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Krohn, A. (1988). The Source of Manhood in Death of a Salesman. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 15:455-463.

(1988). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 15:455-463

The Source of Manhood in Death of a Salesman

Alan Krohn

It is a continual source of wonder that Arthur Miller's classic Death of a Salesman(1949), which seems so rooted in a particular time, the post-World War II era, and a particular place, urban, north-eastern America, has proved so universal in appeal. The play has been translated into a multitude of languages and performed in major capitals throughout the world, recently even in mainland China. Though the play seems to American audiences to be concerned with peculiarly American social and familial forces, its far wider appeal may spring from more deeply rooted, unconscious fantasies that it touches in audiences. The play and its characters must tap fantasies in audiences that do not comprehend the American salesman, the status needs of a man in Willy Loman's position, the day-to-day phoniness built into being a 'roadman' in Willy's day, or the meaning of making a good appearance in American life. It raises the question, what makes this play so powerful? In this paper, a theme latent in the play is explored which may account in part for its terrific power and appeal. This paper will trace essentially one theme and its variations through the play, much like a major unconscious theme and its vicissitudes are followed through the clinical analysis of a patient. As this is a complex and subtle play, many other important aspects of it will, of necessity, go unexplored. It should be stressed that the fantasy spelled out here should not be viewed as explaining the play in a simple, reductionistic fashion.

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