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Baker, H.S. Baker, M.N. (1988). Chapter 12 Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: Lessons for the Self Psychologist. Progress in Self Psychology, 4:175-192.

(1988). Progress in Self Psychology, 4:175-192

V Applied Psychoanalysis

Chapter 12 Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: Lessons for the Self Psychologist

Howard S. Baker, M.D. and Margaret N. Baker, Ph.D.

A melody is heard, played upon a flute. It is small and fine, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises” (Miller, 1967a, p. 11). So begins Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller's play about Willy Loman and his family of failures. The play ends, as well, to the same plaintive sound. Willy Loman's father played the flute, took his family wandering across America, and earned a living by selling his handmade flutes. Before Willy was four, his father abandoned the family to make his fortune in Alaska. Willy's older brother, Ben, soon followed, leaving Willy behind, alone with his mother. These events help account for the tragic flaws in Willy's character, flaws that bring about his human failure and help create a family where the other members are also destined to become failures.

Death of a Salesman is a recognized literary masterpiece, but it can also serve as an extraordinary case study. In treating Miller's characters as if they were real people, we do not claim to explain the “meaning” of the play. To do so would rest on very risky assumptions (Holland, 1966). Our purpose is heuristic: The play can serve as an excellent device to teach basic principles of self psychology. All the “clinical” data is available for the student to examine.

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