Omid SarmadPeriod 1 American Literature AP The Battle Between Society and its Members The playwright Arthur Miller once insisted that any great play must deal with the question, 'How may a man make of the outside world, a home.' It was his belief that the most tragic issue which one could document was the embittered battle between society and the individuals which it was supposed to protect and nourish. Contrasting forms of this topic are well evidenced through his works, especially the plays All My Sons and Death of a Salesman. Both of these plays archive a day or so in the lives of the Keller and Loman families' respectively. While the climax of both these plays lies in the present, invariably most of the major action takes place in the past. Events are revealed throughout the course of the play that further complicate a seemingly straightforward issue.
However, Miller attempts to answer his essential question of, 'How does a man adapt to the society in which he lives' in two very different ways, both of which represented in each play by the fathers of both families. In All my Sons we are introduced to the seemingly kind-hearted Joe Keller, a man who has refused society's dominion over him, and has attempted to put his own family's well being above all else. In contrast, Death of a Salesman port ryas Willy Loman as quite the opposite; Willy has completely succumbed to society's will, and is trying to forge a life for him and his family in the way he believes society preaches success. Disturbingly enough, even though both men are sundry to the core and would never be friends had they met, their divergent strategies towards living within society deals them parallel fates. Joe Keller embodied Arthur Miller's first attempt at answering his own question about how a man can successfully live in society, and perhaps for the most part, Joe is a success. He lives in a nice neighborhood with his family and friends, as well as owning a good company which he wishes to leave to his son Chris.
He has made a good living looking out for number one, and concentrating on the well being of his family. However, it is revealed through the course of the play that in his haste and greed to support his family's living, he had not built certain engine parts correctly, which were supposed to be shipped out to the air force for fighting in World War 2. In fact, Joe went as far as to fuse together cracks on the engines which could have been futile to the pilots driving them. Joe did not intend any malice, far from it; his own son was a pilot, and would never wish to intentionally hurt his son. Regardless, at the time Joe cared more about protecting his own family, and showed no concern whatsoever for the society of man, namely the pilots who would have to ride planes with faulty engines.
This apparent disregard for the family of mankind, and selfish interest for only his own immediate family is the most powerful act in the book. Joe has no feelings towards the pilots, or to his next door neighbor who worked with him and had received the brunt of the blame once the cover up was uncovered. Joe distanced himself from the whole incident, once again showing his 'every man for himself' mentality. As a result of his actions, one of Joe's sons lost his life, and once these transgressions were discovered, Joe took his own life. He realized his ways had been to brash, and Joe Keller's refusal to focus more on society's needs then his own cost him everything. Clearly, Arthur Miller shows us that the way to true success and happiness is not paved in Joe's footsteps.
Consequently, a few years later Arthur Miller tried again with the creation of Willy Loman. With Willy, Arthur showed the other side of the spectrum, a man who idolized society and sought to achieve the dream which society perpetuated. Willy is completely disillusioned with his life, even though he followed the guidelines to what he believed would be a successful living. He remarks early in the play, 'Suddenly I realize I'm going sixty miles an hour, and I don't remember the last five minutes. .' He put aside the one thing he was good at, carpentry, believing there was no honor in that profession, and instead took up a job as a salesman where he could integrate his theories that good looks and personality will take you places. Willy subjugated himself to these two 'truths' that the American society around him constantly reinforced.
Though this play was written a half-century ago, we still see today the same ideals which Willy Loman fell victim to. Celebrities without any real skill aside from the complexion of their skin live the lives of kings and queens while hard working factories, school teachers, and other laborers receive little to no attention for their work. It is no wonder why Willy sought these two pearls of living; everyday Americans have been bombarded by people who have become successful with just those. Willy was so enveloped with this dream that he believed that even if he himself could not make it, surely his children could follow this path. So he set about teaching his children how to be successful, concurrently writing their own death sentences. Willy entrusted his family's well being to society, having already completely resigned himself to this greater power.
However, Willy does not practice the societal values he preaches, and in turn, society betrays him and his family. Seemingly, both of Arthur Miller's attempts can be seen as failed attempts to define mans habitat withing society. However, the opposing view can also be taken; that Arthur Miller chose these two men as his main characters simply to show how either extreme could be potentially fatal. To live a life like Joe Keller, completely uncaring of the world around him, and caring for only his family ultimately came back and hurt him. Joe insisted on not having his well bent by society, and since he could make no real changes, he remained stubborn and selfish as a way of protest. As a consequence his tiny little sphere of society was crushed.
Willy Loman on the other hand had picked a different route. Willy was hypnotized by constant stories of successful people around him and before him. Stories of Rockefeller, David Single man, and Thomas Edison enchanted and inspired him. He believed society's superficial values, but could not embody them. Thus, instead of living a peaceful, content life as a carpenter, he was basically forced to strive to perform at something he wasn't good at, simply because any other way would not cut soceity's standards. This conformity and lack of true happiness in his life led to his insanity, and his only legacy was the fact that his youngest son be plagued by the same ideals.
Much like Willy had sought society's approval, his youngest son Happy had lived in the shadow of his older brother and desperately sought his father's approval, blind to the truth that his system just didn't work. Both these tragic plays serve as a powerful example to readers about the bounds of certain individuals struggles with society, primarily those who wish to become successful and forge their own identity. With these two plays, Arthur Miller showed us two men who had tried to cope with the outside world in their own ways, leaving us only with riveting failures, that however, should not soon be forgotten.