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Industrial Revolution and capitalism appeared in late 17th
century and within a short span of time dramatically altered the face of
society. Life was no more like the past days. The long-lasting feudalism
replaced by the new system. Modern technology and invention of first reliable
steam-engine, used broadly in new companies, caused mass production and lead
human history into a new era. Although in the eyes of many it brought welfare
and a better standard of living for lots of people, it had its own destructive
effects on working class.

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Karl Marx, one could go so far as to
say, was the prophet of his own age. However, notwithstanding with the other
prophets, he was mostly concerned with material aspects of human life. He
accompanied by his life-long friend Friedrich Engels analyzed capitalist
society in terms of social structure, economy and culture. In Marxian theory of
classes, society is torn into two, between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and it
is the scene of perpetual exploitation of the working class by bourgeoisie and
a permanent struggle between them. The former is “a class of laborers, who live
so long as they find work and who work only so long as their labor increases
capital”, and the latter is “the class which has means of material production
at its disposal” (qtd. in Miller 55-6). These two classes bargain under a
situation in which capitalists are not in danger of starving or becoming
homeless while workers are (ibid. 57-8). And as Terry Eagleton puts it, “the
social relation between men are build up with the way they produce the material
product” (2).

Death of a Salesman, a
noble-prize-winning play by American writer Arthur Miller, very well portrays
the life of an unsuccessful salesman and his family. Guijarro-Gonzalez and
Espejo assert that Miller in his youth “while a student at Michigan, felt
considerable hostility towards capitalism and seemed convinced that an
alternative existed, in the form of Marxism”. They maintain, however, at the
time of writing Death of a Salesman, in Miller’s idea “capitalism was neither
the absolute villain nor was Marxism that much of a savior, either” (62). With
a closer look to the play, it would be obvious that Miller is not an arch enemy
of capitalism but it is impossible to repudiate that he is trying to criticize the
detrimental effects of capitalist society on the lives of society and families.

In Death of a Salesman, the old
salesman, Willy Loman, struggles to fit in American capitalist society but
because he lacks some qualities he fails to accomplish his work. The old
salesman that suffers from psychological problems at the end of his life cannot
cope with the reality of his life and drowns in the memories of the good old
days of his youth. At the end of the play, Willy dies. This paper aims to
discuss the effects of capitalism on the Willy Loman and the reason why Willy
cannot adopt himself in this system. Is he lacking some important qualities?
What are they? And also the role of capitalism in his catastrophe and his
dilemmatic state.


Marx believed
that “economic relations” between people is what creates all realms of human
life and it is what has determined other human relations in the course of
history. As Allen W. Wood asserts “it is social or economic relations,
constituting the ‘economic structure of society’ which he Karl Marx considers
to be the ‘real basis’ of society, and which play the primary role in
determining society’s legal, political and ideological superstructure”(82). After the advent of Industrial Revolution and modernity, their
great impacts on the economic relations drastically changed human life and
entered modern societies in new era; capitalism was the new era that emerged.
The new structure divided the society into two parts: Bourgeois that possesses
means of production and produces the dominant ideology and proletariat or that
works for middle class and is ruled by its ideology. The new society, torn into
two, causes lots of inequalities and discriminations. Ernest Mandel holds that
“Inequality of revenue and wealth is not only an economic fact. It implies
inequality in chances of survival and death.” (11) According to Wood:

Alienation, or
the frustration of human self-actualization, is not the only evil Marx sees in
capitalism. Perhaps it is not even the primary evil denounced in his mature
writings. Marx is at least as concerned about philosophically less interesting
evils to which the working class is subject: hunger, disease, fatigue, and the
scarcity and insecurity of the means of physical survival. (128)

Therefore, the
evils of capitalism range from hunger and disease to becoming alienated.

holds that “in every class society the dominant Ideology of society is that of
the 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 minds
of workers themselves has been both recurrent and deep” (Worsley 37).

the case with Marx and Engels is economics, politics and sociology, their
theory profoundly affected literature. In the world of literature you can find
works indicting the hostility and atrocity of capitalism and characters
alienated, dehumanized and exhausted. One of these works is the Pulitzer-prize
winner play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and one of the
characters is its protagonist, Willy Loman. 

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