Death Of A Salesman
Women have been regarded as second class citizens throughout history. It is common knowledge that almost every language and culture tends to be male-dominated. Women did not gain equal rights until the early 1970s in the United States. However, just because equal rights are given, equal treatment is not a guarantee. This discrimination and dominance of women is displayed in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. During the time that the play takes place, 1928 – 1945, women were still in a battle for equal treatment and equal rights. Miller shows the sexism in society at this time by not including any strong female figures in the play.
The only main female character in the play is Willy Loman’s wife, Linda. Linda seems to be living in a fantasy world as she thinks very highly of her husband and constantly accommodates to his every need. He was even disappointed with her when she purchased a “new American type cheese” that was whipped. Willy claims that he likes Swiss and is displeased by this. However, Linda only bought this cheese because she thought that he would “like to try something different.” This disagreement and unappreciative attitude displayed by Willy is just a glimpse of how awfully he treats her. Through all of Willy’s violent outbursts and his failing health, success, and loss of reality, Linda is always by his side making excuses for his behavior. Willy is not at all interested in her input in conversations, as he tells her to “shut [her] mouth” and shut up when she tries to add something to a conversation. Linda plays the role of a doormat for Willy as it seems that he wipes his feet with her and she just lays there doing nothing about it.
Although this display makes Linda look bad, she had to take an excessive amount of Willy’s abuse so, it, in turn, made her stronger. She never gives up on him, even when he kills himself. Upon his death, she claims that “He was so wonderful with his hands” and asks him for his help. It seems that she does not know what to do with herself now that she has gained her independence. Linda cannot be necessarily blamed for her behavior because it was popular at those times and accepted in society that women did not work and the men ran the house. However, Linda did not realize how capable she was of being a strong person that made her own decisions and, therefore, to live a happier and more fulfilling life.
Miller also shows a reflection of the treatment of women at the time of the play with the attitudes of Willy and Linda’s sons, Happy and Biff. These grown men still living in their parent’s home treat women like objects. This is usually a phase that is outgrown by men in their mid twenties. However, as a reflection of the society in which they live and of their father’s actions, they seemed to never outgrow it. Biff has even caught his father having an affair with another woman in Boston. This event shattered his previous view of his father and their relationship. This could be the main reason for Biff’s behavior as the only male role model in his life is an adulterer. Happy seems to have no guilt when he sleeps with an engaged woman. The woman is even engaged to a person that he knows. He has, in a sense, ruined her, making her a liar also. However, it does not seem to be that big of a deal to him. Another factor in the brothers’ behavior is the fact that their mother, Linda, never stood up to their father and was not strong. This could have given Biff and Happy the idea that a woman is supposed to be like this and that women come second to their men. Biff and Happy are supporters of sexism at that time, whether they know it or not.
In this play, Miller uses the behavior of the characters and the fact that there are no strong female roles to create a reflection of the views of society at that time. Unfortunately, the repression of women, like the repression of minorities, has just caused society to be held back.
While Linda thinks highly of Willy and never gives up on him even after his constant abuse, Nora takes control and does the complete opposite of what Linda does. In Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s house, Ibsen highlights how inferior women were considered and how unacceptable they were treated by the society at his time. Ibsen depicts the sacrificial part that was held by all women in the contemporary male dominant society. The three female characters presented to us in the play had to forgo their integrity due to men. These three characters are Nora Helmer – the protagonist – Mrs. Linde, and Nora’s Nanny.
Nora, married to Torvald Helmer, is completely devoted to her husband. Even having previously lied and gone against the law to “save” him and prove her love to him, she is treated like a child and a “doll”, protected by both her husband and father who have complete control of her. Initially, Nora copes with this life and believes that everything around her and all she has lived is perfect and fine. However, being taunted by Krogstad’s blackmail, she ends up in a series of problems, everything to keep the true facts of her doings from her husband. Yet she dreams that even though she is in trouble, her husband will gallantly save her from anything she is forced to face and that “something glorious” would happen. Eventually, the facts are revealed to Torvald, who reacts in the complete opposite of what she expected: the fact that he was “saved” by her wife is a completely unbearable thought. This shows how men subjugate women and that society dictates that men should be the dominant partner in a marriage. Coming to her senses and falling into reality, she is aware of the false life she has lived. Nora represents most of the women that lived in the 19th century: having no right for opinion or control over their own lives. These women were ruled by men, for that is what the society expected.
In the 19th century society, in order to be socially correct, a marriage had to have a dominant male figure, and the woman had to say home taking care of the house and children – Nora’ life. If not, the individual’s reputation would be at stake. In that time, marriages were superficial, with no love. This was the matrimony of Nora and Torvald. Both Mrs. Linde and the Nanny, the other two female characters also had to sacrifice their integrity because of their husbands in order to improve socially and economically.
In the end, through Nora, Ibsen shows what women should do: take control of their on lives, discover their inner self and develop personal dignity to be able to go after their own ambitions, beliefs, and identity. Even though the play was highly criticized by the society of that time, it can be said that Ibsen’s appeal to make the world see how women were treated made women’s rights change for a better way.