Modern dramatic plays are increasing, becoming common in the art world. This increasing popularity is attributed to their ability to entertain and thrill audience as well as offer the deep seated characters of humanity in a manner that other life learning processes does not offer. The two most common types of modern drama are comedy and tragedy and that they borrow a lot of their content from the Greek traditions. The play Death of a Salesman is by all dimensions considered a modern play because it adopts several characteristics attributable to a modern drama. This paper is aimed at examining ways in which Death of a Salesman can be considered a Modern play, as opposed to Glengarry Glen Ross, which is considered postmodern.
It should be recognized that there are fundamental characteristics that usually define modern arts and literatures. For instance, one of the fundamental characteristics that Miller employed is the calculative use of impressionism and subjectivity to win attention of his audiences. This subjective use of impressionism is much more evidenced in miller’s description of hotels in Switzerland particularly Vevey. This kind of approach functionally gives the play a modern art quality.
The first point that gives Death of a Salesman its modern character is Miller’s use of art to relay message that other normal forms of learning fail to do. That is, Miller uses art to display coherence and unity in a manner that other forms of life fail to do. For instance, Willy’s life and attributes have no meaning within the capitalists’ structure. In fact he is found within the lower class of the hierarchy, which to the capitalists is not an envied class. However, Miller deviates from this popular view and give Willy’s life a meaning buy maintaining that people should not only consider money as the only important commodity in their lives. That is, there are other life variables that cannot be quantified in monetary terms. This kind of modern belief is deeply in the Miller’s world, and he categorically says, "You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit". In this sense, therefore, Miller’s play is modern out of the fact that he has adopted the use of obscure and abstract forms to give coherent meaning to the life of Willy. Such quality is integral in the modern plays or drama.
Willy Loman as a tragic hero makes Miller’s play a modern drama as opposed to postmodern. In many modern dramas, characters that are considered tragic heroes usually display heroic and noble qualities. However, Willy seems to have neither of these characters, but still Miller uses his poor qualities according to capitalism to bring him as a tragic hero, he perfectly makes it clear by saying that, "He's ked, but he's not well liked" . Willy is brought out as a common man, and through him, Miller is determined to prove that he can be a hero just like any other rich American. It should be recognized that Willy had so many opportunities to choose from and be successful as capitalism dictates. Miller instead, resorted the other way round to prove to people the dysfunctional character of American dream. For instance, Miller is concerned with the fact that Corporate America has the tendency of using Americans like machines thereby draining all life out of them and casting them away when they are no longer useful. The tragic hero in Willy is seen when he voluntarily decides to commit suicide as opposed to grabbing the many descent opportunities of work he was offered by his neighbor. This action is actually an act of heroism that normal life processes cannot fully comprehend. It is this unlikely character of Willy that makes the play a modern play beyond any reasonable doubt (Madan 1993).
David Mamet brings a whole contrast to Miller’s work in the name of postmodernism. For instance, it becomes clear that where Miller uses tragedy to bring modern nature of his play, Mamet sees the opposite. The focal point that makes Mamet’s work to be postmodern is his assumption that art cannot be used to provide any sensible meaning beyond what happens on theater stage. That is, there is no coherence or unity that the work of art can add to the normal life processes. Hence, art should be treated as a mere form entertainment that cannot be used to explain what happens in the contemporary world. This kind of assumption is what Glengarry Glen Ross a postmodern drama and not modern, which values the work of art to communicate inner meanings about life (Madan 1993).
Another postmodern attribute of Mamet’s work is in his failure to provide answers to the life complexities through art. Postmodern dramas are known for failing to provide answers to the audiences and as such leave, it is for them to make individual resolutions concerning the play. When you look at The Death of a Salesman, the answer is clearly provided when Willy willingly commits suicide to escape the wrath of capitalism. This kind of climax is lacking in Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. The play is presented the way it is with a lot of work left to the audience to make a conclusion. This failure to provide answers is a characteristic integral to postmodern writers (Madan 1993).
Mamet also takes the words he’s heard from different characters and give them new meaning by adding some salt to exaggerate them. The exaggerations are not characters’ creations but the author’s. The characters have no room to express the rage they are feeling towards their failed social system. That is, they have no control of the plot of the play as things are imposed on them. Such actions are absent in modern play. More so, a catharsis that provides a sense of relief to the audience is absent. The audience is thus left to gamble with options (Itzkoff 2010).
In conclusion, from the illustrations given above, it becomes clear that The Death of a Salesman is clearly a modern drama that has taken into account all the necessary attributes of a modern play. On the contrary, the opposite happens for Glengarry Glen Ross by Mamet, which has stood the test of a postmodern play.