Significance of Characters in Arthur Millers Plays
The award-winning play, Death of a Salesman was written in the year 1949 by Arthur Miller, a famous American playwright who is also known for other plays such as, The Crucible and the Resurrection Blues. The plays tackle critical themes that most playwrights often overlook. The Crucible deals with the theme of mob mentality, The Resurrection Blues deals with greed and the Death of a Salesman, which is the most popular of the three, talks about a failed American dream. This research paper aims at illustrating the significance of Arthur Miller’s themes that many contemporary playwrights stray away from. He names his characters in a way that it ties to the story of the play; he focuses on the theme of the importance of the character’s name in these three plays: Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and Resurrection Blues.
The absurd expectations he has imposed on his son are also evidence that he focuses on his own fantasies rather than reality. Willy Loman is not influential, not well linked and at his lowest, despite continually bragging of goals that he had hoped to achieve but has not been able to. This ultimately led him to lose his job in sales. After getting home from the business trip, Willy tells his wife, Linda, that he has to go to New England, although it is clear that his heart was set on going to New York. When Linda inquires as to why he has not asked his bosses to let him go to New York, Willy brags about him being vital in New England3.
The fact that he is not satisfied with the way he is treated by his boss and his pay makes Willy suicidal since he had dreamt of a more comfortable and successful life. Truly, Willy is not only at his lowest in terms of his emotions, but also in terms of economic status. He in turn projects his disappointments to his sons, Biff and Happy who he periodically criticizes and scolds for not being successful enough. His estranged relationship with his eldest son, Biff, can be attributed to the fact that he feels Biff is unsuccessful and will probably to end up like him6. Willy, in spite of being sixty-three years old, his playful character resembles those of younger people. Willy’s sons, Biff and Happy have very different personalities and fates, but both can thank their father for the type of people they are.
Happy, who is the youngest of the two siblings has always felt less favored by his father. When in high school, he persistently aims at pleasing his father and at making him proud, however, all the attention he desires is on his older brother, Biff. It is therefore not surprising that Happy is a womanizer who takes pride in sleeping with the girlfriends of his coworkers and going to their weddings. Like his father, he is insecure about his failures and thus sleeps with a lot of women to prove himself. In the first act, Willy recalls how his son Biff was one of the most popular students in school after his wife, Linda tells him that Biff and Happy are home and that Biff is lost.
Willy’s mind has developed a mechanism to deal with his failures and that of his family by revisiting a happier time in the past when they were not failures. He even recalls how he used to play with his sons before the neighborhood changed. This was when his sons were friendlier to him and loved him, unlike at the present where he and Biff could not see eye to eye. As the play proceeds, Willy Loman sinks deeper into failure and debt. With the insurance money, Willy knew his sons could have everything he could never give them, and his wife Linda could be more comfortable. Willy Loman’s life is a true symbol of a failed American dream. Like his name, Loman, he has the lowest social standing and lacks influence in the society he dwells in.
Also, like his first name, Willy, which is a nickname often used by children, Loman is an immature old man who does things like a young man, something that even his sons seem to have inherited. It is clearly evident that Arthur has successfully used the character name “Willy Loman” to develop his theme of a failed American dream. Abigail denies any association with witchcraft and mocks John for denying his true feelings for her12. As the play proceeds, Abigail and Tituba falsely accuse more people of witchcraft13 and Proctor is left in a dilemma as he is aware that Abigail’s accusations are untrue. Proctor is however afraid of revealing what he and Abigail had spoken about previously as it would lead to the publicizing of his affair with her.
Elizabeth finds out about John’s encounter with Abigail and is disconcerted as she believes Proctor still desires Abigail14. Elizabeth implores her husband to tell the judge that the girls were lying after she finds out that Abigail had accused her of witchcraft, Proctor is however reluctant to do so15. As the play advances and hysteria in the village gets high, even Rebecca falls prey to the girls’ false accusations. Anne Putnam, who was envious of Rebecca Nurse’s children decides to blame the loss of her seven children16 on Rebecca and claims that the Devil helped Mrs. Nurse kill her children. Reverend Hale meets the charges with incredulity since he believes Rebecca is blameless17. Even in the face of false accusations, Rebecca is the only character that is unaffected by the fear and hysteria that envelops Salem18.
Corey is therefore a brave hero who withstood the test of character thrown in his way and he inspires John Proctor to stand by the truth. The Salem community is a rotten one where those with power with the support of majority of the residents treat the minorities with contempt. An example of such a person is Francis Putman, a wealthy farmer who seizes the opportunity to accuse others of witchcraft with the intention of buying their land after they are executed on the account of witchcraft19. Francis feels that the citizens of Salem like Giles Corey and the Nurses do not respect him as much as he would like to be respected. He is a bitter man who lacks concern for his neighbors.
