The Frailty of the American Society within The Crucible and Death of a Salesman

The Frailty of the American Society within The Crucible and Death of a Salesman

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

 

As a constancy in society, the alienation or pressures of conformity placed on individuals makes parallels in both modern and historic societies apparent– the use of generally accepted ideologies and pursuits to achieve this alienation provide insight into the negligence of modern society. Both crucial Arthur Miller plays, the relations between The Crucible and Death of a Salesman act on this idea and provide insight to the modern and historical American psyche through the individual. From these understandings of the individual, greater attempts to understand society may be achieved.

 

The Crucible’s protagonist, John Proctor, and Death of a Salesman’s protagonist, Willy Loman, act as an allegory of our times. Though both of their lifetimes occur in different time periods, many similarities between the two characters are nonetheless present, along with Miller’s aim to criticize American society – Death of a Salesman depicts the futility of the American Dream while The Crucible aims to showcase the American intolerance, and resulting hysteria, still seen today.  Both Willy and John are scapegoats in this sense – their delusions caused by the everlasting forces of societal standards and expectations, their deception of both themselves and others, the fact that both are average men that have been ensnared by society, and their conscious decisions to die, are intended to show case the fragility of America, and universally, human nature.

 

When an individual’s means of living contentedly, or satisfied, are disrupted by the ideals and expectations of society, said individual may resort to living within an illusion to achieve what society has defined as proper. Within Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman falls prey to the pursuit of the American Dream. As a result, Loman’s lack of success, as defined, not by the individual, but by the dream, create a necessity to reconcile this failure through the deluded remembrances of the past and illusions of the future. The American Dream itself, in which individuals devote their whole lives to materialistic success and the eventual “white picket fence,” forces an entire community into a competitive pursuit of this society wide illusion of success – it is an illusion as the collective pursues an outcome that each individual should define for themselves. Within The Crucible, the illusion of the witches are likewise seen to be reality by the dwellers of Salem – a key difference between Proctor and Loman is that Proctor challenges the accepted reality, though eventually succumbs to it, while Loman never accepts the idea that his illusion is false.

 

The societal repercussions of not adhering to or fulfilling the illusions are evident inwardly and outwardly. Both Proctor and Loman are outcast from society, as Loman, for instance, eventually loses his job (and does not know why, given that in his illusion he used to be wildly successful), and Proctor is viewed as unfaithful as per Puritan society. Outwardly, a theme of betrayal is present – both Loman and Proctor’s society are motivated by external factors, such as success, greed, jealousy, and fear. Inwardly, through abiding to said illusions and expectations, one experiences a  a loss of identity, and the need to reclaim one’s identity. In this sense, there is a betrayal of oneself and one’s community, the latter indicative of a broken or fragile community. The ability for individuals to forgo their own morals and beliefs in pursuit of an illusion is personally destructive, but to further corrupt their own and others’ morality showcases the fragility of society.

 

Due to their loss of identity in the pursuit of society’s illusions, a dichotomy in both Loman and Proctor’s character is created – by subduing what they want in favour of what society wants, society is given power over Proctor and Loman. The unspoken consensus on what it means to be flawed (what Proctor, and the theocratic society he lived in viewed, as sin and Loman’s perception of Biff due to his non-conformity) creates sense of guilt that can only be reconciled by conformity or being outcast – either way self destruction and the further corruption of one’s identity is prevalent. Loman’s attempts at conformity were futile – he lost all that he had built in his illusion, and Proctor’s attempts to regain his sense of self through his confessions in the court were also futile as he was still jailed – failure in the eyes of society not only degrades one’s sense of identity, but also results in the form of punishment determined by society.

 

As such, one views death as their only way to regain their sense of identity – if still in pursuit of society’s illusion, this offers salvation from failure and, if not, one is able to redeem themselves on their own standing. This is evident in Death of a Salesman and The Crucible as both Proctor and Loman made the conscious decision to die as both deemed their deaths to be correct because of society’s illusion. In the moments before their deaths, Proctor and Loman had epiphany’s in regards to the significance of their names and what their death would do for their name and character. For Loman, he viewed his death as something that would restore his illusion – Biff would get the financial means to pursue the dream and it would be made apparent how great of a salesman Willy Loman was. In Proctor’s “name speech,” in which he refuses to sign a public document that would ruin his reputation, it is evident that he is now aware of who he is, and what he wants to be known by – not what society has made him into. Ultimately, the death of both characters was their choice – the force of societal pressures in relation to the impact on an individual’s identity gives them little choice to redeem themselves on their own standards, except through death.

 

Miller’s intent by using average American men, both with infidelities and flaws, who become corrupted and ultimately die at the fault of society, aims to point out the frailty and corruptive nature of American society and the human experience. Through creating an illusion through which all individuals are supposed to abide by, a power struggle between society and the individual, as evident through an analysis of Arthur Miller’s American plays Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. The power of society over Willy Loman and John Proctor, or the individual, creates masses, out of which those opposing or conflicted in the illusion rarely win. In this manner, history, not just American society, is repetitive because society’s nature is deceptive and cyclical –  though both plays take place in different time periods, the same deceitful cycle of illusions, betrayal, loss of identity, and an avoidable death presents itself. The intolerance and manic nature of society is therefore exemplified – it is through the deprivation of individuals at the fault of a society based on previously defined pursuits and illusions that the individual is overpowered and society, unjustly, wins.

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One thought on “The Frailty of the American Society within The Crucible and Death of a Salesman

  1. Dear Shyla,

    I intended to comment on this piece, but failed to do so until now. Apologies.

    I would like to say first that, as always, your writing is simply amazing; you are incredibly talented at analyzing texts and conveying your ideas logically. (Honestly, I think any of your analysis blogs could be turned into a critical essay with only a few changes.) This was true for this piece as well; right from the beginning, the formal, critical analysis tone was established, and it carried through well in your blog.

    I really liked the way you introduced and built of of your ideas in your writing; everything about it seems very carefully crafted ontop of a foundation of strong ideas. Your level of critical thinking and ability to communicate said thinking is just more proof of your brilliance!

    My only suggestion is to consider splitting some sentences up for greater variety; this isn’t always an issue (and in academic writing, longer sentences tend to be preferred anyways) but it can give readers the opportunity to have the ideas developed sink in a bit before moving forward to the next concept. This is just my two-piece, though, so don’t worry!

    Other than that, I would like to thank you for being such an inspiration to me both in class and through the blog. I really admire your work, and can’t wait to see what you come up with next year!

    Yours truly,
    Tarannum

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