in the job that he was not very good at.
He had illusions of grandeur and an out-of-date view of the world around him. He worked towards a fallacious ideal of the American Dream and could not understand why he had not realized his true calling. He rejects his genuine talent for carpentry, assuming that engaging is such a career would be beneath him. Lowman struggled with self-image for his entire life and once he realized that he would never achieve his ideal of prestige: he commits suicide.
In Lowman’s last moments he continued to exist in his delusions: he believed that the insurance company would pay out a twenty-thousand dollar life insurance claim to his family if he committed suicide. His final actions give us one more example of his distorted thinking and failure to recognize the reality, which reinforces the conflicts that Miller uses throughout the story to develop the setting and keep attention of the reader. References Miller, Arthur. “Death of a Salesman” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts. 9th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2009. 1424-1485.
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