Abigail skillfully pins the whole thing on Tituba and some other second-class Salem residents. Ever since she got involved romantically with John Proctor, Abigail is out to get Elizabeth, Proctor’s wife. She skillfully convinces Tituba to cast a spell on Elizabeth, hoping to take her place at John’s side once Elizabeth is gone. It is somewhat ironic that Abigail, who encouraged the other girls to engage in the pagan dance is the one who accuses other Salem residents of practicing witchcraft. She excites the other girls into a frenzy and they in turn start accusing their loved ones of witchcraft. Abigail uses the entire incident to make the residents of Salem like her as well as gain power over the other girls through skillful manipulation.
She manipulates her uncle, her cousin Betty, Tituba and Mary Warren into accusing Elizabeth of witchcraft. Elizabeth had fired Abigail for having an affair with Proctor, Abigail hoped that she would be executed and she would get to marry Proctor, which would mean a better social standing. Her plan works as the judge believes her more than he does Elizabeth. While Abigael Williams is portrayed as selfish and manipulative, those accused of deviltry are known for their kindness. General Felix Barriaux, who is one of the key characters in the play is greedy and holds a rather conservative outlook towards religion. Felix Barriaux is portrayed as a power-hungry leader, who, as the play commences has authorized the crucifixion of a man who is believed to be the second coming of the son of God.
The man is captured for being the revolutionary leader and is also claimed to perform miracles throughout the country. Felix Barriaux, with the intention of satirizing the man chooses to crucify the man and even gives exclusive rights to a media house which would film the entire crucifixion and use the video for commercials. The media house agrees to pay twenty-five million dollars for the video and General Felix Barriaux is more than willing as the money can be used to help the citizens24. It is described as a horrible third world country25 where majority of the citizens lead miserable lives. Fathers turn their eight-year old daughters into prostitutes and children kill the elderly for their shoes. The nation is clearly backward and deeply troubled, even the wealthy have to fly to the United States of America to get proper medical attention.
Felix Barriaux is one of the two percent of the population who own most of the land in the country. Felix Barriaux is a ruthless pragmatist who advices his kin, Henri to be selfish and care about himself alone26. When questioned by Felix, he denies belief in anything; he says that he has ruined his life believing in things to a point where he is faithless. Stanley feigns insanity and makes Felix believe he is delirious. When asked about Ralph’s teachings, he says that all he knows of Ralph’s teachings is the warning against sinning. This answer however does not suit Felix’s motives as he had hoped to use Stanley to make Ralph cooperate. Stanley’s answer also reduces Ralph to the level of normal men.
As the play begins, the audience learns that Jeanine had been a member of the revolution, and while all of her peers had been murdered, Felix Barriaux had spared her life, maybe because they are related. Jeanine is a woman of firm moral values and virtues, she does not stop there; she goes ahead and tries to take her own life after Ralph is arrested on the account of leading a rebellion. She is truly iconic in the play in the way that she does things and how she stands by what is just. At some point, Henri, Jeanine’s father was involved with the revolution but was discouraged and still maintains an agreeable relationship with his brother, Felix. Even after her father gives up on the revolution, Jeanine does not give up and as the play proceeds, it is clear that she does not agree with the decisions that her uncle makes concerning Ralph and the reporters from United States of America.
The man is an allegory of corruption and injustice in the ruling class. The other characters, John Proctor, Rebecca Nurse and Jeanine Schultz are characters that Arthur Miller has used to represent the little hope that is left for a society that no longer values virtues such as honesty and patience. These characters prefer death to lying and in both plays; they inspire others to be just and humane. Characterization plays a crucial role in the plot of any story. Characters help the intended audience to understand the overall theme of the storyline. One of his greatest impacts which has been overlooked for many years is his theme of naming characters. Miller introduced a new naming style that was different from other contemporary playwrights that existed before him.
His theme of naming characters was based on the themes in the play. His character names played a huge part in defining and expounding on the overall theme of the book. For instance, in the play Death of the sales man, Miller introduced the theme of ironic symbolism by naming his characters based on the theme of ironic symbolism31. "Arthur Miller’s art in The Crucible. " The Crucible, 1991, 39-48. Bennett, Michael Y. "Waiting for Godot. " Theatre Journal 62, no. "Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman/The Crucible. doi:10. Marino. "Arthur Miller in Salem Village. " The Arthur Miller Journal10, no. Resurrection Blues. Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: A Play in Four Acts. Rudolph, Sarah J. "Resurrection Blues, and: Good Boys (review). doi:10. Zhao, Jinying.
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