Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and William Shakespeare’ Othello are two tragic plays that represent affixation of a society within man’s understanding. According to Donner (“Comparing Arthur Miller’s Death…”), society is the realm at which each character, Willy Loman and Othelo, try to develop psyche in countering problems the society has made them to internalize. As Karim (67) points out, Death of a Salesman is a story of Willy Loman, a salesman, who is unable to overcome society fixation, thereby failing to be on the same level with the changing business environment posed by the post-World II era. Through his mindset, Loman represents himself as being on the verge of continuous success, while for a fact, he has not risen to the height that he believes he is capable of living within the American Dream.
On the other side, Shakespeare’s Othelo is a play that takes place in two different environments, Venice and Cyprus. The two places have distinct society rules. In Venice, Donner (“Comparing Arthur Miller’s Death…”) notes that Othello is respected by the society which is seemingly greedy, racist, socially unfair, and the government of the place does not care for all people. Cyprus, on the other hand, represents an isolated society with cultures different to Othello’s earlier one. It is, therefore, because Othello’s weakness in mind-set does not allow him to adapt to the boundaries of these societies where he encounters problems. This is seen especially when he uses Iago in persuading Desdemona, a lovely woman between controversies.
This paper, thus, compares and contrasts these two characters based on the above notion. It hypothesizes that Willy Loman and Othello are two characters in plays whose societal mind-sets have contributed to their wise, foolish, deluded, and hypocritical thinking in addressing issues they encountered in life.
Willy’s character as a wise thinker comes from his ability in his career to set goals in life that would enable him to seek guidance and support from successful people around him in order to excel as a salesman. As Karim (67) points out, Willy views the success of his American business as based on the success of his role model, Ben, who is also his brother. According to Karim, Ben was an earlier frontier of industrial philosophy who embraced the ethic of individualism, which was essential during the period of American Industrialism. In his admiration and praises to Ben, Willy says, “that man was a genius, that man was success incarnate” (1.6.865). Willy’s thinking that a manly, good looking, charismatic, and well-linked man who deserves success would naturally achieve it depicts his character as being a wise man.
However, Willy’s inability to achieve the financial success, which he promised in his American Dream, presents his foolish, deluded, and hypocritical character. According to Karim (68), Willy’s foolishness comes from his inability to advance in his career, thereby continuing to apply his old ethic of “winner-take-all businesses” even at a time when individualism has a great influenced on the society’s undertaking. Karim notes that by applying this “old faith” culture, Willy’s career became a declivity rendering him unable to cope with the new business environment. This is captured when he describes his problem to his wife Linda, saying, “You know, the trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to talk to me… I don’t know the reason for it but they just pass me by” (1.3.732,1.2.741).
Additionally, Willy’s hypocritical and deluded character comes from his belief in frontier myth that personality can trump all in the business, and it guarantees an individual a success all the time. This is evident when he tries to impose personality on his son Biff by telling him that “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets a head.” His devoutly believes that it was the societal myth that did not allow him and his family to realize that life lived by his father and Ben. This, in turn, led to his downfall.
On the other hand, Othello’s character, as depicted in Shakespeare’s play, denotes his wise, foolish, deluded, and hypocritical thinking. Similar to Willy, whose goal was to achieve the American Dream, Othello’s persuasion was to conquer Desdemona, a woman whose ideal personified the dream of that time. In his wise move to counter his old culture, Othello uses Iago, an evil tempter of the society, in his conquering Desdemona. As Donner (“Comparing Arthur Miller’s Death…”) notes, Desdemona molded so tightly to her beliefs that it became easier for Iago to shape her and ensure that she gives in to Othello’s odd culture. However, unlike Willy, Othello’s wise thinking enabled him to be successful in realizing his dream of conquering Desdemona. As Iago states, “Men should be what they seem.” (Shakespeare 1154)
However, Othello also had his weaknesses. For instance, his foolishness, delusion, and hypocritical attitude stem from his preoccupation of isolationism, which could not allow him to overcome the reality dictated by the new society. Othello does not adapt to the culture Iago belongs to, yet, he uses him as the bargaining man in conquering Desdemona. This presents differences in cultural thinking between him, Iago, and society. This is similar to Willy’s case, as the same also formed the origin of his problem. For instance, when Desdemona drops off the handkerchief she had been given by Othello, he states, “Chaos is come again,” (Shakespeare 1153). His hypocritical clinging to old cultures renders him insane and disconnects him with the popular society culture. It is only after killing Desdemona that Othello realizes his foolishness of believing in Iago. Before he killed himself, he describes himself as “an individual that loved not wisely but too well, one not easily jealous but being wrought, perplexed in an extreme” (Shakespeare 2). Similar to Willy, Othello’s realization of lack of wisdom and naivety came too late. This resulted into the story’s tragic ending.
In conclusion, Willy and Othello have characters which have formed the idea of people wanting to become prominent in a society, without considering the drastic change in the societal cultures. However, their isolationism and choice to cling to the old culture, as they search for rightful position in the society, led to their downfall. Moreover, their wise, foolish, delusion, and hypocritical view points have been viewed as stemming from society standings. Therefore, it is essential for people to assess societal settings in order to be relevant within the changed environment rule.