Role of Women in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Death of a Salesman is of course about a salesman, but it is also about the American dream of success. Somewhere in between the narrowest topic, the death of a salesman, and the largest topic, the examination of American values, is Miller's picture of the American family. This paper will chiefly study one member of the family, Willy's wife, Linda Loman, but before examining Miller's depiction of her, it will look at Miller's depiction of other women in the play in order to make clear Linda's distinctive traits. We will see that although her role in society is extremely limited, she is an admirable figure, fulfilling the roles of wife and mother with remarkable intelligence.
Linda is the only woman who is on stage much of the time, but there are several other women in the play: "the Woman" (the unnamed woman in Willy's hotel room), Miss Forsythe and her friend Letta (the two women who join the brothers in the restaurant), Jenny (Charley's secretary), the various women that the brothers talk about, and the voices of Howard's daughter and wife. We also hear a little about Willy's mother.
We will look first at the least important, but not utterly unimportant, of these, the voices of according to Howard she "is crazy about me." The other woman in Howard's life is equally under his thumb. Here is the dialogue that tells us about her- and her relation to her husband.
HOWARD'S VOICE. "Go on, say something." (Pause.) "Well, you gonna talk?"
HIS WIFE. "I can't think of anything."
HOWARD'S VOICE. "Well, talk--it's turning.~
HIS WIFE (shyly, beaten). "Hello." (Silence.) "Oh Howard I can't talk into this . . ."
HOWARD (snapping the machine off). That was my wife. (1199)
There is, in fact, a third woman in Howard's life, maid. Howard says that if he can't be at home when the Jack Benny program comes on, he uses the wire recorder. He tells "the maid to turn the radio on when Jack Benny comes on, and this automatically goes on with the radio...." (1199). In short, the women in Howard's world exist to serve (and to worship) him.
Another woman who seems to have existed only to serve men is Willy Loman's mother. On one occasion, in speaking with Ben, Willy remembers being on her lap, and Ben, on learning that his mother is dead, utters a platitudinous description of her, "Fine specimen of a lady, Mother" (1183), but that's as much as we learn of her. Willy is chiefly interested in learning about his father, who left the family and went to Alaska. Ben characterizes the father as "a very great and a very wild-hearted man" (1185), but the fact that the father left his family and apparently had no further communication with his wife and children seems to mean nothing to Ben. Presumably the mother struggled alone to bring up the boys, but her efforts are unmentioned. Curiously, some writers defend the father's desertion of his family. Lois Gordon says, "The first generation...