Gender in Death of a Salesman

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Catalina Cortes
Professor Hinrichson
Survey of Modern American Literature
18. April 2013
Gender in Death of a Salesman
Set in the late 1940’s, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” captures the Loman family dynamic, which embodies the typical gender roles of the time. Linda is a delicate, fiercely loyal caretaker that prioritizes her husband and children’s well being over her own. Willy is the breadwinner, the alpha male, who is most concerned with financial matters and his pride, reputation, and popularity. For Willy women fall into two categories: women like his wife, who are caring and maternal and women like the woman from Boston who are only suitable for sex. His polarizing view on gender and insistence and subsequent failure to meet his ascribed gender role is what eventually leads to his demise.
From the very opening scene, Willy’s dominance and Linda’s submission is clearly on display. Linda tends to Willy’s every need as he returns from a business trip. She gently voices her concerns for his well-being and is met with agitation:
LINDA. You didn’t smash the car did you?
WILLY. [With casual irritation]: I said nothing happened. Didn’t you hear me?”   (2)
This starts off the play with sharp gender lines, and sets the tone for the rest of the play. Willy’s unwarranted self-importance stems from masculine constructions of identity that dictate the one who “brings home the bacon” so to speak is the most valuable member of the family unit. This, in his mind, justifies his poor treatment of his wife. In reality, Willy is a sub par businessman, and consistently fails to supply his family with “bacon”. Willy’s failure to ascertain the amount of wealth he aspired to and failure to raise successful sons exacerbate his feelings of masculine
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inadequacy, which he copes with by escaping to a dream world in which both he and his offspring are successful. Willy so desperately clings on to his delusions because society claims the only...