The complexities of human nature and familial relationships drive Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Though perhaps not deliberately meant as a psychological drama in the Freudian sense, Miller nonetheless has provided decades of analysis of human relationships via this play. The playwright created perfect vehicles for analysing human traits through a dysfunctional family whose actions and interrelationships magnify the basic Freudian concept of the human psyche.
Throughout the play, Miller delineates intense drama that compares to what Freud labelled basic human components which govern an individual’s entire behavioural pattern: the id, ego, and superego (Freud, Ego 10). These human elements are woven around a family whose central father figure, Willy Loman, an overly conflicted sixty-something salesman, drives and divides his family through psychological interplay, particularly between himself and his son Biff. Willy Loman’s id, that part of Freud’s most basic aspect of human development, refuses to accept the idea of failure. He possesses the innate idea that life is about taking what is wanted, what is needed in order to make a good impression. He passes this attitude to his sons, Biff and Happy (Harold), and their lives reflect this uncontrolled id. They appear to be guided by what Freud determined as the pleasure principle or the id which demands immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs (Cherry, 1). The real dilemma emerges when these needs are not instantaneously met. Anxiety, depression, and tension result.
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In Arthur Miller’s description of the sons, he draws the picture of two well-built, athletic young men who are lost. Biff’s mother comments that Biff is just lost, has not found himself yet; that is the reason he came back from Texas, no steady job, nothing certain in his life (Miller 8). The reasons for this discomfort in Biff’s life emerge throughout the play. On the other hand, Happy appears more content, a powerfully built, sexually attractive young man, but underneath his outward display of bravado, Happy too has no direction in life. This becomes more evident when the two brothers talk about life in their old shared bedroom. Happy insists that 500 women would like to know what was said in this room (Miller 11). The talk continues in this vein interspersed with comments from their father who is actually talking to himself about days gone by in another part of the house. However, all the conversation and sub-talk demonstrate that none of the three grasp the idea that every need and desire cannot be immediately satisfied.
To counter these three, Miller draws other characters into the action, Willy Loman’s wife Linda attempts to drag her husband back to reality but with a gentleness borne of love.
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