restricted access Linda's Role in Death of a Salesman
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LINDA'S ROLE IN DEATH OF A SALESMAN MRS. WILLY LOMAN HAS A MORE FORCEFUL ROLE in Death of a Salesman than most commentators have thus far noted. To overlook the part she plays in her husband's pathetic downfall is to miss one of the most profound levels in Arthur Miller's subtle structuring of his tragedy. Linda's facility for prodding Willy to his doom is what gives the play its direction and its impetus. Death of A Salesman is more than the story of one man's failure. Its theme includes the disintegration of a family in a particular social world, brought about by self-blindness and a refusal to know or to acknowledge others. It demonstrates how a fear of the responsibilities of knowledge can lead only to ruin. Miller's ironic rendering of Linda as the bulwark deserves closer examination. The Lomans have been married almost thirty-five years. They have reared two sons. Although during most of that time Willy was on the road for as much as five days every week, his absences cannot provide sufficient reason for the terrible mutual ignorance that he and Linda share. This couple is not alienated, in the usual sense of that term. They never fight or disagree. All outward appearances demonstrate an intimate relationship and a secure marriage. Even their sons are unable to see that a great part of Linda's married life has been devoted to the task of helping Willy shirk the responsibilities of the kind of knowledge needed to hold himself and his family together. Willy is a dreamer. What joys he has are always projections into a friendly heaven that is ignorant of a hostile earth. This salesman never learns to know his territory, his ideals of the workaday world notwithstanding. His labors are heroic, almost, and always aimed at financial-social success. But faithful Linda helps to insure only their marginal return. Objectively Linda is the proof of her husband's ability as provider and subjectively the negation of it. She is his security symbol. Centered as she is in the house and garden, she is in a way identical with these as the empirical fact of Willy's success as a breadwinner. But subjectively , Linda makes demands. Thematically, she is the source of the cash-payment fixation. Like the house and garden, she must be constantly 'secured, maintained, planted, and cultivated. She is the goal of the salesman's futile activity as a man, a goal that can never be achieved. 383' 384 MODERN DRAMA February Willy of course is unaware of this. He thinks his sons are the principal reason for his drive. But all he can give them is his platitudes and a punching bag. He has no real time for them; he is still trying to woo their mother. In his stage directions Miller explains that "Linda ... has developed an iron repression to Willy's behavior-she more than loves him, she admires him." These two characteristics-repression and love-transcending admiration-are the forces by which Willy is seriously undermined at home. To appreciate Linda's repression demands an understanding of the difference between acceptance and acquiescence. Significantly, it is a difference in degrees of knowledge. Acceptance of reality is an active state of cognition. Acquiescence is passive. Understanding plays no part. A wife cannot acquiesce morally to a husband's serious faults. If Linda accepts Willy for what he is shown to be, she accepts a liar, a cheat, and a pompous fraud. Such attributes cannot be explained away, as Linda tries to do, by her husband's exhaustion. Add the note of potential suicide, which Linda is "ashamed" to expose because it would be an "insult," and we are all the more suspicious of her real conception of Willy. To acquiesce in all of Willy's weaknesses is to be a failure as a wife and mother, and to share in the responsibility of her husband's fall. The second characteristic of Linda's relationship to her husband is even more destructive. How is it possible in marriage for admiration to reach a point of "more than" love? If all admiration is grounded...