Death of a Salesman Vs. Our Town
Challenge 11/12 – Period
In the road of life, the right path may not always be where the road signs lead. The road to self-discovery is found by following one’s heart and mind and to wherever they may lead them. Within the plays Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and Our Town by Thornton Wilder, parallel pathways and contrary connections can be established between the characters coinciding in both. In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is the portrait of a sixty year old man reflecting upon his past, one of lies and hopelessness. Upon coming about his past, he finally and fatally, discovers himself at the end of his life. Mr. Webb from Our Town plays the figure of an editor of Grover’s Corner Sentinel and loving father of Emily. Early in the play, he displays knowledge over his own self-discovery, which he hopes to tell others. The self-discovered Mr. Webb raised Emily coherently as a woman who in the end recognized the value of life. Married to George Gibbs, her life was very much comparable to Linda Loman, married to Willy Loman. Linda Loman was a woman dedicated to the needs of her spouse, but also therefore blind to the real needs that Willy desired. In the end, she still was left wondering why or what had gone wrong. Interlocked by protruding parallel traits of progressive self-awareness, these characters promoted the two plays to a higher level of understanding.
The similar philosophies of life residing in both Willy Loman and Mr. Webb are present in both plays as they progress. Their strong belief in themselves gives them the ability to influence others by giving them advice. The advice which Mr. Webb provided to George was “start out early by showing who’s boss” (Wilder IIi 58). The confidence to tell a strong willed son-in-law shows his aptitude in his belief. Similarly, Willy was often dictating the actions of people around him. Usually his interferences would be contradictory to what others had in mind such as “No, you finish first” (Miller 1.3). His constant dictations most often cause contradictory with his dictations! At first, Willy referred to Biff as “a lazy bum” (Miller 1.2), but then later called him “such a hard worker” (Miller 1.2). This exhibits Willy’s faith in his ideas, but shows a confusion within those ideas. Mr. Webb also inherits the same weakness that Willy has. Described as “terrible. One moment you tell me to stand up straight the next minute your calling me names.” (Wilder Ii 26) by his daughter, Emily, he demonstrates the fault that plagues both him and Willy. The way they try to express themselves, though contrary sometimes, proves that they are on the road to self-discovery. On this road, they both discover qualities of themselves that they wish to pursue. Willy Loman was extremely capable with his hands. He wanted to “buy some seeds” (Miller 2.1) because things were “heading for a change” (Miller 2.1) and to plant them in the backyard. Soon, he wanted to “get a little place out in the country” (Miller 2.1) where he could use his tools to their greatest capacity. Sadly, the smog of the city blackened this vision and soon he forgot about it and was again lost in his troubles. Mr. Webb also had personal goals that he attempted. But like the troubles of the city, Mrs. Webb denied Mr. Webb these opportunities. Thinking that her husband should “be talking about things worth while” (Wilder IIi 59), she forbade such fantasies. Willy and Mr. Webb have the same idealistic images, but suffered the same setbacks on their road to self-discovery.
Though both Willy and Mr. Webb were on the same idealistic road to self-discovery, their directions did vary somewhat. Mr. Webb, despite being similar to the impressions of his counterpart, he had less obstacles to overcome in achieving that goal. Therefore, he had a more broad perception of what he set out to accomplish. Without the hectic environment that surrounds Willy, Mr. Webb could make decisions based more on his preference. When given advice from his father, he “took the opposite of my father’s advice and I’ve been happy ever since.” (Wilder IIi 58). Willy on the other hand took his contradictory concepts and tried to apply them when advice came along. His main concept was to allow Biff to “be thunderstruckbecause he never realized – I am known” (Miller 2.8). So in trying to accomplish this, he worked unsuccessfully at a job which he no potential. In this impossible struggle, he does almost the exact opposite. As his frustration mounts, he does not learn appreciate the support from his spouse, but constantly tells her to “don’t interrupt” (Miller 1.6) and to “let me talk” (Miller 1.6). This causes anger in Biff and he loses much respect, contrary to what Willy wants. Divergently, Mr. Webb gives much respect to the people around him. He strongly encourages George to do also when he explains that “a man looks pretty small at a wedding” (Wilder IIi 57). In his explanation, he signifies man’s powerlessness in women’s activities. By submitting himself to other forces, he portrays of man of serious ideas, but also of humble observations on his path to self-discovery. Though desiring the same goal, both Mr. Webb and Willy Loman differ in respect to each other.
