There is a flaw at the center of Death of a Salesman. As we watch Willy Loman pin-wheeling around like a human piñata under Arthur Miller’s psychic assault, we must ask ourselves: What is actually going on, here, on this stage? Are we expected to believe that Loman is suffering from psychosis or dementia, or are we instead to conclude that what we are witnessing is an eruption of plain human anguish overwhelming his mind? The problem is that if Loman is in fact mentally ill, then that undercuts the play’s impact as social criticism, inasmuch as the causes of dementia do not include bourgeois aspiration or installment plans. If Loman’s troubles are of purely emotional rather than physical origin, then we must wonder why it is that his anguish is so greatly amplified compared with that of the characters surrounding him, who exist in similar conditions. Mr. Miller does not provide any satisfactory answer to that question, and in the...


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