IntroductionIndustrial Revolution and capitalism appeared in late 17thcentury and within a short span of time dramatically altered the face ofsociety. Life was no more like the past days. The long-lasting feudalismreplaced by the new system. Modern technology and invention of first reliablesteam-engine, used broadly in new companies, caused mass production and leadhuman history into a new era. Although in the eyes of many it brought welfareand a better standard of living for lots of people, it had its own destructiveeffects on working class.Karl Marx, one could go so far as tosay, was the prophet of his own age. However, notwithstanding with the otherprophets, he was mostly concerned with material aspects of human life. Heaccompanied by his life-long friend Friedrich Engels analyzed capitalistsociety in terms of social structure, economy and culture.
In Marxian theory ofclasses, society is torn into two, between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and itis the scene of perpetual exploitation of the working class by bourgeoisie anda permanent struggle between them. The former is “a class of laborers, who liveso long as they find work and who work only so long as their labor increasescapital”, and the latter is “the class which has means of material productionat its disposal” (qtd. in Miller 55-6).
These two classes bargain under asituation in which capitalists are not in danger of starving or becominghomeless while workers are (ibid. 57-8). And as Terry Eagleton puts it, “thesocial relation between men are build up with the way they produce the materialproduct” (2).Death of a Salesman, anoble-prize-winning play by American writer Arthur Miller, very well portraysthe life of an unsuccessful salesman and his family.
Guijarro-Gonzalez andEspejo assert that Miller in his youth “while a student at Michigan, feltconsiderable hostility towards capitalism and seemed convinced that analternative existed, in the form of Marxism”. They maintain, however, at thetime of writing Death of a Salesman, in Miller’s idea “capitalism was neitherthe absolute villain nor was Marxism that much of a savior, either” (62). Witha closer look to the play, it would be obvious that Miller is not an arch enemyof capitalism but it is impossible to repudiate that he is trying to criticize thedetrimental effects of capitalist society on the lives of society and families.In Death of a Salesman, the oldsalesman, Willy Loman, struggles to fit in American capitalist society butbecause he lacks some qualities he fails to accomplish his work. The oldsalesman that suffers from psychological problems at the end of his life cannotcope with the reality of his life and drowns in the memories of the good olddays of his youth.
At the end of the play, Willy dies. This paper aims todiscuss the effects of capitalism on the Willy Loman and the reason why Willycannot adopt himself in this system. Is he lacking some important qualities?What are they? And also the role of capitalism in his catastrophe and hisdilemmatic state. TheoryMarx believedthat “economic relations” between people is what creates all realms of humanlife and it is what has determined other human relations in the course ofhistory. As Allen W. Wood asserts “it is social or economic relations,constituting the ‘economic structure of society’ which he Karl Marx considersto be the ‘real basis’ of society, and which play the primary role indetermining society’s legal, political and ideological superstructure”(82). After the advent of Industrial Revolution and modernity, theirgreat impacts on the economic relations drastically changed human life andentered modern societies in new era; capitalism was the new era that emerged.The new structure divided the society into two parts: Bourgeois that possessesmeans of production and produces the dominant ideology and proletariat or thatworks for middle class and is ruled by its ideology.
The new society, torn intotwo, causes lots of inequalities and discriminations. Ernest Mandel holds that”Inequality of revenue and wealth is not only an economic fact. It impliesinequality in chances of survival and death.” (11) According to Wood:Alienation, orthe frustration of human self-actualization, is not the only evil Marx sees incapitalism.
Perhaps it is not even the primary evil denounced in his maturewritings. Marx is at least as concerned about philosophically less interestingevils to which the working class is subject: hunger, disease, fatigue, and thescarcity and insecurity of the means of physical survival. (128) Therefore, theevils of capitalism range from hunger and disease to becoming alienated. Mandelholds that “in every class society the dominant Ideology of society is that ofthe ruling-class” (28-29). In the same vein, proletariat is ruled by the “Ideology”of the bourgeois and “the internalization of upper-class ideology in the mindsof workers themselves has been both recurrent and deep” (Worsley 37).
Althoughthe case with Marx and Engels is economics, politics and sociology, theirtheory profoundly affected literature. In the world of literature you can findworks indicting the hostility and atrocity of capitalism and charactersalienated, dehumanized and exhausted. One of these works is the Pulitzer-prizewinner play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and one of thecharacters is its protagonist, Willy Loman.