In both stories, the loving wife and struggle for self-realization, is played by Emily of Our Town, and Linda Loman of Death of a Salesman. Their battle towards self-accomplishment is paralleled in their roles represented by their authors, respectively. As the play progresses, one can feel that Linda Loman has a blind love for her husband. She continually submits to his rude and often headstrong images supporting the thesis of a humble woman of integrity. This blind love that envelopes Linda has the same effect on Emily in Our Town. Accepting marriage to George Webb at such an early age forced her to blindly trust George to support her. “All I want is someone to love me” (Wilder IIi 76) cries Emily, desperate and confused. But soon she forgot her fears and embraced her new life readily. With the successful endeavor that she had already experienced, she does not want change from her stable life. She ponders the question “why can’t I stay for awhile just as I am” (Wilder IIi 75), but boldly accepts her new life with George. Also, when she dies in Act III, she constantly begs to go back to her existence when she was alive. She wanted to “go back there and live all those days over again” (Wilder IIIi 91) because she didn’t want to change her environment. Linda Loman also fears a change in her environment. She did not want a change in environment because “how can I insult him that way” (Miller 1.4). In the best interest of her family, she does not want change, but tragically this slowly drives her husband to death. She does not realize that a change, like a move to the country, would help their situation. Although not understanding that situation, Linda had a clear perception to what their status was in their present situation. Constantly nagging Willy with numbers for insurance, car repair, and other bills, drives him to the grave. Emily too understood her situation clearly when she was alive. Their “perfectly beautiful farm” out in the country was a safe haven for Emily and she acknowledged it. Together, they both had an understanding of the situation that surrounded them. The environment that surrounded them cradled their dreams for self-discovery. But the situations in their contrasting environment were different. Therefore their path to discovery was also.
As both Emily Webb and Linda Loman progressed through their path to self-discovery, they encountered different obstacles which let their resolution differ from each other. Linda, although gifted with numbers and logic, was continually hampered by Willy’s abrupt and rude interruptions. “Don’t interrupt” and “will you let me talk” (Miller 2.8) Willy asked as he argued with himself. This behavior did not let Linda’s self-discovery to fully develop. Contrasting to Linda, Emily was raised by a loving father who had a broad idea of self-realization and promoted it within his daughter. He comforted Emily in her hour of need telling her “you know it’ll be all right” (Wilder IIi 76). This loving care shown by her father, Mr. Webb, helped nurse her pathway to self-discovery. So consequently, in the end Emily realizes her self-discovery that people live their lives without acknowledging the true essence in it. She describes the people on earth as “shut up in little boxes” (Wilder IIIi 89) and is saddened by “how in the dark live persons are” (Wilder IIIi 90). She pleads with the Stage Manager to allow her to return because now she had discovered what the meaning of life is. Linda however, is left pondering why her husband did not receive a “death of a salesman” funeral. This symbolizes her inability to grasp the ideas of self-discovery. “Where are all the people” (Miller 2.9) she asks oblivious to the truth that she hid from. She after so many years still has not the ability to perceive what the meaning of life is. Both Linda and Emily had many similar points through their pathway to discovery, but in the end, one was left wondering, and one was left wanting.
So in conclusion, the road to self-discovery was an achievement that not all could reach. The open-mindness and ability to try new things opened the door for Emily and Mr. Webb to the perception of the meaning of life. They learned their self-discovery lessons because there was no one to restrain them. In a word, they were luckier than that of Willy and Linda because their road to discovery was easier and shorter. But Willy and Linda were not unlucky. There were many open opportunities that they could have seen their wrongs and what was right. Yet they were unable to because their character, one of stubbornness and blindness, did not allow them to see these open windows. The window which opportunity lies is always open, our minds must be trained in order to perceive it and gain deliverance from this existence.
Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. www.public.iastate.edu/spires/Concord/death.html.
Wilder, Thorton. Our Town. New York, New York: Perennial Library, 1975.