During the 1930’s, the great depression became a threating worldwide economic depression, which began in the United States. It began in 1929 and ended in 1939. In Death Of A Salesman it takes on larger issues going on in America like the economic struggle, the ‘American Dream’ and the strive for it, basically the risk and lengths people are willing to take. When World War II ended in 1945, the United States embarked upon an unprecedented period of economic prosperity, driven by the increase in industrial production markets brought about by the war.
The lowest-paid workers in the country were the migrant farm workers, with sales clerks and unskilled laborers (such as gas station attendants) not far above them. Willy Loman, and Happy Loman are all salesmen so they got hit the worse.This period of time where Americans felt the obligation to achieve financial success in order to show gratitude for the liberty they had as a democratic society and also to defeat the Soviets is now called the Cold War era. So the strive for the American dream was at an all time high.The average family income in the united states in 1930 “ The average income was $1,368, and the average unemployment rate in the 1930s was 18.26 percent, up from the average of 5.2 percent in the 1920s-Petro, Diane. “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 2012”. Compared to today which is,“Median household income in the U.S. rose to an estimated $59,055 in January ”.
Arthur Miller explicitly wrote about the financial crisis during the time period through his play. One thing that was very apparent was Willys chase for the american dream before and after the crisis. In the 1930’s when the great depression was a severe worldwide economic depression, which started in the United States. The play was written in 1948, so it was after it all passed because it ended in 1939.“The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, lasting from 1929 to 1939. So the storyline matches up to what was going on in the real world and the time stamp.
The American Dream during the period of economic depression in the 1930’s. This period of time was known by poverty, and aspect such as being frugal, became to be much more highly valued. The years of the Great Depression were very difficult for the entire american population; many became unemployed and lost major portions of their savings when the banks failed. Many held on to the hope like, such as Willy Lonman said, “Don’t say? Tell you a secret, boys. Don’t breathe it to a soul. Someday I’ll have my own business, and I’ll never have to leave home any more.- Death Of A Salesman”. This shows how nieve willy is and his perception of what is going to happen and it’s unrealistic and before he went crazy he was doing well as a salesman but then it all went down. This just shows the way people were thinking during the time about the american dream.
The facts about how many people lost their jobs was prominent but even though it was written nearly a decade after it passed it has substance and it shows very well of what was going down so many can relate to the matter and it has more of a back bone and more of a wider view point of being looked at. The way that people were still chasing after the american dream before, during and after was insane. This was after the war so many felt the obligation to have a “ white picket fence, mansion, big family, wife and kids” all of what was the american dream. Reason is because americans wanted to show that they were strong and that nothing can bring them down which wasn’t the case.
Next, During the play Arthur miller wrote a lot about different behaviors throughout the story. Many characters saw things in different lights some went into deep depression, some just started doing whatever they had to do to survive, some just sat and did nothing or may have put the blame on others. Most of the time humans don’t see their own actions. According to a study “ People who do not believe that they can change are stressed by admitting their mistakes, because they believe that those mistakes say something fundamental about who they are as a person.”-MARKMAN, ART. “Why Some People Own Mistakes and Others Don’t.” Greater Good, 2013. Biff was trying to follow his father’s dream and make him proud but he couldn’t do it but he did try until he found out that his dad was cheating on his mother so Biff Loman was just a stray in the book. Like Biff in the play he blamed his father for the way he turned out, when he could have taken action into his own hands and done it for himself.
In the play Death of a salesman, the main issue is a man struggling to accept change within himself so it drove him to the point of insanity with flashbacks, him perceiving the world in a different light, he just wasn’t ok to wear he eventually died at this time. This could be due to multiple factors. Many of the factors of which the author wrote about was depression. According to the play, the character Willy Loman has tried to kill himself multiple times and depression is strongly linked to suicide but was that the case during this era. “Suicide mortality peaked with unemployment, in the most recessionary years, 1921, 1932, and 1938. After increasing during the 1920s, mortality due to cardiovascular/renal diseases stabilized in 1930–1932.”- Granados, José A. Tapia, and Ana V. Diez Roux. “Life and Death during the Great Depression.”
Many people lose hope when they go into a financial crisis because they have nowhere to turn or look for help, in the story Willy Loman keeps going into flashbacks or hallucinations of him talking to his brother asking him for help or guidance, but he never gets his answers, which puts him in a constant loop. “BEN (coming down to the edge of the garden): He’ll call you a coward. WILLY (suddenly fearful): No, that would be terrible. BEN: Yes. And a damned fool. WILLY: No, no, he mustn’t, I won’t have that! (He is broken and desperate.) BEN: He’ll hate you, William.”-Death of a salesman.One very apparent thing is the different kinds of behavior throughout the book. There Willy where he just kinda goes mentally insane, there is Happy who is “working” but not in the most moral way. The reason why it wasnt the most moral way was because he was sleeping with women to climb up the laddeder of success and hold it over the bosses head.
This just shows how different actions were taken but one thing that was not discussed during this time was crime. In this book there was a rare occurrence about the crime that was going on at the time. In 1930 was a time were crime was at a all time high. “Violent crime rates may have risen at first during the Depression (in 1933, nationwide homicide mortality rate hit a high for the century until that point, at 9.7 per 100,000 people)-Editors, History.com. “Crime in the Great Depression.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 8 Mar. 2018 ”.
During a time where poverty is high and there are very few jobs and there little to no help many start to steer towards increased opportunities in criminal activities like bootlegging, robbing banks, loan-sharking and even murder. “The end of Prohibition in 1933 deprived many gangsters of their lucrative bootlegging operations, forcing them to fall back on the old standbys of gambling and prostitution, as well as new opportunities in loan-sharking, labor racketeering and drug trafficking”. I believe the author did not add in crime rates was because it might of been difficult to put into the storyline but i believe that it should have been because it was a big part, even though it did decline as the years went on, it was important.
In conclusion i believe that the author did a good job at portraying some of the real life facts about the era and bringing the emotions and the struggles at the time. Such as Depression, job loss, salary drops, unemployment rates, wall street crash. There could have been more added to the story line such as crime, mobs, starvation, mortality. But the overall message was sent but something that i believe that the author could have focused more on was the mental issue of Willy Loman. Even though they have mentioned it i believe within the storyline there could have been some action taken towards what was going on such as seeking help, talking about it, not just saying you have a problem, maybe a doctor but the overall message was there. The author does show the historic and social viewpoint of the era during the story.
- National Archives and Records Administration
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- History.com – Great Depression
- The Balance – The Great Depression of 1929: An Overview
- History.com – Cold War History
- America’s Library – The United States in World War II: Selected Subjects on the Home Front
- US History – The Cold War